On Tuesday night, a new NBA champion was crowned. In front of a deafening home crowd and as many as 65,000 fans watching outside in the “Deer District,” the Milwaukee Bucks defeated the Phoenix Suns 105-98 to win the 2021 NBA Finals in six games and capture the franchise’s first NBA Championship in 50 years.
The series was action-packed from start to finish. After losing the first two games of the series in Phoenix, the Bucks were able to win four straight games, including an exhilarating road win in the fifth game, to bring home the championship.
The series’ MVP was Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo, who finished off an epic series performance with 50 points and 14 rebounds in the sixth game. Antetokounmpo became the first player to score 50 points in an NBA Finals closeout game since Bob Pettit in the 1958 NBA Finals.
“Obviously I wanted to get the job done. But that's my stubborn side. It's easy to go somewhere and go win a championship with somebody else,” Antetokounmpo said, referring to his decision to sign an extension with the Bucks at the beginning of the season. “But this is the hard way to do it … this is the way to do it, and we did it.”
Amidst the celebration that winning a championship brings, Antetokounmpo could be seen embracing his family on the sidelines. Born to Nigerian immigrants in Athens, Greece, the two-time NBA Most Valuable Player Award winner throughout his career has made it no secret as to how important family is in his life.
“This is for my mom,” Antetokounmpo said. “She works extremely hard every day for me to be in this position, and she never pressured me to do other things. This is for my dad. He's watching from above, and he can see it. This is for my significant other. Every day, she helps me be a better person. She lets me do what I'm supposed to do. She takes care of my son. And for my brothers.”
Accompanying Antetokounmpo's stellar play was the contributions of players like forward Khris Middleton, who finished the sixth game with 17 points, 6 of which in the fourth quarter, and guard Jrue Holiday, a player acquired by the Bucks before the season. Holiday provided key perimeter defense throughout the Playoffs and poured in 27 points in the Bucks’ fifth win.
“To be a champion with my brother (Antetokounmpo) is amazing,” Middleton said after the game. Middleton and Antetokounmpo have been teammates since 2013. “To be a champion with all of my brothers in that locker room. They’ve been all amazing for us.”
On the opposite side of the festivities, after falling two games short of winning the franchise’s first championship, the Suns will look to bounce back next season in the Western Conference.
“(Paul) brought us all the way up here,” said center Deandre Ayton, who has been vocal about the impact the veteran Paul has had on his career. “We know the type of detail we have to really emphasize to have consistency, to play at the level like this, and the type of competitor he is, it was contagious. Knowing your opponent, knowing what the team likes, knowing what teams throw at you, things like that, (Paul) added to everybody’s arsenal.”
As for the Bucks, there will be limited rest for Middleton and Holiday as they will travel to Tokyo, Japan to play for Team USA in the 2020 Olympics, which was delayed from last year. Suns' guard Devin Booker will join the team as well.
“It’s never personal between who you’re going with unless lines are crossed,” Booker said. “Those guys aren’t that type, and I would never go that way with them because there’s a high respect level for each other. I think that’s why we’re in the position that we’re in right now. Representing your country is a whole different dynamic than competing against each other in the NBA Finals, but I can always respect somebody that competes at the highest level."