Giannis Antetokounmpo even hit his free throws.
The Greek Freak wasn’t going to be denied. The 6-foot-11 locomotive saved his best for last as he single-handedly carried the Bucks to their first NBA championship in 50 years Tuesday with 50 points, five blocks, 12 rebounds and a spectacular showing from the free-throw line.
This 105-98 Game 6 Bucks’ victory over Phoenix was eight years in the making since the Bucks selected the skinny Greek kid with the 15th pick of the 2013 draft. A two-time MVP now has an NBA Finals MVP for his war chest after becoming the seventh player to reach the 50-point mark in a Finals game.
An albatross all playoffs, Antetokounmpo made 17 of 19 free throws in the biggest game of his career. He posted three 40-plus games in the Finals. His sidekick on this night was ex-Knick Bobby Portis, who added 16 points off the bench on a night Khris Middleton (17 points) and Jrue Holiday (12 points) weren’t at the top of their offensive games.
For Phoenix, the loss meant Chris Paul, 36, won’t get his first ring nor will the Suns cop their first title. Now Phoenix has decisions to make about Paul’s future with an opt-out clause he may reportedly exercise.
Paul had a strong evening (26 points), but sidekick Devin Booker looked less than confident most of the night and put forth a 19-point, five-turnover, 0-for-6-from-3 clunker. His wide-open 3-point miss with 56 seconds left and the Suns down six sealed the Bucks’ title.
Game 6 was played before 17,000 at Fiserv Forum and an estimated 60,000-plus jubilant fans outside in the expanded Deer District watching on banks of giant video screens.
The season started with no fans in Milwaukee. The theatrics were a fitting end to a pandemic season that, considering everything, went as smoothly as could have been expected.
The Suns led by five at intermission despite a big half from Antetokounmpo, who poured in 17 points. His highlight came when he blocked Mikal Bridges’ drive and scored a layup in transition.
In the third quarter, the Bucks rallied to take the lead as Antetokonmpo took over, scoring 10 of their first 14 points. He finished with 20 in the period. Early in the fourth, Antetokounmpo fought off two defenders, muscling his way for a runner that missed. But he powered up and grabbed the ball for the putback.
Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer decided against rolling with the Greek Freak for the whole second half. When he rested, the Suns climbed back and knotted the score at 77 entering the fourth quarter. Antetokounmpo had 37 going into the final period.
After a slow start, Paul and the Suns picked it up in a brilliant second quarter. The Bucks went ice cold while Paul dissected Milwaukee’s defense with his genius. The Suns outscored Milwaukee 31-13 in the second quarter and took a 47-42 halftime lead. Paul finished with 13 points and four assists by halftime — with 10 of those points coming in the second period.
Trailing by as many as 13 points in the first quarter, Paul’s backup, Cam Payne, led the initial stages of the comeback with 10 points in five minutes, bagging two 3-pointers and hitting 4 of 5 shots.
Then Paul picked it up. He made a spectacular blow-by on Milwaukee’s Pat Connaughton for an easy layup to forge a 33-33 tie, then hit from mid-range to give Phoenix their first lead and complete a 9-0 run. Booker scored just four points in the half and they still led thanks to Paul and Payne.
“We all know how big this game is — the biggest game of all our lives,’’ Suns coach Monty Williams had said beforehand.
The Suns got off to a poor start and trailed 29-16 after one. The 16 points represented the lowest first period the Suns had registered the entire playoffs as they shot just 7 of 24. It ended up costing them.