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Update: Giannis Keeps Hooping Against MVP Contenders

by Alex Boeder Writer

You could make the case that Giannis had the better night or that Kawhi had the better night, the other night. They were both great. If you argue for Kawhi, okay, even then it marked perhaps the first time this season that Giannis did not get the better of a fellow MVP candidate. And Giannis went for 43 and 18.

Which leads us to an update about how Giannis has performed against MVP contenders this season. By my count, Giannis has gone something between 12–0–2 and 11–2–1 personally in those head-to-head matchups. In those games, he is averaging 27.9 points, 12.6 rebounds, and 6.1 assists on 58.1 percent shooting from the field. If those numbers sounds familiar, it is because they are almost exactly the same as his overall season averages.

At worst, if you give the edge to Kyrie when the Celtics beat the Bucks way back on November 1, and if you give the edge to Kawhi the other night (both have reasonable arguments), and if you want to call the Davis matchup even rather than in favor of Giannis, that makes Giannis 11–2–1. It should be noted (and is noted below) that Giannis played very well in even those three games when the head-to-head matchup verdict is debatable.

Still to come in January, the Bucks will play the Rockets (Harden), Thunder (George), and then the Raptors (Kawhi) again to close the month.

And it is not like Giannis is only showing up for games against these marquee players (perhaps his best game of the season so far was when he hung 44/14/8 on the Cavaliers, for instance). His consistency — against any type of competition — is perhaps his strongest case for MVP. But it bodes well for a team hoping to make real noise in the playoffs that their superstar continues to rise against the top players in the world. You see:

Giannis outplays Embiid
Bucks defeat Sixers
Giannis put up an absurd (but also not that odd) 38/18/10 line along with two steals and three blocks. Embiid was really good, with 30/19/6, but hit just 9–24 from the field.

Giannis/Kyrie even
Celtics defeat Bucks
Giannis went for 33/11/2 and three steals on 13-22 from the field. Kyrie was also excellent, with 28/3/7 (including 6–12 threes) with a steal and two blocks. Some people might give the ever-so-slight edge to Kyrie, and it would not be ridiculous. I am not one of those people.

Giannis outplays Lillard
Blazers defeat Bucks
Not the best night from either, but Giannis gets the edge, with 23/9/6 (on 11/18 shooting) compared to 13/6/3 (on 5–15 shooting) for Lillard.

Giannis outplays Curry
Giannis outplays Durant
Bucks defeat Warriors
Giannis put up a casual 24/9/4 with two blocks and two steals in just 26 minutes as the Bucks coasted to a win in Golden State. Durant (17/5/9 with six turnovers and a -28) and Curry (10/1/6) struggled.

Giannis outplays Jokic
Bucks defeat Nuggets
Giannis went for a typically-efficient 22/9/8 with two steals and a block on 11–16 from the field and a +8 while Jokic was good but just a level below with 20/6/6 with a steal and a block on 7–14 from the field and a -17.

Giannis outplays Jokic
Bucks defeat Nuggets
About a week later, Giannis even more authoritatively outplayed Jokic, going for 29/12/6 and two steals in the home win, compared to 20/5/5 for the Denver maestro (a guy who is also enormously fun to watch).

Giannis outplays Lillard
Bucks defeat Blazers
One of the finest games of the season so far by Giannis (33/16/9 and three steals), as the Bucks won 143–100 against Lillard (22/4/5) and the Blazers.

Giannis outplays Curry
Giannis outplays Durant
Warriors defeat Bucks
Despite the loss, and despite not being at his personal best, Giannis (22/15/15, two blocks, two steals, 8–13 from the field) again outplayed Durant (11/8/6 on 3–14 shooting) and Curry (20/4/8 on 7–17 shooting).

Giannis outplays Kawhi
Bucks defeat Raptors
Two days later, in a showdown in Toronto, the Bucks got the close win over the Raptors (104–99), and Giannis (19/19/6 on 8–15 shooting with one block with a +9 differential) gets the close call against Kawhi (20/8/4 on 8–18 shooting with two steals and two blocks and a +10 differential) in the head-to-head battle. This is one where you had to watch the game to see just how much Giannis impacted things to help the Bucks win.

Giannis outplays Davis
Bucks defeat Pelicans
They were both really good. Giannis (25/8/8 with two steals and a block on 8–13 shooting) was just a touch better than Davis (27/11/3 with two steals and three blocks on 10–18 shooting) from my vantage. Though no fault of Davis (who exited the game momentarily with an injury before returning), Giannis played four more minutes, and in a close call like this, it helps him get the tiebreaker.

Giannis outplays Kyrie
Bucks defeat Celtics
Giannis (30/8/5 with three blocks on 8–13 from the field) was fantastic in the road win, while Kyrie (15/9/7 on 7–20 from the field) was just okay for his high standards.

Giannis/Kawhi even
Raptors defeat Bucks
Giannis was mostly just who he is at this point, which, somehow ended up being 43/18/4 on 16/25 from the field and 8/11 at the line (okay, the 3–5 threes was a little bonus). Kawhi was quintessential Kawhi, a paw everywhere, with 30/6/6 and five steals. Again, Kawhi has an honest case for getting the edge here, and I am okay with those making that case. I am okay with Giannis putting up 43 and 18, in general.

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