Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks looked dead in the water after Game 2 against the Brooklyn Nets, a debacle in which they trailed by as many as 49 points. In Game 3, the Bucks kept their heads above water by winning one of the ugliest playoff games you’ll ever see, and in Game 4 they won comfortably thanks in large part to Kyrie Irving’s ankle injury.
Now tied at two wins apiece, the Bucks are in the driver’s seat in spite of the fact that the series shifts back to Brooklyn. The Bucks aren’t unscathed in the injury department; they lost Donte DiVincenzo for the postseason in Game 3 of the first round against the Miami Heat, but their losses can’t compare to the Brooklyn Nets. In this series alone, the Nets have lost two Hall of Famers in Irving and James Harden for the foreseeable future.
The door is wide open for the Milwaukee Bucks after coming back to tie the Brooklyn Nets. Now, it’s on Giannis Antetokounmpo to be the best player on earth.
In a perfect world, we’d get to see the Bucks and Nets square off in the second round of the NBA playoffs both at full strength. But nothing is perfect about this bizarre, make-shift season, defined as much by injuries and who isn’t still in the playoffs as it is by who is in it.
With the door busted open for the Bucks, it’s now incumbent upon Giannis Antetokounmpo to be the best player in the world. He’s a two-time MVP, and he should be unstoppable against the diminished Nets. The thing is, he needs to stop stopping himself.
At times in the postseason and in this series itself, Giannis has been his own worst enemy. He’s backed off on attacking Blake Griffin when he gets matched up in isolation, and he squanders possessions with quick 3-pointers. He’s shooting 19.0 percent from 3-point range against the Nets, but he’s shooting 5.3 of them per game.
His decision to shoot these no-hope 3-pointers is all the more puzzling considering how utterly unstoppable he is when he gets a head of steam towards the basket. From 2-point range in this series, he’s shooting a staggering 64.2 percent. Every 3-pointer Giannis chucks up is an instant win for the Nets, regardless of whether it goes in or not.
Better decision-making and trimming off the fat of wasted possessions will be a good start if Giannis wants to assert himself as the best player in this series, above Kevin Durant, and indeed the best player on the planet. For the Bucks to beat the diminished Nets, let alone make a Finals run, this is a maturation that Giannis needs to make.
Speaking of maturation, he’s going to have to remember how to shoot free-throws better than 2015-16 Andre Drummond. In the four games of this series so far, Giannis Antetokounmpo is shooting 37.9 percent from the free-throw line on 29 total attempts. That’s an issue that may run deeper than mere decision-making like the 3-pointer issue, but between five 3-pointers and four missed free-throws per game, the two-time former MVP is leaving an ungodly amount of unscored points on the table.
If Antetokounmpo wants to add to his legacy rather than make the NBA world wonder if those MVPs were mistakenly awarded, he’s going to have to cut out the silly nonsense and get back to being the force of nature that elevated him to that level in the first place.