The Bucks led the Suns by just two late in the fourth quarter. Giannis Antetokounmpo crouched above the free throw line, helping to contain Devin Booker who had already scored 40 points and was dribbling downhill. Antetokounmpo’s man, Deandre Ayton, slipped behind Antetokounmpo toward the rim. Antetokounmpo still had a foot on the free-throw line as Booker threw a lob to Ayton, one of the NBA’s best finishers. Antetokounmpo turned and scrambled toward the powerful high-flying center.
“I thought I was going to get dunked on,” Antetokounmpo said.
Instead, Antetokounmpo met Ayton way above the rim for an incredible block. Especially if the Bucks – who won Game 4 to tie the NBA Finals 2-2 – win the title, Antetokounmpo’s play will be remembered as one of the greatest in NBA history.
Milwaukee guard Pat Connaughton isn’t waiting.
The shock value certainly adds to the stature of Antetokounmpo’s rejection. “I was late,” Antetokounmpo said plainly. Said Bucks teammate Khris Middleton: “It was one of those oh-s*** moments. ‘We gave up a layup.'”
Even after the block, Connaughton couldn’t believe it
“The honest thought that was going through my head was more or less kind of like shock and awe,” Connaughton said. “When the block happened, I kind of looked like [eyes wide open, mouth agape]. And luckily P.J. [Tucker] came across the lane and grabbed the rebound, because I forgot for a split-second to go grab it.”
Yet, if anyone were to make a play like that, it’s Antetokounmpo.
He won 2020 Defensive Player of the Year for his ability to match up with quick guards outside and protect the rim inside. Wednesday, he did both – on the same play.
A few years ago, I asked Antetokounmpo about his “Greek Freak” nickname. I thought it might devalue his intelligence and work ethic. But Antetokounmpo said he liked the moniker.
“A lot of it could be called freakish, the things I do on the court,” Antetokounmpo said.
Maybe none more than forcing the alley and blocking the oop. The space covered, horizontally and vertically, was just astounding.
It also required keen recognition of Booker’s plan to pass (and maybe a break on Ayton’s method of finishing).
“It didn’t surprise me. I saw it coming,” Antetokounmpo said. “Once I saw him put it in his one hand, he was too far for a layup. So I knew he was trying to lob, and I committed so much. You risk it.
“I didn’t jump to block the ball. I jumped toward the rim. I feel like that’s what kind of helped me put me in position to get the block.
“If he shot the ball to the backboard, it’s probably a goaltending. He tried to dunk it, and I was right there earlier than him.”
From late to early, Antetokounmpo flipped the play.
And maybe the series.