Daily Cover: Giannis Looks To Elevate From Being One Of The Best To Being One Of The Greatest
As the NBA Conference Semifinals begin today, the reigning NBA Champion Milwaukee Bucks find themselves as the underdogs against a DANGEROUS Boston Celtics team, fresh off dismantling the more celebrated and heavily favored Brooklyn Nets.
It wasn’t just that the Celtics swept the Nets, it was HOW they swept the Nets. Boston simply bullied Brooklyn throughout the entire series with a physical, swarming, detailed defense that totally disrupted what many thought (including yours truly) was the best player in the game, Kevin Durant. Durant, who is one of the more efficient players in the history of the game, a member of the ultra exclusive 50/40/90 club, was held to 38 percent shooting from the field and 33 percent shooting from 3-point range while averaging a little over FIVE turnovers per game. Boston’s goal was clear from the opening tip in game one of the series, someone, anyone, other than Kevin Durant will have to beat us.
Jayson Tatum, Boston’s 24 year old soon to be All NBA FIRST TEAM forward, solidified himself as a superstar, thanks to his stellar performance against the Nets and specifically one Kevin Durant. Tatum not only averaged 29.5 points, 4.5 rebounds, 7.3 assists and 1.8 steals on 45 percent shooting from the field, 41 percent shooting from deep and 86 percent shooting from the charity stripe, but, his defense on Durant (I can’t recall seeing so many jumpers from KD get blocked) made the biggest impact. Jaylen Brown is knocking on the door of joining Tatum as a superstar in this game as well. Brown, shined throughout the series (22.5 points, 5.3 rebounds, 4.3 assists and a series high 2.5 steals) complimenting Tatum perfectly as a lethal duo for Boston. Marcus Smart, the newly crowned NBA Defensive Player of the Year, ran the show beautifully as floor general for Boston, while maintaining his defensive standard, averaging 16.5 points, 4 rebounds and 7 assists for the series. Center Al Horford (13 points, 7.5 rebounds, 58% FG/ 50% 3FG/ 75% FT), versatile forward Grant Williams (11.3 points, 4 rebounds, 57& FG/ 50% 3FG/ 87% FT) and forward-center Daniel Theis (8.5 points, 6.5 rebounds, 56% FG, 83% FT) did the dirty work inside, while also doing a great job defensively helping contain Durant and Irving. Don’t forget about Robert Williams returning and rounding into shape as well.
When you look at the overall talent, versatility and depth of the Celtics and in comparison, you look at the Bucks who comes in wounded with all star Khris Middleton sidelined with a Grade 2 MCL sprain, you should now understand why Boston is favored in this series.
Enter Giannis Antetokounmpo. Yes, Milwaukee still has Jrue Holiday, productive center Brook Lopez, Bobby Portis who has become one of the best role players in the NBA and Grayson Allen, Pat Connaughton and Wesley Matthews provide depth on the wing….however, it all comes back to Antetokounmpo. In the Bucks 4-1 series win in the first round over the Bull’s, Antetokounmpo was dominant, averaging 28.6 points, 13.4 rebounds, 6.2 assists and 1.4 blocks per game, yet, he will need to elevate his game even more for Milwaukee to move pass a hungry Boston team. Doing so will elevate Antetokounmpo from being ONE of the greats to becoming ONE of the greatest. The select few in the greatest group all faced immeasurable odds at times in the playoffs during their career, and they elevated their games to levels very few have and propelled their teams forward. Think about Bill Russell in the 1969 finals, game seven, set to retire and facing a LOADED Lakers team with Wilt Chamberlain, Jerry West and Elgin Baylor. Russell, as PLAYER COACH, posted 6 points, 6 assists and 21 rebounds in his last game to lead Boston to their 11th championship in 13 years. Think about Willis Reed in the 1970 finals, going down with a torn muscle in his right thigh during game five and then fighting back to play in the decisive game seven against the same (albeit one year older) loaded Lakers team with Wilt Chamberlain, Jerry West and Elgin Baylor. Reed hit the first two jumpers of the game, inspiring the Knicks to a 113-99 win and their first NBA Championship. Take a look at Jordan against the Knicks in 92 and 93, against the Jazz in 98 when Scottie Pippen was injured with a bad back. Look at Dream Olajuwon during his championship runs in 1994 and 1995, battling through multiple teams with superstar bigs and multiple all stars, look at Detroit in 2004, the stellar play of Chauncey Billups. Look at Dirk and how he elevated the Mavericks pass the Miami Heat with LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, LeBron James leading the Cavaliers back from being down 3-1 against the 73-9 Warriors….I can go on and on about the greatest players rising to a level that is rarely reached to overcome great odds to reach the goal of winning a NBA Championship.
This is the challenge that Giannis Antetokounmpo is facing against a Boston team that has the makings of making a championship run this season and beyond. The last time we saw Antetokounmpo facing this type of challenge, he went crazy in the 2021 NBA Finals, ending the Phoenix Suns run with a 50 point, 14 rebound, 5 block performance in game six to give Milwaukee their first Championship since the Big O and a young Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (then Lew Alcindor) accomplished the same feat 50 years prior. Antetokounmpo will have to summon the same type of performance as he did throughout the 2021 finals to get pass Boston. Doing so will separate himself from being one of the best of this era to being one of the best PERIOD. With him being a player that is NEVER satisfied, I wouldn’t bet against Antetokounmpo rising to the occasion.