Who helped turn the Milwaukee Bucks into NBA title contenders?

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Milwaukee Bucks
Jul 20, 2021; Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA; Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports /

Who made the Milwaukee Bucks contenders: #1: Giannis Antetokounmpo

There was absolutely no doubt who number one on this list would be. Giannis Antetokounmpo and his work ethic have had massive impacts on the Milwaukee Bucks’ rise to power. His rise in the ranks of the NBA’s best players perfectly correlated with how seriously the Milwaukee Bucks were taken as contenders.

The 2019 playoffs threw a wrench into the Milwaukee Bucks’ contention when Giannis clashed with Kawhi Leonard, and Leonard got the best of Giannis and the Bucks on the route to winning an NBA Championship with the Toronto Raptors.

However, the hunger within Giannis Antetokounmpo was, and is to this day, apparent. The Milwaukee Bucks were part of a weird 2020 season that was marked by tons of events outside the control of the team. Then, in 2021, the Milwaukee Bucks acquired Jrue Holiday, and they went on to win the NBA Finals.

Giannis Antetokounmpo put on a ton of incredible performances, starting with the opening series sweep of the Miami Heat in 2021. He had a double-double in all four games, averaging 23.5 points, 15 rebounds, and 7.8 assists in the series.

Then Giannis and the Bucks met Kevin Durant and the Nets in round two, a head-to-head for the ages. Antetokounmpo averaged 31.9 points and 12.9 rebounds. He put together some amazing performances, having 34 points in a Game 1 loss, 33 points and 14 rebounds in the low-scoring Game 3, and 34 points and 12 rebounds in the series-tying Game 4. In Game 6 against the Nets, Middleton dazzled, and Giannis complemented him perfectly with 30 points and 17 rebounds. Starting a trend of massive performances in close-out games, Giannis Antetokounmpo dropped 40 points in Game 7 with 13 rebounds and five assists.

Giannis Antetokounmpo was having a great series against the Atlanta Hawks. In the Game 1 loss, he scored 34 points and added 12 rebounds, nine assists, two steals, and two blocks. In the Game 2 win, he scored 25 points and added nine rebounds, six assists, and two steals. Game 3 was more of the same, with 33 points, 11 rebounds, four assists, two steals, and a block.

Then, in Game 4, with the Bucks down 10 and seven minutes remaining in the third quarter, Giannis Antetokounmpo hyperextended his knee and missed the final two games of the series. Up to the point of the injury, Giannis had tallied 14 points, eight rebounds, and three assists and could have helped the Bucks come from behind to win.

That is exactly what he did in the NBA Finals. The Milwaukee Bucks were behind 2-0 leaving Phoenix. In two games, the Bucks got beat by double digits in both. Giannis scored 20 points and had 17 rebounds in Game 1 and put up 42 and 12 rebounds in Game 2, but the Bucks were heading home to Milwaukee needing to come from behind in the series.

The Milwaukee Bucks won Game 3 convincingly 120-100, thanks in large part to Giannis scoring 41 points, grabbing 13 rebounds, and handing out six assists. Game 4 was the Khris Middleton takeover, and Giannis played Robin for one game to perfection, complementing Middleton’s 40-point game with 26 points of his own as well as 14 rebounds, eight assists, three steals, and two blocks. This game also featured Giannis Antetokounmpo making one of the most legendary defensive plays in NBA history to block a lob from Devin Booker to Deandre Ayton with the game hanging in the balance. Heading back to Phoenix, the Bucks had tied the series.

In Game 5 in Phoenix, Giannis led the Bucks’ Big 3, who all scored 27 or more points, with 32 points, nine rebounds and six assists. Giannis scored 12 of his 32 in the 4th quarter of Game 5. As previously mentioned with Jrue Holiday, Giannis was on the receiving end of the Valley Oop, arguably the greatest play not only in Milwaukee Bucks history but in NBA Finals history. The steal, the lob, the finish, the foul, an absolutely amazing play. The Milwaukee Bucks took a 3-2 lead and a chance to win the Finals in front of their home crowd back in Milwaukee.

Then Giannis Antetokounmpo does even more in Game 6! Giannis Antetokounmpo saved his best performance for last, dropping just the seventh 50-point game in NBA Finals history, and in a close-out game, no less! In addition to his 50 points, Giannis added 14 rebounds in what I think is fair to call the greatest individual performance in Milwaukee Bucks history.

Giannis made 16-of-25 field goals and 17-of-19 free throws to propel the Milwaukee Bucks to their first NBA championship in 50 years. The Milwaukee Bucks are contenders, thanks in massive part to the contributions of Giannis Antetokounmpo.

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