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Giannis Antetokounmpo had one of the best Finals close-out games of all time

50 points, 14 rebounds and 5 blocks with everything on the line is pretty incredible.

2021 NBA Finals - Game Six

In these NBA Finals, I generally try to present a slightly different take than what you might be reading elsewhere. In the aftermath of Game Six, I originally thought of writing about how well Giannis Antetokounmpo played. Then I saw the front page of The Athletic and discovered that others might have had a similar idea:

So this post will not be entirely about Giannis. But I can’t avoid asking whether Giannis just had the best Finals close-out game ever. 50 points (out of a team total of 105), 14 rebounds (4 offensive), and 5 blocks, though only 2 assists. He shot an efficient 16 for 25 from the floor. You can add the fact that the Bucks had not won the championship in 50 years, the pressure of the Bucks’ recent playoff flameouts, and the stunning 17 for 19 on free throws by, frankly, a bad free throw shooter. Please do not remind me of this from my Game Three recap:

Giannis missed only one more free throw the rest of the way, finishing 13-17. Do NOT believe that Giannis has suddenly become an excellent free throw shooter. Recency bias....

My initial reaction is that the primary challenger to Giannis’s gem is Magic Johnson’s 42 point, 15 rebound and 7 assist game, in his rookie year, against a powerful 76ers team led by Julius “Dr. J” Irving. The “greatness” measure of that game is enhanced because that Game Six was on the road. And while the Lakers were in Philadelphia winning that game, league MVP Kareem Abdul Jabbar was rehabbing at home with an ankle he badly sprained near the end of Game Five. I lived in L.A. at the time and can attest to the fact that no-one believed the Lakers would win on the road without Kareem. The real question in our minds was how healthy Kareem would be for Game Seven — a game that never happened because of Magic’s heroics, plus a largely forgotten 37 point game by Jamaal Wilkes. That support from Wilkes is something Giannis did not have. The Bucks second best offensive player Tuesday night may have been reserve Bobby Portis, the only Buck other than Giannis to shoot over 50%.

Another game on the list is Michael Jordan’s 45 point game against the Utah Jazz in the Bulls’ 87-86 clincher in 1998, including MJ’s game-winning shot over Bryon Russell (after Russell was subtly shoved away). That should have been Jordan’s last game, but he instead chose to later make a uninspiring comeback with the Washington Wizards. There is much to be said in support of the “greatest ever” designation, including that Jordan’s scored more points than the rest of his team combined. However, Jordan contributed to that unusual fact because he had only one assist. One assist is not very many. And Jordan had only 1 rebound, which is also not very many. Finally, Jordan’s shooting line of 15 for 35 does not approach Giannis’s 15 for 25 — Jordan needed 10 more attempts to make the same number of shots. Giannis even wins the free throw contest, as Jordan went “only” 12 for 15.

Also to be considered is Tim Duncan’s 2003 near quadruple double in Game Six against the New Jersey Nets (no, they have not always been the Brooklyn Nets), which the Spurs won by the ugly score of 88 - 77. Duncan’s line was 21 points, 20 rebounds, 10 assists and 8 blocks — those 8 blocks stand out among all those stats. However, Duncan shot only 9 for 19 from the floor, and 21 points do not compare with 50, especially because the Great Duncan’s points came against a fairly weak Nets squad.

One game that compares favorably with the Giannis game is one that many don’t remember as well. In Game Seven against the Detroit Pistons in 1988, which the Lakers won 108 - 105, James Worthy put up a triple double: 36 points, 16 rebounds (5 offensive) and 10 assists. Worthy was as efficient as Giannis from the floor, shooting 15 for 22. Worthy’s competition was likely better than the young and small Suns’ front-line, as the Pistons largely defended Worthy with future Defensive Player of the Year Dennis Rodman, with John Salley and Bill Laimbeer lurking nearby. However, the Lakers were defending champs with a veteran group of proven winners. Compare that with these Bucks, none of whom had even played in the Finals — including, of course, Giannis. Which to me puts the Giannis game at the top of the list. I would be interested to hear your comments.

Other thoughts:

  • While most of the comments I heard yesterday were along the lines of “Great game last night!”, the first half was decidedly not great. Each team played a bad quarter — the Suns were bad in the first, the Bucks even worse in the second. In my notes, I wrote, “The Nets and Clippers must be sitting at home wondering how they lost to these teams”. Luckily, the teams stepped up in the second half so it truly became a memorable and exciting game. Just as I wished for in my pre-Finals post:

All that being said, these are the only Finals we get this year. Let’s hope it is well-played and exciting, and without endless replay reviews in the last two minutes. I am rooting for the Bucks, coached by former Pomona-Pitzer Sagehen all-conference guard Mike Budenholzer. (He was a bit slimmer when he was playing for our rival.)

Congratulations to ex-Sagehen and ex-Spur Coach Bud!

  • Some players fill up the box score. The Bucks’ starting small forward does not. In 36 minutes in Game Six, P.J. Tucker took one shot, and missed it. He shot no free throws. While he had 6 rebounds, he had only 1 assist, 1 steal and no blocks. With all of that, Tucker led the Bucks in plus-minus with 13, 3 more than Giannis. Compare that to the Bucks’ normally reliable reserve Pat Connaughton. He went 0 for 4 from the floor. He also went 0 for 2 from the line with 20 seconds left. Making either free throw would have increased the Bucks lead to 7 points, completely sealing the game and the Series. Connaughton was minus twenty-one (21) for the game, which is not easy to do in a game your team wins. (I included this last comment as a favor to my good friend Matt, who throughout the Finals has been asking that I mention Connaughton. You’re welcome, Matt.)
  • It feels like a long time ago when the Bucks were down 2 - 0 in the Series and in serious trouble. Because the Bucks came back, Chris Paul became the first player in league history to lose four playoff series in which his team held a 2 - 0 lead. Apparently, Paul doesn’t only flop when someone brushes against him; he also does when he team goes up 2 - 0 in a playoff series.
  • I am very much looking forward to Game Seven tonight. I hope that the Bucks win again to go up 5 – 2 in the series, removing any doubt as to which team is best.