The greatest players save their biggest games for the biggest moments on the biggest stages.
Giannis Antetokounmpo had 50 points, 14 rebounds, and five blocks in his first close-out NBA Finals game.
Antetokounmpo was legendary and carried the Bucks for stretches in Game 6 — and then he got to carry the Larry O’Brien trophy.
Antetokounmpo sparked a second-half comeback with 20 points in the third quarter alone, and the Bucks hung on to beat the Suns 115-109 and win the first title for Milwaukee since Oscar Robertson and then Lew Alcindor (later Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) did it in 1971.
Antetokounmpo was a force all series long — he joined Shaq as the only players with three or more 40-point, 10-rebound games in one NBA Finals series — and he was named Finals MVP.
“It’s easy to go somewhere and win a championship with somebody else. I could go to a superteam and just do my part and win a championship, but this is the hard way to do it. And we did it. We did it,” Antetokounmpo said of staying with the Bucks and winning in Milwaukee.
“I think their experience was evident, this was their fourth or fifth (playoffs) time together as a group,” Suns coach Monty Williams said of Milwaukee’s performance.
Chris Paul led the Suns with 26 and had a bounce-back game after a couple of rough outings this series. Devin Booker had a rough night, shooting 8-of-22 overall and 0-of-7 from three, finishing with 19 points.
Early on, both teams felt the weight of this moment and game, and it was a sloppy start. Then Middleton got a pick-six dunk off a steal and that heated him up — he scored on jumpers the next two times down, one of them a three — and the Bucks started to pull away. It was then Antetokounmpo started to take over, scoring 10 points in the first quarter, and it was 29-16 Bucks after one. The crowd was starting the party in Milwaukee.
It was never going to be that easy. The Suns opened the second quarter on a 10-0 run, with the Bucks fouling and having a silly traveling violation by Antetokounmpo bringing the ball up. By the middle of the second quarter the game was tied, 33-33, with the energy and speed of Cam Payne being a spark (he had 10 first half points).
By the half it was 47-42 Suns, Chris Paul played better, and Jrue Holiday had shot 1-of-11 from the floor. Antetokounmpo had 17, but it felt more like Game 2 where he did not get enough help.
In the third, Antetokounmpo didn’t look like he needed any help, scoring 20 points in the frame and just dominating on both ends. But Chris Paul kept hitting shots, Jae Crowder knocked down some clutch threes, and it was tied 77-77 heading into the fourth.
Antetokounmpo kept it going with 13 in the fourth, and whenever they needed a big bucket he or Middleton seemed to hit it. The Suns, who had created space with the pick-and-roll, just couldn’t get the shots to fall when it mattered.
It was still an amazing run and season for the Suns, who had missed the playoffs the previous 10 years, then had the second-best record in the NBA and made it to the Finals.
But it was just the Bucks’ time.
For the first time in 50 years.