Giannis Antetokounmpo said earlier this week that he wouldn’t watch his historic block on Suns center Deandre Ayton until Friday’s film session in Phoenix.
But the Bucks superstar was no less impressed 48 hours after the feat that helped spur the Bucks to a Game 4 comeback victory and knot the NBA Finals at 2-2 heading into Saturday’s key Game 5 in Phoenix.
“It’s incredible what your body is [able] to do,” the two-time MVP from Greece said. “When you think about winning, you go to the extreme. I cannot explain the play. But, at the end of the day, that’s in the past. When you talk about the past, that’s your ego talking. It’s in the past. It’s over with. I’ve got to move on.
“I’ve got to keep making winning plays. I’ve got to keep competing. I’ve got to keep finding ways to help my team be great. Great moment. I appreciate the moment. Great moment. [But] we’ve got to move on.”
The Finals version of Antetokounmpo is better than the one the Nets faced in the second round of the playoffs. He started out very slowly in the Nets series — with a mental block at the free-throw line while his 3-point shot was clunkier than usual.
But now Antetokounmpo has found a way to dominate without attempting 3-pointers. He has taken just 11 3-pointers through four Finals contests, making two of them. He tried 31 in seven games versus the Nets.
He’s still bricking his free throws for the most part, though he shot 13-for-17 from the line in the must-have Game 3 win.
Antetokounmpo pumped in 40-plus points in two straight Finals games, and in one of them, he never made a shot beyond the restricted area. He’s playing an old-school center role, but without his back to the basket. He’s facing up and barreling to the hoop on many possessions.
While he dumped in 26 points after a passive beginning in Game 4 on Wednesday, he dished out eight assists that allowed Khris Middleton to shine with 40 points and a heroic finish, when the two-time All-Star scored 10 straight points to kill the Suns.
Antetokounmpo has proven as likeable a superstar as there is during an NBA era in which disgruntled players demanding trades get the headlines.
In the opposite vein, Antetokouompo signed a $228 million long-term contract extension with the Bucks last year, avoiding the speculation of his future and 2021 free agency. He’s bound to Milwaukee until 2026.
He’s as modest and humble as a superstar can get. Remember, he was the 15th pick in the draft — outside the lottery.
“I think I would say life. Usually, from my experience, when I think about like, ‘Oh, yeah, I did this, I’m so great, I had 30, I had 25-10-10,’ whatever the case might be,’’ Antetokounmpo said before Game 5. “Usually, the next day, you’re going to suck, you know? … Simple as that. The next few days you’re going to be terrible.’’
During his postgame press conference Wednesday, Antetokounmpo sent the audience into roaring laugher when asked why, in the past two contests, he had been yanked in the opening minutes for a spell.
“How do you guys say politely? I wanted to take a tinkle,’’ he said. “ A tinkle. I wanted to take a tinkle and came back. That’s polite, right? Both games.”
You won’t hear LeBron James talking “tinkle.’’ Comparisons abounded that Antetokounmpo’s block of Ayton was on par with James’ chase-down rejection of Andre Iguodala’s layup that helped win Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals and end the Cleveland sports title curse.
Bucks teammate Pat Connaughton said after the game that Antetokounmpo’s was “the best block of all time.”
Connaughton, a Notre Dame product, felt historically it was tough to top James. But the difficulty of Antetokounmpo gliding from the foul line once an alley-oop pass had been made to Ayton, then climbing above the rim gave it the highest grade.
“I would look at the criteria of greatest block of all time based off of difficulty of the block and then time and score,’’ Connaughton said. “I think obviously LeBron’s time and score probably has the edge in that situation because of when it was and helped them literally win a championship that game. But I think the difference between the time and score difference and then the difficulty of the block difference, gives the edge to Giannis just because a chase-down block, you have a little more of an ability to read. It’s a great block and we’re talking about two of the greatest blocks of all time and I don’t want to discredit that block.’’
Through the first four games, Antetokounmpo averaged 32.3 points, 14.0 rebounds and 5.5 assists. In all likelihood, he’ll win series MVP if the Bucks win it all. And by then, his recent remark that the Nets’ Kevin Durant is “the greatest player on the planet” could be up for debate.