There is an End! Giannis calls for rebellion with a display

Giant Greek match, again, and Bucks superiority in Milwaukee. Booker's Black Day and Jrue's Resurrection. Wednesday, key duel.


It has been 47 years (since 1974) that the NBA Finals did not land in Milwaukee. So such precious opportunities cannot be missed; Not without going out to fight, at the very least. And the Bucks did. It was (120-100) more than a win. It was a liberating cry, a call to rebellion, a wild basketball harangue, raw, against the super-perfect beauty of the Suns. With a 2-0 down as they faced, the Bucks needed above all to win: whatever. And they did. But they put the extra, the X factor that reopens the Finals as much or more than the mathematics of 2-1: conviction, muscle, faith and also basketball. The Bucks are here and the 2021 Finals are compressed as the Milwaukee Fiserv Forum (8-1 now in these playoffs) once again becomes a Thermopylae pass that tightens the fence on earth-shaking armies in its wake. This is where the Nets fell to the knee (bruised by injuries, yes) and here the Suns have started in serious disgust. Beware.

It has been 50 years since the Bucks (1971, Lew Alcindor / Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's team and Oscar Robertson) have not won the title ... and it has been 13 days since Giannis Antetokounmpo suffered an ominous-looking knee injury in Game 4 of the final del Este, a series against the Atlanta Hawks that seems far away because the Finals are a time and a place in itself, an ecosystem unlike anything else. Giannis is 26 years old, still. He has played five All Stars, has won two MVPs, a Best Defender of the Year award, one Most Improved Player award and has entered the Best Five and two Second Best since he came to the NBA, like a noodle, in 2013. He has also remained loyal to the Bucks when the waters of free agency began to swirl around him, a coveted asset in today's NBA. And yet, he has been rained down by rave reviews, many too destructive, following the playoff eliminations of the previous two years. In which he taught lacks and in which he lacked maturity and resources, yes. But perhaps the key to everything was, finally, the first data: he is, now, 26 years old.

The same Giannis (more mature, stronger: better) in which some insisted on seeing more the defects (sometimes rude, yes) than the virtues (atomic) has been the best player of the first three games of the Finals 2021 A series in which he faces a player who is a legend (Chris Paul) and another who has the talent to end up being one (Devin Booker). Less, I repeat, than two weeks after almost destroying his knee and with moments in which, especially in lateral movements in defense, he shows that he is not at 100%. Giannis is a one-man army, a player of apparent physical strength and less and less questionable mental strength. After his 42 + 14 + 4 in the second game he finished the third with 41 points, 13 rebounds and 6 assists. It was everywhere, literally. And he ruled the zones with a superiority that came to remember Shaquille O'Neal. And it's not that Giannis is Shaq, we're not there yet. Is that his ability to decide the game playing near the rim can be compared to that of that one: 12/12 under the basket, 14 shots scored (28 points) in the paint. These are numbers that only Shaq and LeBron James have amassed in the last quarter of a century. They are very, very serious numbers.

In case anyone wants more perspective: only Shaquille had tied at least two 40 + 10 games in the title fight, and only Jerry West, Magic Johnson, LeBron and Kevin Durant had added at least 41 + 13 + 6. The Greek is seventh with 40 + 10 + 5 and fifth with 100 points and 40 rebounds in the first three games of a Final. These are the other four: Elgin Baylor, Willis Reeed, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and, again, Shaquille. An interesting company for someone who did not know how to play basketball for four newscasts. His averages in the series are at 34.3 points, 14 rebounds, 4.6 assists, 1.3 blocks, 61.2% in field shots and a very remarkable (for him) 65.3% in free throws. (brilliant 13/17 in the third). It is a matter of domination even though, it is strange, there are greatnesses that seem more difficult to recognize than others even though they are spreading their wings before the whole world, with a blinding flash. This version of Antetokounmpo, less obsessed in actions that penalize him away from the rim and with more effective movements near the basket (he continues to progress: he is 26 years old) is majestic, infernal, superior. There are many ways to be an exceptionally good basketball player. Also, luckily, in 2021. Also in the triple era.

