When you are Giannis Antetokounmpo and have won all accolades but the Eastern Conference championship, the criticism is going to hit you — even after scoring 30-plus points for three straight games.
Before Game 6, ESPN’s Jay Williams and Jalen Rose even went as far as criticizing “The Greek Freak’’ for complimenting Kevin Durant after his 49-point triple-double when he called KD the “greatest player in the world.’’
Al Harrington, the former Knick and Orange, N.J., native, wonders if Antetokounmpo will ever become a sensational playoff performer along the lines of Durant because he’s “very limited.’’
Antetokounmpo shut them all up Thursday night at Fiserv Forum.
He was flawless all evening, no weaknesses evident as he attacked all night with grace and power to force a Game 7 in Brooklyn on Saturday.
In a crescendo performance, “The Greek Freak’’ pounded home 30 points, making 12 of 20 baskets, living in the paint. Antetokounmpo didn’t settle, not once. He didn’t even take a 3-pointer, where he has struggled massively. And it hardly mattered he was 6 of 10 from the free-throw line.
Antetokounmpo’s distribution also opened it up for his running mate Khris Middleton, who poured in 38 points of his own. Late in the first half, the Freak twice passed out of double teams to find Middleton for 3-pointers.
During the game-busting 14-0 run in the final period, Antetokounmpo grabbed an offensive rebound over the Nets’ Jeff Green and slammed it home. After one lovely first-half finger roll, Antetokounmpo looked up to the ceiling with his hands clasped. Yes, the Greek gods had answered.
Antetokounmpo has made the conference finals just once in his eight-year career despite winning back-to-back MVP awards in 2019 and 2020. Earlier this week, Antetokounmpo was named first-team All-NBA for the third straight year — the only player to be named on all 100 ballots.
His playoff history, however, has been checkered, never making the NBA Finals. He has been a nightmare from 3-point range and the free-throw line in these playoffs.
Harrington, who retired in 2014 and played for the Knicks from 2008-10, said it’s easier to game plan against the Bucks superstar in the postseason.
“Giannis, as great as he is, he’s very limited,’’ Harrington said on “The Bakari Sellers Podcast” before Game 6. “Why he’s so good is because all season he plays somebody once every couple of months, so you don’t really get a chance to game plan for him, so all that dribbling full court and dunking works.
“Now, it’s a series and his opponent can pay attention to all your weaknesses, like, ‘We know you can’t go left, we know you can’t shoot the 3,’ you’re going to get exposed every time in a series.”
Those are pretty strong remarks considering Antetokoumpo still was averaging 27.4 points and 13.3 rebounds in nine playoff games this year entering Thursday.
And now he has scored 30 or more points in four straight playoff games. His free-throw shooting is at 52.2 percent and maybe it’s time for the Nets to put him on the line more than letting him own the paint.