Giannis Antetokounmpo picked up where he left off more than 4 months ago as he powered the Milwaukee Bucks to a 119-112 win over the Boston Celtics on Friday, July 31 (Saturday, August 1, Manila time).
Antetokounmpo solidified his case for a second straight MVP award after churning out 36 points, 15 rebounds, and 7 assists to help the Bucks snap a three-game skid and open the seeding games on the right foot.
The reigning NBA MVP delivered when it mattered most, scoring half of the Bucks' last 12 points as the Celtics ran out of steam.
Antetokounmpo gave the Bucks a 110-107 advantage off an and-one play with 1:30 minutes remaining before he padded their lead to 116-110 with another three-point conversion in the final minute.
A Donte DiVincenzo layup for an eight-point Bucks lead with 20 ticks left put the nail in the coffin for the Celtics.
"We just got the stops. We tried to play hard, make the right play and hit open guy," said Antetokounmpo.
Khris Middleton backstopped Antetokounmpo with 18 points, 8 assists, and 5 rebounds, Brook Lopez had 14 points and 6 blocks, while DiVincenzo chipped in 10 points in the win.
Robin Lopez and Wesley Matthews made their presence felt for the league-leading Bucks with 9 points apiece.
Marcus Smart had to step up for the Celtics with 23 points and 4 rebounds off the bench as rising star Jayson Tatum struggled mightily.
Despite starting and seeing action for 32 minutes, Tatum made only 2 of his 18 field goal attempts for a measly 5 points – a far cry from his team-best 23.6 points per game.
Jaylen Brown had 22 points and 4 rebounds for the Celtics, Gordon Hayward finished with 17 points, 9 rebounds, and 6 assists, while Kemba Walker added 16 points.
Antetokounmpo almost fouled out with 88 seconds to go but after a video review the officials overturned a sixth foul call, allowing him to stay in the game and lead the Bucks to victory.
Smart, who was on the wrong end of the video review of Antetokounmpo's rescinded foul, accused the refs of playing favorites.
"Quite frankly, I think we know all what that was all about. Giannis' sixth foul and they didn't want to get him out," said Smart. "Let's just call that spade a spade and that's just what it is."
Before the game the players from both teams, wearing shirts reading "Black Lives Matter," linked arms and kneeled together during the playing of the American national anthem, as other teams have done during the restart.
NBA players were given the option during the restart to display a social justice message on the back of their jerseys in place of their family names. Some stars, like LeBron James, decided to stick with their names, but Antetokounmpo chose to go with the word "Equality."
"I love that we can talk together, we can kneel together before the game. That was amazing," said Antetokounmpo. "We have momentum right now. The whole world has the momentum right now and we can't stop. We got to keep going until we make it right."
Antetokounmpo remains on track to become the NBA's first back-to-back MVP since Stephen Curry in 2015-16. – With a report from Agence France-Presse
Delfin Dioquino dreamt of being a PBA player, but he did not have the skills to make it. So he pursued the next best thing to being an athlete – to write about them. He took up journalism at the University of Santo Tomas and joined Rappler as soon as he graduated in 2017.