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A 50-point, 14-rebound Giannis Antetokounmpo led the Milwaukee Bucks as they defeated the Phoenix Suns 105-98 in Game 6 of the Finals to take the NBA title (4-2).
Antetokounmpo was the hero of the night (16 of 25 shooting, 17 of 19 free throws) and was also crowned with an undisputed Finals MVP award.
The Greek was the heart and soul of the Bucks, who won their first ring in fifty years, since their only title so far was the 1971 title with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Oscar Robertson at the helm.
In the midst of an extraordinary atmosphere in Milwaukee, with thousands of people following the game around a packed Fiserv Forum, the Bucks culminated the feat of winning four straight games after starting the Finals with a 0-2 deficit.
These Bucks are the fifth team in history to turn around an 0-2 record and lived up to their fans’ Finals rallying cry of “Bucks in Six”.
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The sixth duel was decided in a very tight outcome (77-77 after the third quarter) in which the poise of Khris Middleton was providential.
Antetokounmpo’s huge performance and the local dominance in rebounding (53 vs. 37) were too much for the Suns, who also suffered the worst performance and at the worst moment of Devin Booker (19 points, with 8 of 22 shooting, and 6 losses).
Chris Paul, who at 36 years of age was playing his first Finals, was the Suns’ main reference point with 26 points and 5 assists.
A second quarter to forget for the Bucks
A block by Giannis Antetokounmpo and a counterattack by the Greek opened the game in a big way for the Bucks, but very soon it was clear that nerves were going to take over the game.
Tight wrists, awkward legs and trembling on every play.
Shooting errors and turnovers (7 for the Bucks in the first quarter, 5 for the Suns) piled up in a start marked by the sharp demand of a do-or-die game (6-5 with 6:51 to go).
Khris Middleton was the first to open the can with 7 straight points (18-11 with 3.10 to play).
The overwhelming defense of the Bucks, with Jrue Holiday as captain of the effort, melted a Suns in which neither Devin Booker nor Chris Paul showed signs of life (5 points between them in the first quarter).
After the initial hesitation, Antetokounmpo planted his flag in the zone, crushed a soft DeAndre Ayton and finished the first quarter with 10 points and 6 rebounds to lead his team (29-16).
Cameron Payne, one of the Suns’ most unusable players in the first twelve minutes, provided Phoenix with oxygen in the second quarter.
Established as the Suns’ official shot-stopper, Payne led a robust 0-10 run that silenced the visitors at Fiserv Forum (29-26 with 8:47 on the clock).
Bobby Portis, an absolute home hero, tried to reverse the dangerous trend of the second quarter.
However, the Suns had taken over the helm of the game with a solid help defense that closed Antetokounmpo’s path and that the thick local circulation could not decipher.
In addition, Paul began to get in tune from mid-range to turn the game around (33-35 with 4:50 to go).
The Bucks were sinking hopelessly in a quarter in which nothing worked except Antetokounmpo (17 points at halftime), while Paul, without fuss but without hesitation, propelled the visitors to the break (42-47).
The Bucks presented a dreadful 3-of-17 on three-pointers in the first half but breathed a sigh of relief when they saw Booker’s pitiful 4 points in the first two quarters.
There was only one king at the break: Antetokounmpo.
Totally unstoppable (he even hit a three-pointer), the Greek scored 12 points in less than five minutes to regain the lead for the Bucks (58-55 with 7:27 on the clock).
The Suns had been robbed of their second quarter spoils, but they were not going to let the game slip away easily: an extra three-pointer by Jae Crowder was a perfect answer after the timeout.
Milwaukee needed something extra and surprisingly found it in Brook Lopez, unlucky until then but who gave away a fantastic dunk over Ayton (71-69 with 3.08 to play).
In front of them, Paul kept pulling the cart and Booker was active with 11 points, enough to balance the duel (77-77) despite Antetokounmpo’s huge third quarter with 20 points.
The season was going to be decided in twelve minutes at the edge of the abyss and that’s when the exchange of blows began.
A willing Bobby Portis was answered by the novelty of Frank Kaminsky, and a three-pointer by Jrue Holiday was answered by Chris Paul with a two plus one (84-82 with 9.45 to play).
It was time for the stars and Antetokounmpo did not hesitate: he put two blocks to Booker and continued hammering the paint (94-90 with 4.50 left).
At the moment of truth, Middleton stepped up with a basket with 57 seconds left (102-96) that Booker could not counter from three-point range and ended a fifty-year drought without a Bucks title.