* Recap: Bucks 113, Trail Blazers 110
If things continue the way they’ve begun for the Milwaukee Bucks and their shiny young star, even Charles Barkley will know by season’s end how to pronounce Giannis Antetokounmpo’s name.
The improbably long and gifted “Greek Freak” keeps topping himself in the early season, most recently Saturday night with his career-best 44 points along with a steal and a block in the closing seconds that were game-altering against the Portland Trail Blazers in Milwaukee's 113-110 win at home. Matt Velazquez of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel chronicled Antetokounmpo’s lastest stride toward NBA domination:
With 31.5 seconds left, Antetokounmpo missed a pair of free throws with his team trailing by a point, leaving both of them short. He'd already scored a career-high 42 points, but felt that he'd let his team down. He owed them one.
It's safe to say he more than made up for the misses. He owned the final 30 seconds of the game, scoring the game-winning basket and making a pair of critical defensive stops to carry the Bucks to a 113-110 victory in front of 16,211 fans at the BMO Harris Bradley Center.
"That's what I do," Antetokounmpo said. "I missed two big free throws and I can't end the game like that."
With the Bucks trailing by one with 30.3 seconds left, Antetokounmpo dogged Blazers guard C.J. McCollum, poking away a steal. Malcolm Brogdon quickly corralled the ball and darted the pass to Antetokounmpo who was on the move and outran three Blazers defenders en route to throwing down a dunk to put Milwaukee ahead with 11.4 seconds left.
"My thought process was I've got to try to get a steal," Antetokounmpo said. "I wanted the game badly."
But he wasn't done.
Portland executed a pick-and-roll that left Jusuf Nurkic a seemingly solid look at the basket from close. That's when Antetokounmpo slid over, unseen by Nurkic, and swatted away the shot with his right hand. Khris Middleton secured the rebound and was fouled, knocking down a pair of free throws to bring him to 18 points on the night, the second-most on the team.
"I knew we were going to double team Damian (Lillard), right, so I know he's got to get the ball (out) and everybody's denying," Antetokounmpo said. "My guy's the furthest guy away, so the ball's going to go to Nurkic. Nurkic did not see me that I was coming and he went up and thankfully I was able to get a block without fouling."
With the Blazers out of timeouts, Brogdon stole their inbound pass heaved to halfcourt and that was it. M-V-P chants echoed until well after the game ended as Antetokounmpo earned the celebratory on-court interview.
When he finally got to the locker room, his teammates were there waiting to celebrate with him. They gave him the game ball to commemorate his new career high of 44 points, which he scored on 17 of 23 shooting to go with eight rebounds, four assists, two steals and a block.
He used a permanent marker to sign the ball and wrote these words upon it below his signature:
"This is for Daddy we got a win tonight and I got 44 points"
Giannis' father, Charles, died suddenly of a heart attack at the age of 54 on Sept. 29.
"It's special," Antetokounmpo said of receiving the ball from his teammates and dedicating it to his father. "Going forward I think that motivates me on a daily basis just playing hard for my family, especially for my dad because he loved to see us play. This is just the beginning. I'm not done yet. We've got 79 more games plus playoffs, hopefully. It's just the beginning. Hopefully, he's seeing us from above and he's proud of us."
Even Bucks analyst and former player Marques Johnson got swept up in Giannis mania at the end of Saturday’s victory:
And the statistical feats continue to stack up for Antetokounmpo:
Over the Bucks' first three games, Antetokounmpo is averaging 38.3 points (on 67.2 FG%), 9.7 rebounds, 5.0 assists, 2.7 steals and 0.7 blocks. The Bucks, 2-1, return to the floor on Monday against the Charlotte Hornets (8 ET, League Pass).