A perfect storm in Milwaukee

The Suns have never been within a title game. They have lost two Finals by an identical 4-2 and now they are still in the two (2-1 in favor). They are still favorites. They earned the right to play with a net at home in Arizona. And they have the fourth game left (Wednesday: two days off) to definitely blow up the seams of the series (they are, now, 6-3 away from home in the playoffs). In the worst case, a 2-2 would put them in a three-game miniseries with two in their court, including the hypothetical seventh. And they have already come out of dangerous places and threatening alleys against the Lakers and Clippers. It is a well-trained team, with a generational leader like Chris Paul and a more mature bloc than the youth of many of its main players would presage. The Suns are all of that ... but they're not nearly as superior to the Bucks as they appeared in Game 1.

They're going to have to sweat. They will have to be tougher because their rival is an exercise in movement of mental resilience and physical consistency. In five games this season between the regular season and the Finals, the Suns only beat the Bucks by five total points (589-584). They are better, they have more weapons and their rival has no answer for their best version. But be careful: the dynamics of the last two games open the option of the jungle, and there Giannis roars; and the strength of the Bucks on their soil, in that Wisconsin that seems farther from everything than it really is, turns the Fiserv Forum into Thermopylae. In the NBA Finals you can go, without really knowing how, from being a hunter to being a game, and when you want to find out your rival has devoured you and is in full parade in his city. The third game raised many questions, surely the fourth will give a few answers. Maybe some definitive ones.

The inertia favorable to the Suns lasted just over a quarter. Again, it seemed from the start that Monty Williams' men were almost sweating more ground than the Bucks covered with excruciating suffering. And that, therefore, his energy reserve would prevail in the long-distance race that a full match supposes. After a beautiful first quarter by Chris Paul and DeAndre Ayton (12 points, 6/7 shooting for the center), the game was 30-36 in the 15th minute and the temperature dropped blow by blow, degree by degree, in the Fiserv Forum. There came the revolution: 30-9 in 9 minutes until halftime (60-45) with, for the first time, the Suns completely beaten. When Cam Johnson made (10 points almost straight, a poster dunk) an attempt back to normal in the third quarter (74-70), the Bucks released the final bite, which showed that they can also dominate long stretches of the games, being the aggressor: 24-6 to close the third quarter (98-76) with a final 16-0 that reached 19-0 at the beginning of the last quarter (101-76) .

The Suns went more than five minutes without scoring. The personals diluted Ayton, Paul suffered a lot against Jrue Holiday and has in the last two games 17 assists ... and 10 losses, something absolutely improper. Devin Booker had a nightmare day (great job Middleton) and spent the fourth quarter on the bench: 10 points, 3/14 shooting. Crowder's 3-pointers and Johnson's appearance held the Suns finally unanswered, overwhelmed, in the second half. But, I repeat, with room to allow one night like this and two days now to turn the video around. Wednesday should be better ... or the real problems will come.

For the Bucks it was the perfect game. The claim, the oxygen, the strength. Beyond Giannis, the attack was much more fluid (28-21 in assists, 9-15 in losses), the shot progressed (14/36 in triples, 9/31 the Suns), the rebound was his again (47 -36, 13-6 on offense) and the game unraveled from safety near the rim (22 points in the second quarter, a carnage) into outside positions. Middleton improved (18 points, 7 rebounds, 6 assists without forcing) and, this may be crucial, Jrue Holiday broke in the third quarter with four triples, three in a row when the comeback was a real threat. He finished with 21 + 5 + 9 and a 5/10 from the line of three to accompany his phenomenal defensive exercise. So yes. Thus, the Bucks, with good minutes on the bench from Portis and Connaughton, can win this tie if they continue to increase the revolutions of one defense at a time, a very promising inertia for them, less bent on the impulses of their rival.It is not about being better or worse team on paper, having more weapons or doing things with more or less aesthetics. It is about turning the Final into a trench in which you have the option of winning four games out of seven. The Bucks are no better than the Suns, but they can do that. Ask if not the Cavaliers of 2016, the last one that came back after losing the first two games (against the Warriors of 73-9, no less). Now they have a foothold, they have a Giannis Antetokounmpo who looks into infinity and they have an all or nothing game, regardless of what the math says, on Wednesday. Your rival will play better, or it is better for them at least to count on it. But the Fiserv Forum, the jungle, will narrow like the gorge of Thermopylae as soon as Giannis' roar thunders. There Final.

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