Giannis Antetokounmpo Wants a Title More Than He Wants the Ball in the 4th Quarter

Giannis Antetokounmpo is a two-time NBA MVP. For all the shortcomings his game has, he’s unquestionably the guy for the Milwaukee Bucks. Antetokpounmpo was a big reason the Bucks weathered an early knockout punch from the Atlanta Hawks in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals. But at money time down the stretch, Antetokounmpo wasn’t the guy leading the charge.

And he honestly couldn’t have cared less. Milwaukee pulled away from the Hawks for a 113–102 win in a game they trailed by 15 points early. More importantly, the Bucks trailed Atlanta 95–88 before a blistering 25–7 run put the game away.

Antetokounmpo put together a solid statistical line in the game with 33 points and 11 rebounds, even as his free-throw shooting woes were on full display once again. He is poised on the cusp of matching a long-standing franchise record, even if he wasn’t the story late in the game.

Giannis Antetokounmpo close to joining Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in Bucks history

Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks
Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks celebrates a win following Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Atlanta Hawks. | Todd Kirkland/Getty Images

Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals marked the ninth time this postseason that Giannis Antetokounmpo has had at least 30 points and 10 rebounds in a game. The Milwaukee Bucks’ record for a single playoff year is 10, set by Hall of Famer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in the 1974 NBA Playoffs. That was the last time the Bucks reached the NBA Finals, coincidentally.

Antetokounmpo is gaining on Kareem on the franchise’s all-time career lists, as well. Barring injury, Antetokounmpo has a shot at passing Abdul-Jabbar as Milwaukee’s career scoring leader late next season. He’s 1,892 points behind Kareem with 12,319. That’s a 23.1 points per game pace over 82 games.

Antetokounmpo has more work to do on the rebounding list. Abdul-Jabbar had 7,161 boards as a Buck; Antetokounmpo is at 5,371 rebounds for his career. It’s worth noting that Giannis has played eight seasons in Milwaukee already. Abdul-Jabbar forced his way out after six.

But Antetokounmpo proved himself the rare superstar in Game 3. He was willing to defer to the hot hand when the game was on the line.

Antetokounmpo didn’t lead the way in the fourth quarter of Game 3

Giannis Antetokounmpo put up big numbers in his 41 minutes of action in Game 3. Most of those numbers came before the fourth quarter, however. Through three periods, he had 28 points and 11 rebounds. He made his only two field-goal attempts in the fourth but was relatively quiet with five points and a steal.

Instead, it was Khris Middleton who went supernova down the stretch. First, Middleton played the entire fourth quarter, scoring 20 of his game-high 38 points in the fourth period. Then, during the Milwaukee Bucks’ decisive run to close the game, Middleton scored 17 of the Bucks’ 25 points. His 38 points matched a career playoff-high for Middleton. He also scored 38 in Milwaukee’s Game 6 victory over the Brooklyn Nets in the last round.

Did Antetokounmpo brood or pout about only getting two shots in the fourth quarter? No, his reaction was about as far from that as it could have been, according to Malika Andrews of ESPN.

“I want to be a winner. I have the whole game to be ‘the guy.’ I don’t care about being the guy in the fourth quarter. I trust Khris to death. If Khris asks for the ball, better give him the ball.”

Giannis Antetokounmpo

The Bucks had tasted playoff disappointment the last two seasons when they were the top seed in the East. In 2019, they dropped four straight games to the Toronto Raptors after taking a 2–0 season lead. Last year, the fifth-seeded Miami Heat bum-rushed Milwaukee in the conference semifinals.

But if they’re going to get the rest of the way, they’ll have to deal with one big Antetokounmpo problem.

Why is Giannis Antetokounmpo so bad at the free-throw line?


Giannis Antetokounmpo has a ‘Not Talking About Basketball’ Rule in His House

No one will ever confuse Giannis Antetokounmpo with Stephen Curry when it comes to free-throw shooting. But the regression Antetokounmpo has experienced since 2016–17 is startling. That season, he shot a career-high 77.0% from the line. It fell to 76.0% in 2017-18, then to 72.9% before cratering to 63.3% last season. This year, he recovered a bit to 68.5%. He’s a career 71.7% shooter at the line.

But the playoffs have been an entirely different story. Antetokounmpo has adopted an agonizingly long routine at the free-throw line. Unfortunately, it’s a routine that isn’t serving him well, either. He’s made only 55.1% during the playoffs. In this series, he is 15-of-25 (60%) after a putrid 48.3% performance against Brooklyn (29-of-60).

Fixing Giannis Antetokounmpo’s foul shooting won’t happen overnight. But it is a potential problem for a team looking at finishing what it couldn’t the last two years.

Statistics courtesy of Basketball Reference and NBA Stats.