Giannis Antetokounmpo Impresses In Greece’s Victory Over Iran

Mar 9, 2016; Milwaukee, WI, USA; Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo (34) during the game against the Miami Heat at BMO Harris Bradley Center. Milwaukee won 114-108. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 9, 2016; Milwaukee, WI, USA; Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo (34) during the game against the Miami Heat at BMO Harris Bradley Center. Milwaukee won 114-108. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports /

The Greece national team got their Olympic qualifying campaign underway against Iran on Monday, and Giannis Antetokounmpo impressed in the team’s opening win in Italy.

After some mixed results in recent warmup games, the Greece national team and Milwaukee Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo finally got down to business in Turin, Italy on Monday.

Facing the prospect of qualifying for the Olympic Games in Rio later this summer, Greece are in action in one of the three pre-Olympic tournaments currently taking place around the world.

In looking to earn their right to play in Brazil, Greece will first have to navigate past the teams in their group (Iran, Mexico), before ultimately squaring off with the victors of the other group (Italy, Croatia and Tunisia) competing in Turin.

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Squaring off with Iran in the early evening local time, there was no doubt that the Greeks were eager to get off to a winning start.

After some problems with the clock stalled the opening exchanges of the game for a couple of minutes, Greece was aggressive coming out of the blocks, particularly on the defensive end. Far from a basketball superpower, Iran found themselves under the strain of a constant full-court press from the Greeks and struggled with turnovers as a result.

The early Greek offense came from a desire to push the pace, and Sacramento Kings forward Kosta Koufos was particularly active on the boards and getting to the free throw line.

Still, it wouldn’t be too long before Giannis Antetokounmpo began to exert his influence. A trademark gyro-step finish created just enough room in the lane and Giannis’ long arm took care of the rest for a nice right hand reverse layup.

After getting his feet wet with an inside score, Antetokounmpo showed flashes of the extended range that he was starting to demonstrate as Milwaukee’s season wound down.

With his confidence high, Giannis really started to show off his skills. Not known for his jump shooting off the dribble, Antetokounmpo pump-faked his Iranian defender out of his shoes, before swishing a smooth long two-point attempt.

Having played almost the entirety of the first quarter, Antetokounmpo headed to the bench at this point, having played a big role in building a nine-point lead for Greece. A late Iranian triple ensured that when the first period came to a close, Greece held a 27-21 lead.

With a comfortable lead opened up, the Greece coach was able to relax a little. Thanasis Antetokounmpo took his brother’s place on the floor for the majority of the second quarter, showing some impressive defense, and a remarkably high work ethic.

In spite of previous assertions from the Greek coach that Giannis would replicate his role for the Bucks in taking the ball up the court for the national team, most of the playmaking onus seemed to fall on the shoulders of former Memphis Grizzlies guard Nick Calathes on this occasion.

Still, Giannis still gave us all a reminder of his wonderful passing, particularly with this example in transition.

That late second quarter cameo for Antetokounmpo saw some nice defensive efforts from the Greek Freak too, notching up an impressive steal and a block to his name in quick succession.

That carried over to the third period, as Giannis started looking for opportunities to run all the way home for a “Pick 6”. He was successful too.

For any Milwaukee fans watching who were starting to miss Bucks basketball thanks to Antetokounmpo’s exceptional play, the play-by-pay commentator soon weighed in with his best Gus Johnson impression in reaction to this Giannis dunk. Feels just like home.

With a comfortable lead and an offensive rhythm established, Antetokounmpo was showing off all of the tools in his arsenal. Gyro-step into a step-back bank shot is a new wrinkle that we could all get used to seeing more of next season.

With the lead comfortably over 20, Antetokounmpo headed to the bench. The Iranians showed a lot of heart, and briefly got the game back to within 15 points, but the gulf in class between the two teams was very apparent throughout.

Giannis came back briefly as the game wound down late in the fourth quarter, saving maybe his best highlight until last. With the shot clock winding down and defenders throwing themselves in his direction, Giannis managed to make a step-back three with very little hesitation.

Overall, Antetokounmpo played 19 minutes, recording 16 points, three rebounds, two, assists, two steals and two blocks, while shooting 7-8 from the field and making 2-3 three-point attempts, and finishing with a team high plus/minus of +17.

It was an impressive opening win for Greece, as they prevailed 78-53 in the tournament opener. Full highlights of the game, rather than just Giannis’ highlights can be found below.

(Thanks to Chris Gialidis for sending them our way.)

Greece and Giannis will be back in action on Wednesday against Mexico, knowing that a win would secure a place in a playoff game for an Olympic spot.

Fellow Buck Tyler Ennis will also play on Tuesday as part of the Canadian team competing in the qualifying tournament in the Philippines.

Next: Who Is Mirza Teletovic?

Stick with us throughout the week as we continue to round up all of your key highlights from the Bucks involved in international competition.