Giannis Antetokounmpo Just Gave a Firm Reality Check to Joel Embiid and Nikola Jokic

Last July, Giannis Antetokounmpo dropped 50 points in a historic Finals-clinching performance. On Tuesday, he unleashed the sequel.

The Greek Freak scored 50 points for the first time since Game 6 of the 2021 NBA Finals, leading the Milwaukee Bucks to a 128-119 victory over the Indiana Pacers. With that, the 36-23 Bucks now sit in the No. 3 seed, trailing the Eastern Conference-leading Miami Heat and Chicago Bulls by 1.5 games.

Giannis’ night was special for a number of reasons. Not only did the superstar produce one of the most efficient 50-point games in NBA history, but he also sent a reminder to the league’s MVP candidates that he’s not going away anytime soon.

Giannis Antetokounmpo had a 50-point game few have matched

The night before Antetokounmpo’s masterpiece, the 27-year-old sat out Milwaukee’s loss to the Portland Trail Blazers due to left ankle soreness. It’s just another reason why the Freak’s game against Indiana was wildly impressive.

Giannis finished the night with exactly 50 points on 17-of-21 shooting, an 81.0% rate. His 21 attempts were the fourth-fewest needed for a 50-point game in league history, bested only by Adrian Dantley in 1980 (17 attempts), Willie Burton in 1994 (19), and Damian Lillard in 2021 (20).

The six-time All-Star also added 14 rebounds and four assists to his final line. According to ESPN, Giannis is now the third player in NBA history to have 50 points on at least 80.0% shooting and 10 rebounds, joining Wilt Chamberlain (four times) and Karl Malone.

Antetokounmpo hit a pair of threes, but the bulk of his work came down low or at the charity stripe. Twenty-six of his 50 points were in the paint, including a season-high seven dunks. He also went a solid 14-of-18 from the free-throw line.

With Tuesday’s 50-point clinic topping last week’s 44-point effort against the Los Angeles Lakers, Giannis is now averaging a league-leading 29.4 points. The decorated champion is still in search of his first scoring title after averaging 27.7 points or more in each of the last four seasons.

Giannis has officially joined Joel Embiid and Nikola Jokic in the MVP race

Many deserving players have MVP cases this season, though Joel Embiid and Nikola Jokic have led the way.

Embiid, the Philadelphia 76ers’ dominant center, was the league’s leading scorer until Tuesday night and is the NBA’s hottest post-Christmas player. As for Jokic, the Denver Nuggets big man is putting up nearly identical numbers to the ones he had in his MVP season in 2020-21.

Ask most experts, and they’ll tell you the MVP is boiling down to one of those two players. But after Tuesday, the Greek Freak is making it a three-man race.

Antetokounmpo has closed the gap on Jokic in player efficiency rating (PER). The Joker now holds a razor-thin lead of 32.5 to 32.3 with Embiid down to 31.6. The two are also neck-and-neck in win shares per 48 minutes (0.297 to 0.292).

However, Giannis has barged his way into the mix for two key reasons. Leading the league in scoring matters in an MVP race. Since 2010, only five players have led the NBA in points per game — Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony, Russell Westbrook, Stephen Curry, and James Harden. All but Anthony won an MVP.

It also helps Antetokounmpo’s case that the Bucks are better than the Sixers and a good deal better than the Nuggets. In the last 30 years, only Westbrook and Jokic have won MVP on a team that finished outside of a top-two seed. As of Wednesday, Milwaukee is the No. 3 seed, Philadelphia is the No. 5 seed, and Denver is the No. 6 seed out West.

There is still enough time for all of this to change. But right now, Giannis is much closer than previously thought as an MVP candidate.

Antetokounmpo would gladly settle for another championship in lieu of a third MVP

After scoring a season-high 50 points, Giannis didn’t gloat about how amazing he was. Nor did he fire off his bona fides for why he should win his third MVP award.

Instead, the Greek Freak emphasized that his ultimate goal is to win (h/t ESPN):

“Obviously it’s a nice feeling to have 50, you always remember it, but I care about winning. I want to win games. Fifties, 40s, 30s, all those things, accolades are going to come, but they only come with winning. If your main focus, your number one thing is winning, you do whatever it takes to finish the game. … You’ve always got to focus on winning.”

Giannis Antetokounmpo

Milwaukee is starting to find its form in the final stretch of the season. Its offensive rating now ranks sixth in the NBA, exactly where it finished last year. And the early-season injury issues seem to be behind the club, as well.

Antetokounmpo and the Bucks will still have to fight their way to the top seed in a highly-competitive Eastern Conference. But their chances of doing so are strong if Giannis has more legendary games left in him.

All statistics courtesy of Basketball Reference.

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