The Milwaukee Bucks, powered by a masterpiece from Greek forward Giannis Antetokounmpo, captured the franchise’s first NBA championship in 50 years with a 105-98 win over the visiting Phoenix Suns on Tuesday.
With the victory, the Bucks clinched the NBA Finals 4-2 and became only the fifth team to win the best-of-seven championship series after losing the first two games.
Antetokounmpo was named most valuable player of the series after scoring a playoff career-high 50 points in the clinching game that will surely soothe the Bucks’ recent history of postseason failure.
“I’m so blessed to work with Giannis every day,” Bucks head coach Mike Budenholzer said during an on-court interview.
“He’s a special human being, he’s an even more amazing human being than he is a player. I’ve learned so much from him and his leadership.”
Phoenix overcame a slow start to the game and led by as many as seven points early in the third quarter but could not contain Antetokounmpo down the stretch.
Suns guard Chris Paul had a team-high 26 points.
For Phoenix, who were seeking their first championship in the team’s 53-year existence, the defeat marked the first time all season they have lost four consecutive games.
Unlike last year’s NBA Finals when the celebratory screams of the Los Angeles Lakers echoed across an arena void of fans due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Bucks’ win kicked off a wild party for both a capacity crowd of 17,000 inside and the 65,000 supporters who attended a watch party outside the arena.
Both teams got off to a shaky start that saw poor shooting on both ends of the court and plenty of turnovers but Milwaukee, powered by Antetokounmpo, led 29-16 after the first quarter.
Phoenix, facing elimination for the first time in the 2021 playoffs, shook off their lowest-scoring first quarter of the postseason as they turned up the defense while Chris Paul led the offense as the Suns took a 47-42 lead into the half.
The Suns opened up a seven-point lead early in the third quarter but the Bucks responded with a 16-6 run that put them back in front. From there the teams went back and forth and took a 77-77 tied into the final quarter.
But Milwaukee never trailed the rest of the way and it was Antetokounmpo who took over on the offensive end to deny the Suns’ a chance to host a decisive seventh game. —Reporting by Frank Pingue in Toronto; Editing by Tom Hogue and Muralikumar Anantharaman