A resilient Milwaukee Bucks squad that battled back from adversity throughout the NBA playoffs and bonded over past failures ended a 50-year title drought Tuesday by winning the NBA Finals.
Giannis Antetokounmpo scored 50 points, grabbed 14 rebounds and blocked five shots to spark the Bucks over Phoenix 105-98, giving Milwaukee a 4-2 triumph on the best-of-seven championship series.
"He's so impressive night-in and night-out. Completely awe-inspiring," Milwaukee center Brook Lopez said. "His performance tonight, this whole series, this whole year, there's no words for that."
Antetokounmpo, a 26-year-old Greek forward, was the NBA Most Valuable Player in 2019 and 2020 but each time the Bucks flopped in the playoffs.
This year, he was named the NBA's Defensive Player of the Year and delivered an iconic performance to secure NBA Finals MVP honors, a feat previously managed in the same season only by Michael Jordan and Hakeem Olajuwon.
"As a whole we used a lot of our failures as experience," Bucks guard Khris Middleton said. "We've been in a lot of situations our past years here. We had a lot of new guys this year and we knew it was going to be challenging.
"But that's the type of team you want to be, throw different lineups out there, because you can't win the same way at this level."
Antetokounmpo signed a five-year contract extension worth a record $228 million last December to stay with the Bucks, a major commitment to a small-market club.
Jrue Holiday was obtained from New Orleans as part of a four-team trade deal last November and brought a third scoring threat as well as a tough backcourt defender to match the inside intensity of Antetokounmpo.
It wasn't the sort of "Super Team" that LeBron James has built around him in multiple cities, or the Golden State Warriors and Brooklyn Nets assembled. It was the sort of a championship side a city like Milwaukee could afford to assemble.
"It's easy to go somewhere and go win a championship with somebody else. It's easy," Antetokounmpo said. "I could go to a super team and just do my part and win a championship. This is the hard way to do it and we did it."
It's that team philosophy and trust that Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer knows is special.
"I love this team," he said. "I'm incredibly fortunate to be where I am and just to be a small part of what's happening."
Budenholzer was pleased that the Greek star made 17-of-19 free throws in the deciding game, turning a usual weakness into a strength.
"It's hard to find more words to describe what Giannis does," Budenholzer said. "But the way he made his free throws, the way he did everything, stepped up, the poise, the confidence, the leadership... he's off the charts."
- 'He's one of a kind' -
The Bucks fell behind Brooklyn 0-2, Atlanta 0-1 and Phoenix 0-2 in the playoffs only to rally and win the series every time.
"To see them persevere, see our guys fight back and make adjustments and keep that belief in one another, that's special and not something you get with everything team," Lopez said. "I'm fortunate to be part of that."
Milwaukee's Pat Connaughton has enjoyed seeing "Greek Freak" Antetokounmpo grow into a championship leader's role.
"He has always been a freak. The things that he does in the weight room, in physical therapy to put his body in a position to go through the beating he goes through on a nightly basis," Connaughton said.
"And then for him to do what he did throughout this Finals was incredible. It's awesome to have a front row seat to it.
"He's one of a kind."