Giannis Antetokounmpo recently ignited a new debate during this year’s NBA Finals with his incredible block on Deandre Ayton late in Game 4. That debate is, which play was the better block: LeBron James’ during the 2016 NBA Finals with the Cleveland Cavaliers, or Antetokounmpo’s in 2021?
James’ former Cavs teammate, Richard Jefferson, recently gave his honest answer to that question, and it wasn’t as clear-cut as you’d think.
LeBron James’ 2016 NBA Finals block with the Cavs
LeBron James’ block with the Cavs during the 2016 NBA Finals had more drama around it than maybe any other play in history. James and the Cavs were not only trying to win the city of Cleveland its first professional title in over 50 years, but they were doing it in a Game 7 after trailing 3-1 in the series against the 73-win Golden State Warriors.
The iconic defensive play in question came with 1 minute, 50 seconds left during the last game of the finals, and it was a chase down on an Andre Igoudala fastbreak layup attempt. The Cavs then scored less than a minute later on a Kyrie Irving 3-pointer and kept the Warriors from scoring the rest of the game.
They ultimately won 93-89 to win James’ his third NBA championship.
Giannis Antetokounmpo’s 2021 NBA Finals block with the Bucks
Antetokounmpo and the Bucks trailed the Phoenix Suns 2-0 in the 2021 NBA Finals, and after they took Game 3 by 20 points, Game 4 went down to the wire.
The Bucks eventually led 101-99 with 1 minute, 14 seconds left, when Antetokounmpo went from trying to help P.J. Tucker defend Devin Booker‘s drive through the lane, to turning around and blocking Ayton’s alley-oop dunk attempt.
Khris Middleton then made a layup with 27 seconds left to increase the lead to four, and the Bucks eventually won 109-103 to tie the series 2-2.
Richard Jefferson debated which block was better
Jefferson played with James and the Cavs during the NBA Finals in 2016, so he got a great view of James’ legendary block. But he was also in attendance at Game 4 of the 2021 NBA finals, so he was still able to see Antetokounmpo’s block up close.
Although you may think Jefferson would without a doubt say James’ block was the better one (given that he was on the team and it helped him win a championship himself) his answer was maybe not as clear-cut as you’d expect it to be.
“What makes both of those blocks so special and so unique is the time in which they happened … the moments in the game, the moments in the series,” Jefferson said on the July 15 episode of the Dan Patrick Show. “So, if we’re talking about more impressive block, it’s definitely Bron’s because it meant more, the time of it, (about) a minute to go, in a Game 7; down 3-1, all that stuff.”
He continued: “If you’re talking about how many people on the planet can go do what somebody did, then that’s the Giannis block. Because there’s only maybe two players that can be backtracking, hand up, turn around, see the lob, go up, one, two, go get it against the No. 1 pick that’s 7-feet and athletic Deandre Ayton. It was technically perfect, and it was physically, only three people in the world can do that. So, it’s like the combination is what made that so special.”
It seems Jefferson is essentially arguing that if you’re talking about which block meant more in the grand scheme of things, James’ was the more impressive one. But if you’re debating which one was the better athletic feat, then Antetokounmpo’s definitely gets the nod.
Either way, both plays were incredible.
LeBron James’ Cavs block vs. Giannis Antetokounmpo’s Bucks block
When debating between the two blocks, as Jefferson alluded to, the time during the series in which they occurred should certainly be considered.
James’ 2016 NBA Finals play came in a Game 7 with less than two minutes left. The Cavs were on their last life; it was win the game and win a title, or lose the game and lose the series. Antetokounmpo’s block, on the other hand, will still mean a lot in the outcome of the series, given that it was at the end of Game 4, but the teams still had more games to play after that. It wasn’t win or go home. So, because of the timing, James’ block certainly had more meaning.
Overall, though, both blocks were extremely impressive and two of the greatest plays in NBA Finals history. The circumstances just made James’ heroics slightly better.
Stats courtesy of Basketball Reference