Milwaukee has a chance to close out its first championship in a half-century in Tuesday’s NBA Finals Game 6 against Phoenix. And Giannis Antetokounmpo said it would be extra sweet to do it at home — in every sense of that word.
To win in front of an electric sold-out crowd inside Fiserv Forum, and a frenzied 25,000 more diehards in the Deer District outside.
But Antetokounmpo also meant home — as in not some mercenary free-agent destination, but the place that drafted him, helped and embraced him.
To be clear, he’s not throwing shade at the way LeBron James turned the Heat and Lakers into champs, or how Brooklyn built its Big 3. Antetokounmpo — who could’ve left in free agency but opted to stay and win in Milwaukee — just feels for him, winning this way would be even sweeter.
“Oh, man, it means a lot,” Antetokounmpo said. “Obviously we know what the deal is. It’s one game away from being an NBA champ, being in the history of this game, being always there. Nobody can take that away from you. Doing it in front of our families and our fans, it’s big. It’s going to be big.
“If we do all these things right and we’re disciplined, once the game starts and we play good basketball and we have the energy of the fans — because we know they’re going to be loud — we have an opportunity to win the NBA championship. It’s going to be amazing to do it in front of our fans … it’s going to be awesome to do it in front of our fans. But there’s steps to it.”
The first step is finding a way to slow down Devin Booker. In Game 5, the Suns star became the first player to ever notch 40-point outings in consecutive NBA Finals tilts and still lose both. Milwaukee won’t want to risk having to overcome that kind of monster outing in a third straight game.
The Bucks will also have to stay process oriented, and not assume the Fiserv crowd guarantees them anything other than noise. Phoenix went back home for Game 5 but still dropped its third straight in these NBA Finals.
Milwaukee has to stay humble, stay hungry and it can clinch its first title since Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Oscar Robertson led the Bucks there in 1971. It’s the fifth-longest drought in the league.
“It’s a big, big test,” Antetokounmpo said. “The job is not done. We have to realize that. We’ve got to stay in the present. It doesn’t mean we’re going to go back home and win Game 6. Probably Phoenix thought the same thing: They were going to come back home and win Game 5.
“Come to Milwaukee, try to win again. But we’ve got to stay humble. We’ve got to be in the present and stay humble as much as possible. When this team is humble, this team is very, very dangerous. We play at our best when we’re humble.”
The humble Antetokounmpo was drafted No. 15 overall in 2013 by the Bucks despite modest experience in the Greek second division. But after they helped him become a two-time MVP, he repaid them by inking a five-year, $228 million extension in December.
The Greek Freak won Game 4 with his awesome block of Deandre Ayton, and sealed Game 5 with his breakaway alley-oop dunk, treated for cramps afterwards.
Antetokounmpo could’ve spent this summer in unrestricted free agency, but instead is carrying the only team he has ever known toward a championship.
It’s a title even Abdul-Jabbar didn’t think they could win. But it’s one Antetokounmpo staked the prime of his career on bringing back to Milwaukee.
No, make that back home.
“It’s a goal of mine,” Antetokounmpo said. “At the end of the day doing it with the team that you started [with], I feel like it means more.
“For me it’s like a dream. It’s a goal of mine. Not just me; everybody, every basketball player that plays in the NBA wants to win a championship. … But doing it with the team that drafted you, in the city that embraced you, the organization that helped you, it means a lot.”