As a writer, you are taught to avoid clichés. The team’s publicists and public relations officers surely train athletes to do the same. But ultimately it is inevitable. With cameras and recorders constantly pointed at your face, game after game, day after day, it’s hard to make fresh, original, and insightful remarks about a game you’ve been playing since you first took your first steps.
This is part of the reason why Milwaukee Bucks All-Star Giannis Antetokounmpo’s philosophical monologue the day before Game 5 of the NBA Finals resonated with such a large audience – from die-hard fans to people who don’t. ‘ve never watched basketball. The honesty and thoughtfulness involved in Antetokounmpo’s response, triggered by a brilliant question from Sam Amick of The Athletic, is as rare as the mythical unicorn Giannis is so often compared to.
“When you focus on the past, it’s your ego, ‘I did that. We were able to beat this team 4-0. I’ve done that in the past. I’ve won that in the past. ‘ When I focus on the future it’s my pride: “Yeah, next game, game 5, I do this and this and that. I’m going to dominate. “It’s your pride speaking. It doesn’t happen. You’re right here.
“I kind of try to focus on the moment, in the present. It’s humility. It’s being humble. It doesn’t create any expectations. It’s going out there, enjoying the game, competing. at a high level. I think I’ve had people throughout my life, that’s helped me with that. But it’s a skill that I tried to, like, sort of – how the say, perfect it, master it. And it has worked so far. So I’m not going to stop. “
It is one thing to say the right thing, but quite another to support it on the ground. That’s exactly what Antetokounmpo did in Milwaukee’s decisive Game 5 123-119 win over the Phoenix Suns on Saturday, which puts the Bucks within one win of their first NBA championship in 50 years. Antetokounmpo finished with his usual dominant stat line of 32 points, nine rebounds and six assists, but his performance was marked by selflessness, patience and, yes, humility.
The Greek Freak came out strong from the gates, scoring eight of the team’s first 18 points. The problem was, the Suns were blowing the Bucks out of the building, leading by 16 by the end of the first quarter. With Giannis on the bench to start the second quarter, the Bucks quickly took the lead thanks to brilliant play from Jrue Holiday, Khris Middleton, Brook Lopez, Bobby Portis and Pat Connaughton. Milwaukee was only three behind when Giannis returned with 6:14 left in the first half.
This is where ego and pride – those stubborn feelings Antetokounmpo so eloquently described in Friday’s soliloquy – might have crept into the double MVP.
He could have fed his ego with thoughts of the past: “I am averaging 32 points and 14 rebounds in my first final. It’s time to take over.
He could have succumbed to his pride thinking about the future: “When I leave for 50 tonight and bring my team back, it will cement my NBA heritage.”
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Instead, he chose humility, arguably the more difficult option of the three, and stayed in the present. Rather than trying to force the issue by pushing his way to the basket or taking contested fadeaways, Antetokounmpo made the game simple and allowed his successful teammates to flourish.
First off, Giannis could easily have made his way to the transition basket to try to get a layup or get fouled, but instead he admitted he drew three Suns defenders and fired a magnificent one-handed laser without looking around the corner for a wide open Portis 3 pointers.
A few possessions later, Antetokounmpo recovers the ball on the wing against a falling shot clock. He gets into the lane again, but rather than push his way through the Suns’ wall, he sends him back to Middleton, who passes Jae Crowder’s fence for a float.
Giannis only had two field goal attempts in the second quarter as the Bucks racked up 43 points and turned a 16-point deficit in the first quarter into a three-point halftime lead.
Antetokounmpo recovered in the second half, accumulating 20 of his 32 points, but he hasn’t stopped playing basketball as a team. He entered Game 5 with an average of 3.6 assists per game in the playoffs, up from 2.8 in the regular season, according to NBA.com. On Saturday he had five assists on screen and was particularly active as a role man for Holiday and Middleton. Watch how he crushes Mikal Bridges on this screen, freeing Middleton to hit a base fade on Deandre Ayton.
And finally, there was a selfless room that might have gone unnoticed. After the most exciting game of the NBA Finals – when Holiday stole the ball from Devin Booker and then lobed at Antetokounmpo, who was fouled while completing the dunk – Giannis missed the free throw.
The ball was kicked into the air and Giannis could have easily secured it with both hands. Instead, he sent him back to Khris Middleton, a much better free throw shooter, who knocked down one in two to secure the win.
Pride and ego reportedly told Antetokounmpo, who had missed three consecutive free throws, to grab the ball and prove to everyone that he could pull them off. Instead, his humility made him realize that flipping the ball to ANY other Buck on the field would have resulted in a much higher chance of victory.
At the end of this final, whether won or lost, we will see staggering figures from Antetokounmpo. But we can’t forget that with these came countless winning coins that are the result of his selflessness and the suppression of his ego.
“We have to continue to play basketball well. We can’t worry about the result,” Antetokounmpo said after the win in Game 5. “I just have to keep playing basketball well, and hopefully we can win.”