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Giannis' Game 6 the Ultimate Exclamation Point on an All-Time Great Finals

Andy Bailey@@AndrewDBaileyFeatured ColumnistJuly 21, 2021

MILWAUKEE, WI - JULY 20: Giannis Antetokounmpo #34 of the Milwaukee Bucks celebrates after receiving the Bill Russell Finals MVP Award after winning Game Six of the 2021 NBA Finals against the Phoenix Suns on July 20, 2021 at Fiserv Forum in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2021 NBAE (Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images)
Jesse D. Garrabrant/Getty Images

Giannis Antetokounmpo's ascension from a mysterious non-lottery pick in 2013 to a Finals MVP is complete, thanks to the Milwaukee Bucks' 105-98 win over the Phoenix Suns in Game 6 on Tuesday.

In a closeout game that featured Devin Booker, Chris Paul, Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday, no one shined anywhere near as bright as Giannis, whose 50 points, 14 rebounds and five blocks put him in exceptionally rare company.

  • His 50 points is tied with Bob Pettit (1958) for the most in a Finals closeout game.
  • He's the seventh player in league history to have 50 in any Finals game.
  • He's the only player in league history with at least 50 points, 10 rebounds and five blocks in a Finals game.
  • He's the first player in the past 40 years to have multiple 30-point halves in a single Finals.
  • He's the fourth player in NBA history to average at least 30 points, 10 rebounds and five assists in a single postseason (and just the second to go for 30-12-5, joining Oscar Robertson).
  • His 31.9 average game score ("...a rough measure of a player's productivity for a single game," according to Basketball Reference) is the highest on record for a single NBA Finals.
  • He's the first player in NBA history to average at least 30 points, 10 rebounds and five assists while shooting at least 60 percent from the field in a Finals series.
  • He's the first player in NBA history to win Most Improved Player, Most Valuable Player, Defensive Player of the Year and Finals MVP.

The list of ways you can contextualize what Giannis did during this postseason, this Finals and this Game 6 could probably go on a while longer.

The arc of his entire career bears mentioning too. In eight years, he went from an obscure, skinny project who just wanted to be an NBA player to the most physically imposing force the league has had since Shaquille O'Neal.

Jonathan Givony @DraftExpress

"I want to be NBA player." - mission accomplished! https://t.co/MNpKzKru82 https://t.co/hXl46JQmoW

On Tuesday, he was, in a word, dominant. And he didn't need a bunch of step-back jumpers or a so-called "bag" to do it. This was, in a lot of ways, a throwback game. For decades—from Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain, to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, to Shaq—bigs dominated the NBA.

While the advent of the three-point revolution curbed their impact, Giannis just scored a win for the big man with one of the most overwhelming postseason runs we've ever seen. And capping it off with a 50-point performance seals this run's place in history.

Stephen Curry @StephenCurry30

Aye! Enjoyed watching greatness out there tonight. GREATNESS! @Giannis_An34 congrats bro

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Regardless of who was in front of him, Giannis was relentless. He went around Deandre Ayton and over or through Mikal Bridges and Jae Crowder. He was unstoppable around the rim, but he also hit four shots around the free-throw line. Perhaps most impressively, he went 17-of-19 from the charity stripe (tied for the fourth-most makes in a single Finals game), after entering Game 6 with a 55.6 free-throw percentage for the playoffs.

With a chance to win the Bucks' first title in 50 years, Giannis was as locked in as he's ever been. And winning a title this way, in this era, makes it feel even more special.

LeBron James ushered in the player-empowerment era when he took his talents to South Beach in 2010. Since then, he's maneuvered around the league and manufactured title runs for three different organizations. When it looked like it wouldn't happen in Cleveland, he went to Miami. When the Heat started to age out of contention, he returned to Cleveland and brought Kevin Love with him. After that soured, he went to the Los Angeles Lakers and lured Anthony Davis there a year later.

Kevin Durant's move from the Oklahoma City Thunder to the Golden State Warriors was similarly critiqued around sports websites and social media platforms.

Kawhi Leonard won what now feels like a hired-gun championship with the Toronto Raptors in 2019.

For Giannis to win multiple MVPs with the smaller-market team that drafted him and not even entertain free agency before winning a title is unusual. But he's just not a usual superstar. Bleacher Report's Jake Fischer explained last offseason:

"Any figure around the Bucks, or who has spent time around Antetokounmpo, has always spoken of the superstar's unwavering loyalty. This is a person who once refused to attend the NBA draft unless his brother could come along with him. By all accounts, he enjoys the decibel levels of Milwaukee's market. He does not yearn for the lights of New York or Los Angeles.  

"It's also said that Antetokounmpo values being not just the face but the bedrock of the franchise. That is not to characterize him as brimming with ego, rather pride in carrying himself like an organizational pillar. He relishes the responsibility of leading Milwaukee to a championship, like the stars he grew up watching before a wave of player empowerment swept the league."

He more or less confirmed that description on Tuesday.

"I couldn’t leave," Giannis said of the supermax extension he signed prior to this season. "...I wanted to get the job done.”

Over the course of his eight-year career, the 26-year-old Antetokounmpo deployed a focus born of adversity toward that job.

NBA TV @NBATV

"When I came to the league, I said 'I'm 18 years old, nobody believes in me, nobody thinks I can make it.'" Giannis speaks on his incredible journey to becoming an #NBAFinals champion. https://t.co/HQGdCI14wJ

Giannis has checked a lot of boxes between "trying to figure out where we were going to get our next meal from" and one of the most historically dominant postseasons in NBA history. 

On Tuesday, he got the job done in truly stunning fashion.

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