Milwaukee Bucks bring home trophy after 50 years
Free Press wire reports | 7/22/2021, 6 p.m.
MILwAukee - Giannis Antetokounmpo had the Larry O’Brien Trophy in one arm, the NBA Finals MVP trophy in the other and there was a cigar on the table in front of him.
All the work it took to lift the Milwaukee Bucks from a team that won 15 games when he was a rookie to one with 16 wins this postseason was finally finished.
“This is time to celebrate,” Antetokounmpo said.
Milwaukee waited 50 years for that.
Antetokounmpo ended one of the greatest NBA Finals ever with 50 points, 14 rebounds and five blocked shots as the Bucks beat the Phoenix Suns 105-98 on Tuesday night to win an entertaining series 4-2 and cap off a joyous return to a fan-filled postseason after last year’s NBA bubble.
It was the third game this series with at least 40 points and 10 rebounds for Antetokounmpo, a dominant debut finals performance that takes its place among some of the game’s greatest. Antetokounmpo finished with 35.2 points, 13.2 rebounds and 5.0 assists per game while shooting 61.8 percent, the first player in finals history to reach those numbers.
He shot 16 for 25 from the field and made an unbelievable 17-of-19 free throws — a spectacular showing for any shooter, let alone one who was hitting just 55.6 percent in the postseason and was ridiculed for it at times.
“People told me I can’t make free throws and I made them tonight. And I’m a freaking champion,” Antetokounmpo said.
He hopped around the court waving his arms with 20 seconds remaining to encourage fans to cheer, but there was no need. Their voices had been booming inside and outside for hours by then, having waited 50 years to celebrate a winner after Lew Alcindor — before becoming Kareem Abdul-Jabbar — and Oscar Robertson led the Bucks to their first championship in 1971.
“For the city, I’m sure it means everything,” said Khris Middleton, the other player left from that 15-67 team in 2013-14. “They’ve seen the work that we put in over the years for them to get to this point.”
In a season played largely without fans, the Bucks had 65,000 of them packed into the Deer District outside, a wild party that figured to last deep into the Midwestern night. The party wasn’t bad inside, either: Confetti rained down inside as fans chanted “Bucks in 6! Bucks in 6!” — a hopeful boast by a former player that turned out to be a prophetic rallying cry.
“I hope they enjoyed it just like we are now,” Middleton added.
The Bucks became the fifth team to win the NBA Finals after trailing 2-0 and the first to do it by winning the next four games
since Miami against Dallas in 2006. Chris Paul scored 26 points to end his first NBA Finals appearance in his 16th season. Devin Booker added 19 points but shot just 8 for 22 and missed all seven 3-pointers after scoring 40 points in each of the last two games.
“There’s just a pain that goes with your season being over,” Phoenix Suns coach Monty Williams said. “But I’ve never dealt with this and so I’m grateful, like I said, but I know this is going to hurt for a while.”
The teams that came into the NBA together as expansion clubs in 1968 delivered a fine finals, with the last three games all in the balance deep into the fourth quarter.
And Milwaukee was ready for the moment.
Middleton scored 17 points and Bobby Portis came off the bench with 16. Holiday had 12 points, 11 assists and nine rebounds to go along with his usual sturdy defense that helped finally cool off Booker.
“I think it’s just a credit to the play- ers,” Bucks Coach Mike Budenholzer said. “We’ve been pushing. We’ve been trying to get better. The players embrace everything. They’re amazingly coachable. They take it, soak it in and make the best of it.”