A grueling five-decade wait is now over for the Milwaukee Bucks.
The Bucks captured their first championship since 1971 after wrapping up the NBA Finals against the Phoenix Suns with a 105-98 home win in Game 6 on Tuesday, July 20 (Wednesday, July 21, Manila time).
Buoyed by their fans at the Fiserv Forum, the Bucks completed their sterling comeback from a 0-2 deficit as they won four consecutive games to bag their second NBA title in franchise history.
Two-time NBA Most Valuable Player Giannis Antetokounmpo saved the best for the last, powering the Bucks in the title-clinching victory with 50 points, 14 rebounds, and 5 blocks.
Haunted by free throw woes throughout the playoffs, Antetokounmpo showed up for Game 6 a different player as he shot a near-perfect 17-of-19 clip from the line.
Khris Middleton then took over for the Bucks down the stretch, just like what he did for the team for the entire season.
Middleton – who finished with 17 points, 5 rebounds, 5 assists, and 4 steals – scored 4 straight points in the final minute to give the Bucks a comfortable 104-96 lead with 40 ticks left.
Antetokounmpo scored 33 in the second half, including his 50th point on a game-sealing free throw with 9.8 seconds remaining.
The 26-year-old Greek star received the Bill Russell NBA Finals MVP award after averaging 35.2 points and 13.2 rebounds against Phoenix.
"This is a feeling, like this is an addictive feeling," Antetokounmpo, who was born in Greece to Nigerian parents, told reporters.
"I love playing in the playoffs. I love playing in the Finals. This is the moment I want to chase. I want the team to build off this and hopefully we can do it again."
Chris Paul had 26 points and 5 assists for the Suns, who dropped four games in a row after taking a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven series.
"Everybody in that locker room knows we had enough, but it wasn't enough," Paul told reporters.
"So, we got to figure it out. I think for me I just look at myself and figure out how can I get better, what I could have done more and make sure I come back next season ready to do it again."
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.
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.
Antetokounmpo opened the third quarter in bulldog mode, pouring in 12 points in the first 4:33 and tallying 20 in the frame. 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 the 6-foot-11 Antetokounmpo to check CP3. Bobby Portis joined the rotation, and the matchups kept Paul off-balance.
Milwaukee had 50 points in the paint.
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% 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 was 4-of-12. – Rappler.com
Delfin Dioquino dreamt of being a PBA player, but he did not have the skills to make it. So he pursued the next best thing to being an athlete – to write about them. He took up journalism at the University of Santo Tomas and joined Rappler as soon as he graduated in 2017.