Three weeks ago, a knee injury left Giannis Antetokounmpo looking 50/50 to return for the rest of the Bucks' playoff run. Look at him now.
"The Greek Freak" delivered perhaps the best performance of his career at the best possible moment and can now add an NBA Finals MVP award to his two regular-season MVP trophies. Antetokounmpo scored 50 points in a series-clinching 105-98 Game 6 victory that ended the Bucks' 50-year title drought.
Antetokounmpo became the first player to average 35.2 points, 13.2 rebounds and 5.0 assists per game while shooting 61.8%.
He followed that up by saying how his improbable rise to stardom should serve as a inspiration to others.
“Believe in your dreams," Antetokounmpo said. "Whatever you feel, when you feel down, when things don’t look like it’s going to happen for you or you might not make it in your career – it might be basketball, it might be anything. Just believe in what you’re doing and keep working. Don’t let nobody tell you who you can’t be or what you can’t do.”
Antetokounmpo was an easy choice for the MVP honor after also adding 14 rebounds and five blocks in Game 6. He had at least 40 points and 10 rebounds in three of the six games in this series.
He did all that while dealing with a hyperextended left knee that prevented him from playing in the last two games of the Eastern Conference finals against the Atlanta Hawks.
Antetokounmpo's rapid recovery to lead Milwaukee to it first title since 1971 represents the crowning achievement in Antetokounmpko’s remarkable rise to NBA stardom.
The 26-year-old Antetokounmpo noted this week he hadn’t even started playing basketball in 2007, when LeBron James made his first finals appearance. His rare blend of size and athleticism made him the No. 15 overall pick in the 2013 draft, and he made his first All-Star appearance four years later.
He earned back-to-back MVP honors in 2019 and 2020 while leading the Bucks to the league’s best regular-season record each of those years, but they kept falling short in the playoffs. The Bucks blew a 2-0 lead to Toronto in the 2019 Eastern Conference finals, then lost to Miami in the second round.
Antetokounmpo kept his faith in the Bucks by signing a supermax extension in December.
“There was a job that had to be finished," Antetokounmpo said.
And now it has him on the highest of highs as the MVP of a league championship series.
Additional reporting by The Associated Press.