Giannis, still awed by block, ready to shift focus


PHOENIX — Two days after Milwaukee Bucks superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo‘s ridiculous block of Phoenix Suns center Deandre Ayton‘s dunk attempt late in the fourth quarter of Game 4 of the NBA Finals helped save Milwaukee’s season, he still can’t explain exactly how he was able to pull it off.

“It’s incredible what your body is [able] to do,” Antetokounmpo said Friday. “When you think about winning, you go to the extreme.

“I cannot explain the play. But, at the end of the day, that’s in the past. When you talk about the past, that’s your ego talking. It’s in the past. It’s over with.

“I got to move on. I got to keep making winning plays. I got to keep competing. I got to keep finding ways to help my team be great. Great moment. I appreciate the moment. Great moment. [But] we got to move on.”

The basketball world, on the other hand, has done little moving on in the 40 or so hours since Antetokounmpo’s block with 74 seconds to go in Game 4, preserving Milwaukee’s two-point lead in the moment and helping the Bucks even the series at two games apiece as it shifts back to Phoenix for Game 5 Saturday night.

There have been comparisons to LeBron James‘ epic block of Andre Iguodala in Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals, and debates rage over which of them was the more impressive play, along with other great blocks from past playoffs.

For Antetokounmpo, the focus is on something much more tangible: getting a victory in Game 5, which would allow Milwaukee to have the opportunity to claim its first championship in a half-century with a win back at Fiserv Forum Tuesday night in Game 6.

It’s an approach that has come from past experiences, and learning about the perils of feeling too good after one strong performance.

“I think I would say life. Usually, from my experience, when I think about like, ‘Oh, yeah, I did this, I’m so great, I had 30, I had 25-10-10,’ whatever the case might be … usually, the next day, you’re going to suck, you know?” Antetokounmpo said with a smile. “Simple as that. The next few days you’re going to be terrible.

“I figured out a mindset to have that when you focus on the past, that’s your ego. ‘I did this. We were able to beat this team 4-0. I did this in the past. I won that in the past.’ When I focus on the future, it’s my pride. ‘Yeah, next game, Game 5, I do this and this and this. I’m going to dominate.’ That’s your pride talking. It doesn’t happen. You’re right here.

“I kind of try to focus on the moment, in the present. That’s humility. That’s being humble. That’s not setting no expectation. That’s going out there, enjoying the game, competing at a high level. I think I’ve had people throughout my life that helped me with that. But that is a skill that I’ve tried to, like, kind of … master it. It’s been working so far, so I’m not going to stop.”

If Antetokounmpo’s play is any guide, he shouldn’t be changing much of anything about his approach. Through the first four games of these NBA Finals, Antetokounmpo is averaging 32.3 points, 14.0 rebounds and 5.5 assists, and has generally been able to get whatever he’s wanted.

Even in Game 4, after which he admitted he could’ve been more aggressive, he finished with 26 points, 14 rebounds, eight assists, three steals and two blocks in 43 minutes.

More importantly for the Bucks, they’ve been able to dig themselves out of an 0-2 hole to begin a playoff series for the second time in these playoffs, and to recover from a deficit in the series for a third straight time. The past two postseasons, the Bucks have faltered when challenged — first by the Toronto Raptors in the 2019 Eastern Conference finals, then last year in the Eastern Conference semifinals by the Miami Heat in the NBA’s bubble.

So what’s changed this time around?

“I think we worked extremely hard throughout the year building winning habits,” Antetokounmpo said. “Just every game competing. I feel like when you compete every game, you put yourself in a position to win.

“We don’t worry about the outcome. We don’t worry about the score. We just worry about going out there, making many plays, competing as hard as we possibly can, doing it together. Sometimes when you are down 0-1 or down 0-2, whatever the case might be, you don’t really care about that. You care about how can you get one, how can you get a second one. Then you kind of build momentum and good things happen.

“So I think we got to give credit to all the winning habits we built throughout the year that we are able to know that when we’re down, we still figure out ways to win games.”

After winning both games in Milwaukee to even the series, it’s now up to the Bucks to find a way to steal one on the road and officially take control of the series in Game 5.

They’ll hope to do so by sticking to the same script that got them back into this series — and the same one that has caused them to dig themselves out of multiple deficits to advance in these playoffs.

“Same focus, same intent we’ve been having this whole run,” Bucks guard Khris Middleton said. “Stay locked in, play the right way, compete, play as hard as we can. That’s it.”

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