Bucks end 50-year title drought with first NBA Championship

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The Milwaukee Bucks won the franchise’s first NBA championship in 50 years with a 105-98 win over the visiting Phoenix Suns on Tuesday night.

Exactly three weeks after suffering a knee injury that appeared to put his role in the Finals in doubt, Giannis Antetokounmpo carried Milwaukee to their first championship in half a century.

With the victory, the Bucks clinched the NBA Finals 4-2 and became only the fifth team to win the best-of-seven championship series after losing the first two games.

Giannis Antetokounmpo celebrates with the Bill Russell trophy for Finals MVP
Image:Antetokounmpo celebrates with the Bill Russell trophy for Finals MVP

The ‘Greek Freak’ delivered arguably the best performance of his career at the best possible moment and now can add an NBA Finals MVP award to his two regular-season MVP trophies. Just as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar led Milwaukee to their first championship in 1971, the 6ft 11in Antetokounmpo made sure a big man also carried the Bucks to their next title.

Antetokounmpo was an easy choice for the Bill Russell Finals MVP award after collecting 50 points, 14 rebounds and five blocks. He had at least 40 points and 10 rebounds in three of the six games in this series.

Milwaukee Bucks

PointsReboundsAssists
Giannis Antetokounmpo50142
PJ Tucker061
Brook Lopez1080
Khris Middleton1755
Jrue Holiday12911

Giannis scored 33 in the second half alone, including his 50th point on a game-sealing free throw with 9.8 seconds remaining. Surprisingly, after struggling with his free throw shooting throughout the playoffs, he ended 17 of 19 from the foul line to eliminate the Suns.

The 26-year-old averaged 35.2 points and 13.2 rebounds across the Finals against Phoenix.

Chris Paul had 26 points and five assists for the Suns, who dropped four games in a row after taking a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven series.

Phoenix’s Devin Booker missed an open look from three-point range on the right wing and Khris Middleton made two free throws with 44.7 seconds left to give the Bucks a 104-96 advantage.

On the previous possession, moving to his right from the top of the key, Middleton took a handoff from Antetokounmpo at full stride, rose up and knocked down a clutch jumper with 56.9 seconds left, putting Milwaukee up 102-96. That was the answer to a pair of Jae Crowder free throws at the 1:14 mark.

Booker’s run-out and contested layup put the Suns within 100-94, and Middleton committed the Bucks’ 19th turnover of the game at the other end to hush the home crowd.

Phoenix Suns

PointsReboundsAssists
Jae Crowder15130
Mikal Bridges762
Deandre Ayton1261
Devin Booker1935
Chris Paul2625

Antetokounmpo went over 40 for the third time in the series with a pair of free throws to stake the Bucks to an 88-84 advantage with eight minutes to play.

He had opened the third quarter in bulldog mode, as he has so often throughout the post-season, pouring in 12 points in the first 4:33 and tallying 20 in the frame. It was the second time during the Finals Antetokounmpo scored 20 in a Finals quarter, becoming the only player other than Michael Jordan to do so.

He showed little interest in sharing in a successive and fruitful run of isolation sets from the top of the key.

The Suns went to the bench when Deandre Ayton picked up his fourth foul but found no counter. Mikal Bridges and Frank Kaminsky were fruitless when Antetokounmpo was on the attack at close range.

Paul was harassed into a pair of critical turnovers and couldn’t find space to set his feet for the mid-range daggers that were available earlier in the game with the Bucks adjusting defensively in the fourth quarter to assign Antetokounmpo to check CP3. The superb Bobby Portis (16 points) joined the rotation and the match-ups kept Paul off-balance.

Milwaukee had 50 points in the paint, dominating that area yet again as Ayton proved ineffectual beneath the basket.

Turnovers choked the Bucks, but the Suns were unable to capitalize, producing just 16 points off of the freebies. The Bucks were able to salvage points at the foul line, going 25 of 29.

Booker evened the score at 77-all with a pair of free throws to end the third quarter.

The Bucks had clawed back to reclaim the lead with Antetokounmpo’s consecutive free throws with 8:08 on the clock in the third. He bullied his way for two more on the ensuing possession following a Booker turnover to breathe life into what had become a stressed, silent home crowd.

Paul scored 13 points in the first half, igniting a 31-point second quarter to lift the Suns out of panic mode.

Phoenix led 47-42 at intermission, holding the Bucks to 34.9 per cent shooting as Antetokounmpo had 17, reviving from a first-quarter disappearing act. Only Portis’ 10 points off the bench, including two three-pointers, helped the Bucks avoid a massive deficit.

In a Finals defined by heroic individual efforts, a hapless rock fight broke out in the first half. The Bucks went 3 of 17 from three-point range in the first 24 minutes. Phoenix were 4 of 12.

However, it’s not how it starts, it’s how it ends.

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