We’re a long way from the fear that Giannis Antetokounmpo’s season might be over. It is, in fact, very much alive after the Milwaukee Bucks defeated the Phoenix Suns 120-100 in a must-win Game 3 of the NBA Finals on Sunday, trimming Phoenix’s series lead to 2-1 entering Game 4 on Wednesday.
I say “must-win” because no team in NBA history has recovered from a 3-0 deficit to win a seven-game series. The Bucks had to have this one, and Antetokounmpo, for the second straight game, matched the urgency of the situation with a masterful showing, finishing with 41 points, 13 rebounds and six assists. He shot 14-for-23 from the field. Most impressively, he shot 13-for-17 from the free-throw line.
Coupled with his 42-point effort in Game 2, Giannis’s performance on Sunday landed him in super elite company as the sixth player ever to record back-to-back 40-point games in the Finals. The other five are LeBron James (who was the last to do it in 2016, when he put up 41 in Games 5 and 6 against the Warriors), Michael Jordan, Shaquille O’Neal, Jerry West and Rick Barry.
Factor in the double-digit rebounds, and every name but Shaq and Giannis gets crossed off that list.
In the 1993 Finals against the Suns, Jordan — are you ready for this? — actually put up four straight 40-point games. Even Giannis can’t fathom that level of GOAT madness:
Giannis is right. He’s not Michael Jordan. But he’s halfway to MJ’s record with these two straight Finals 40-pieces, and he might have to come awful close to matching it if Milwaukee is going to win at least one of the next two. The Bucks don’t have as many weapons as Phoenix, and their second-and third-best players — Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday — have been hit and miss all postseason.
Holiday, who has had some big games but mostly struggled through his first postseason with Milwaukee, showed up in Game 3 with 21 points. Middleton chipped in 18. Together Holiday and Middleton shot 8-for-17 from beyond the arc.
Middleton still has to get it going as a go-to scorer if the Bucks are actually going to come back and win this series, but when Giannis is playing like this, he and Holiday simply shooting it well from 3 is a major boost. Another thing I loved from Game 3: Giannis wasn’t defaulting to head-down crash-dummy drives into a wall.
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When he did get the ball at the top of the key, he more often moved into a dribble-handoff or faked a DHO and continued his dribble into the post when he liked his matchup, attacking the middle of the paint before help could arrive. He was assertive, but not out of control. He only took two 3-pointers, which is still two too many. He made his free throws. It was an almost perfect Giannis game, and the Bucks are back in the series because of it.