The Bucks’ leaders in points, rebounds, assists and steals this postseason were pictured on the giant scoreboard above Milwaukee’s home floor Friday night.
The team’s leading scorer, Giannis Antetokounmpo, was pictured on the left. Next to him was Milwaukee’s leading rebounder, Giannis Antetokounmpo.
To his right stood the team’s leading assist man, Giannis Antetokounmpo. And all the way on the right was the leader in steals.
Yeah, that’s Giannis Antetokounmpo too.
He scored 30 points and had 17 rebounds in a 125-103 win over the Toronto Raptorsto give the Bucks a 2-0 lead in the NBA Eastern Conference Finals.
Antetokounmpo also was named a finalist for most valuable player, along with Houston’s James Harden and Oklahoma City’s Paul George, and defensive player of the year.
Afterward, Antetokounmpo’s teammates were flummoxed with the question that will define the next decade of professional basketball: Just how good can this guy get?
“His ceiling? His prime? Whew,” Pat Connaughton said. “I’m not sure.”
On the game’s first possession, Antetokounmpo got near the basket, and with multiple Raptors trying to stop him, missed the shot high off the backboard. But almost in a single movement, he leaped and grabbed it, slamming it home for a 2-0 lead — the closest the score would be all game.
On the next possession, Antetokounmpo flew across the paint and sent a shot by Toronto’s Marc Gasol at the rim into the seats. And on possession 3, he broke loose and scored on another slam.
At 6 feet 11, 242 pounds, 24 years old, and with potential as great as the score his name would produce in Scrabble, one could believe he could do this all game long if he wanted.
“It’s awesome,” Bucks guard Malcolm Brogdon said. “There are a lot of times down the floor where you know he can score the ball, he can go down, figure out a way to get to the rim, and score. But he chooses to get other people involved because he wants to win. Winning is his top priority on the floor.”
And this team has little problem with winning.
The Bucks have won six straight playoff games and 10 this postseason. And of those 10 wins, only two have been by fewer than 12 points. Their average margin of victory is 19 points.
For as great as Anteto-kounmpo has been this postseason, the Bucks have gotten “podium games” from Brook Lopez, George Hill and Ersan Ilyasova to start the Eastern Finals.
“It’s incredible. He has so many levels to go, which is scary,” Lopez said of Antetokounmpo. “But as a team, we do as well. We can be better. We can be better in Game 3.”
That’s got to be rocky news for the Raptors, who didn’t respond to a squandered chance in Game 1.
Toronto’s Kawhi Leonard scored 31 points on only 18 shots (fans chanted “Future Clipper” at him while he shot free throws in the second half). Former UCLA Bruin Norman Powell scored 14 in great minutes off the bench. And, that was about it.
Gasol scored only two points. Pascal Siakam — a finalist for most improved player — fouled out in less than 26 minutes. Kyle Lowry came back to Earth and Danny Green still couldn’t get great looks.
The Raptors fell behind by 14 after the first quarter and soon were trailing by as many as 28. They whittled the gap to 13 twice in the third quarter but never really threatened.
Those things all have to flip for the Raptors to win Sunday in what’s essentially a season-deciding Game 3 in Toronto.
“We just weren’t quite physical enough. We weren’t getting our screens set good enough. We weren’t getting them off their screens good enough as well,” Toronto coach Nick Nurse said.
“We’re going to have to be better or they’re just going to look bigger and stronger than we are — and I don’t necessarily think that’s the case. We’ve got to play a little tougher.”
There’s no question, though, that Antetokounmpo is bigger and stronger than just about anyone in the league. He’s probably better too.
Nurse said he thought his team wasn’t “nearly as good” on Antetokounmpo as they were in Game 1 — a game in which he still had 24 points, 14 rebounds, six assists, two steals and three blocks.
When you talk to people with the Bucks who work with Antetokounmpo, they don’t talk about him as a bad shooter despite a 25% hit rate from deep. Instead, they talk about him as someone who just isn’t a good shooter yet.
No one around the Bucks really questions whether or not that can happen.
“He’s incredible, and then you’re like, ‘I think he can be even better,’” said Budenholzer, a finalist for coach of the year.
“The great part about Giannis is he wants to be better. We’re coaching him and we’re on him. We think he can be doing more, and he just soaks it up. It’s just so unique to have a player like that, that just wants to be great and you feel like has more, and yet he’s been phenomenal. It’s exciting for us for tonight and going forward. You can’t say enough good things about Giannis.”
With LeBron James out of the East and stuck in the West, Antetokounmpo might already have become a hurdle teams won’t be able to conquer on their way to the NBA Finals.
If Toronto can’t do it now, will Kevin Durant be able to do it if he comes East when Antetokounmpo is shooting 33% from deep? What if he gets to 40%? What if he gets even better from the free-throw line?
“His biggest thing is ‘I want to be the best I can be and get better every day and help my team get to the pinnacle of what it can be,’” Connaughton said. “If he continues doing it that way…. I don’t think we’ll have seen something like it before.
“I’m not necessarily saying he’ll be the greatest player of all time.