Well, that lanky teenager in the 2013 NBA draft from Greece and the NBA G-Leaguer from South Carolina got it done.
Eight years after joining each other on the Milwaukee Bucks, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton helped lead the team to the top of the NBA’s ladder.
Antetokounmpo scored 50 points in the closeout Game 6 victory of the NBA Finals, one point for every year that the Milwaukee Bucks have been absent from being named NBA champions.
Not only did the newest NBA Finals MVP just score nearly half of the Bucks points in the 105-98 win over the Phoenix Suns on Tuesday night, but he also had a game-high in rebounds (14) and blocks (5), the latter also a playoff career best, all while shooting 16-for-25 from the field while looking like another No. 34 from Bucks past from the free-throw line, Ray Allen. At the charity stripe Antetokounmpo shot a remarkable 17-for-19 (89.5%) – his best percentage in a game with 10 or more free-throw attempts this season.
Make no mistake, Antetokounmpo absolutely loves being a Buck and loves playing for the city of Milwaukee. But he undeniably took it upon his shoulders to ensure their season ended on Tuesday rather than in a winner-take-all Game 7 in Phoenix on Thursday.
Bucks Fastbreak: 50-year wait ends with title
“Eight years ago, eight and a half years ago, when I came to the league, I didn't know where my next meal will come from,” said Antetokounmpo, who was at the postgame podium clenching two his Finals MVP and Larry O’Brien Championship trophies. “My mom was selling stuff in the street. Now I'm here sitting at the top of the top. I'm extremely blessed. I'm extremely blessed. If I never have a chance to sit on this table ever again, I'm fine with it. I'm fine with it. I hope this can give everybody around the world hope. I want them to believe in their dreams.
“Tonight, that's what I had to do. I had to do a little bit of everything. I had to defend, I had to rebound, I had to block. Did a little bit of everything. But people that helped me throughout this journey -- John Hammond drafted me and believed in me, brought my family over here, made me feel comfortable like I was his son when I was homesick and I was alone in the hotel.
"And coach Bud believed in me. He told me that that in order for me to win, in order for me to be great, I have to trust my team. I have to make the right pass. I cannot be stubborn. I have got to trust the process.”
Antetokounmpo had such an offensive game going, assists weren't exactly part of the flow. But he did have two, the last one coming to his ride-or-die counterpart Middleton, who has been with Antetokounmpo for his entire eight-year tenure as a Buck. He knocked down the clutch jumper by way of Antetokounmpo's pass, pushing it a three-possession game with less than a minute remaining.
So much differs from Antetokounmpo and Middleton's game and skillset, but their one similarity is the only one that matters, their competitive but selfless, team-first leadership styles.
"We formed a bond, a brotherhood since that first year we've been together, said Middleton, who averaged 24.0 points in the Finals. "We struggled. We struggled together. But we both saw in each other there was no give-up. It was all motivation to be better and not be embarrassed. Year after year we challenged each other to be better. Challenged each other to be better leaders, better teammates.
NBA champion Giannis Antetokounmpo: 'Milwaukee, we did it!'
"We all wanted to be on the same page and realized how we needed to play and what we needed to do. It was the same thing in this series. We never got down, we're still playing, we still have a chance. That's the way we felt, no matter if we were down in the game or the series, it didn't matter. We knew each time we took the court we had a chance to win. And we have everybody in the locker room and organization that believes and that is never going to give up until it's completely over. That's who you want to play with, guys who are going to fight to the end."
Just sit back and think about all the outlandish drama the Milwaukee Bucks 2021 playoff run consisted of.
You had the revenge sweep of the Miami Heat, who were their bubble antagonist last year. OK, that surprisingly was the Bucks’ easiest round by far.
The Brooklyn Nets’ Kevin Durant’s personal bodyguard got suspended for shoving P.J. Tucker. The Bucks started 0-2, Durant was phenomenal and scoring at will, even with Tucker giving him great fits he had games with 48 and 49 points. It makes one ponder, how much would KD have gotten without Tucker? Sixty or more? Then there was “the toe” Game 7, where Durant was inches away from ending the Bucks’ season.
Early struggles in career for Bucks' Middleton, Antetokounmpo 'worth it'
Eastern Conference finals
On to Atlanta, where the Bucks lost their only home playoff game and trailed 0-1 while struggling to contain rising superstar Trae Young. The terrible and gruesome hypertension of Antetokounmpo’s knee in Game 4 that doubled in size from swelling and forced him to miss the remainder of the series. Young also missed two games by rolling his ankle from stepping on an official’s foot but did return for the finale.
Then the Bucks leaned on 13-year veteran Brook Lopez’s playoff career-high 33 points in a throwback paint-dominant performance in a Game 5 win. Middleton followed that up by showing a large global audience there’s two superstars in Milwaukee. He dropped 32 points, including 16 straight points in a Game 6 clinching win. Bobby Portis went from playing as many minutes as Bango in three games vs. the Nets (i.e., none) to starting in relief for the injured Antetokounmpo against the Hawks and having “Bobby” chants bellowing throughout Fiserv Forum. T-shirts are even being sold of the fan-favorite Portis that displays a picture of his infamous “crazy eyes” and headband and below it says, “Bobby, Bobby, Bobby.”
Last stop, the Suns. Antetokounmpo not only miraculously came back from injury right at Game 1, but he also did it while putting up solid double-doubles. He got 20 points and 17 rebounds in Game 1 and in Game 2, the Greek Freak added 42 points and 12 boards. However, just like the Nets series, the Bucks started a series down 0-2. Then you had the revitalization blowout win in Game 3 and “the Sun block SPF-34” in Game 4, followed up by the game-saving steal by Jrue Holiday and lob to Antetokounmpo to seal Game 5. To cap it all off, the Bucks won their four straight over the Suns to clinch the title. Phoenix hadn’t dropped four games in a row all year ... well, until now.
It should be no surprise. After all, those thousands of fans which stepped foot in either the Deer District or in a packed Fiserv Forum throughout the playoffs have been telling everyone the outcome for days: "Bucks in six, Bucks in six, Bucks in six."