From Playoff Burnouts to NBA Champion: The Rise of Giannis Antetokounmpo

Published 08/24/2021, 5:30 PM EDT
Giannis Antetokounmpo (34) of the Milwaukee Bucks wears street clothes before the first quarter against the Denver Nuggets on Monday, March 9, 2020. (Photo by AAron Ontiveroz/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post via Getty Images)


Giannis Antetokounmpo has been a revelation these past few seasons. A 2x MVP, on the back of a historic finals performance, arguably goes into next season as the best player in the world. However, the journey has been anything but easy! Following back-to-back playoff burnouts in the preceding two seasons, the league cast shadows of doubt all over the Greek Freak’s ability to get it done at the highest level.

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Following seasons where a prime Antetokounmpo won the MVP, it was given that he’d lead Milwaukee to championship glory. However, owing to burnouts of epic proportions, Giannis, in series against Toronto in 2018-19 and Miami in the Bubble, failed to show up.

And while most experts criticized the ‘holy overpay’ as the Bucks paid him over $225 million, Giannis’ historic Finals performance silenced that narrative.

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Jul 20, 2021; Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA; Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo (34) accepts the Bill Russell NBA Finals Most Valuable Player Award from NBA commissioner Adam Silver after game six of the 2021 NBA Finals against the Phoenix Suns at Fiserv Forum. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports.

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Giannis Antetokounmpo – The journey

Throughout 2018-19 and 2019-20, Milwaukee, the first seed out East were favorites to win the championship all season long. And with the Greek Freak averaging over 27.7pts/12.5reb and 29.5pts/13.6reb in those seasons, respectively, most experts picked the Bucks over the field in a LeBron-less Eastern Conference.

Want to beat Giannis in the playoffs? Simple, build a wall! Nick Nurse did it, and Erik Spoelstra, taking a page out of the former’s, used it to eliminate the Bucks from contention. The idea was to build a wall around the rim, restricting the run-in dunks Giannis is famed for, forcing him to shoot.

And given his low percentage jump shot and poor free throw average, that tactic looked unbeatable. Face him with size, and players like Kawhi, Bam Adebayo, and Jimmy Butler could shut him down.

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However, this season was different! Yes, the Bucks beat an injured Brooklyn, but injuries have always been part of the game. The Milwaukee Bucks kick-started the playoffs sweeping their demons in Miami vice. And in what was a thrilling series matchup, the Greek Freak edged out a raging Kevin Durant in a nail-biting Game 7.

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A throne takeover

From then on, his ascension was almost given, considering the competition the Bucks faced. Arguably the highlight of his championship run, Giannis’ numbers on the biggest stage of all, the NBA Finals were staggering. Averaging 35.2/13.2/5 against Phoenix with a 50-pts in a Game 6 clincher, Antetokounmpo’s legacy is anything but re-written!

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Who would’ve thought, in the biggest game of his career, he’d make 17 of 19 FT shots! But he did! And with that, Giannis Antetokounmpo not only joined elite company as one of the few players to have multiple MVPs and a championship but also won an NBA title younger than none other than Michael Jordan and LeBron James!

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Nikhil Naik

170 articles

Nikhil Naik is an NBA writer at EssentialySports. Having completed his bachelor's degree in Hospitality, he has worked with the Indian Hotels Company Limited, at the Taj in Mumbai. Nikhil has been playing basketball since 2014.

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