Giannis Antetokounmpo Just Earned His Signature NBA Moment
Aaron Gash/Associated Press
Giannis Antetokounmpo has a lot of basketball left to play, both in these Finals and over the rest of his long, illustrious, all-time career—and yet, in all likelihood, he just sealed his signature NBA moment.
Inside 80 seconds to play in Game 4 on Wednesday night, the Phoenix Suns had the ball, trailing the Milwaukee Bucks by two points. Devin Booker took a hand-off from Deandre Ayton and had P.J. Tucker beat as he turned the corner. Giannis rotated over to help, seemingly leaving Ayton with a clear path to the basket and Booker with a feasible lob pocket to his big man.
Emphasis on seemingly.
Giannis somehow recovered, going off one foot—his left foot no less, despite injuring his left knee in the Eastern Conference Finals—in time to block Ayton’s attempt to finish strong above the rim. The written word might make this sound routine, yet make no mistake, it is anything but:
This is a legendary recovery and block. Hell, calling it either doesn’t even make sense. It is something more, something indescribable, something not of this world.
Rewatching the play doesn’t make it any easier to understand. And you better believe Twitter tried its damnedest.
Slowing it down doesn’t help:
Even the stillshot looks photoshopped:
Never mind the recovery, the timing, the body control not to foul Ayton or the dexterity. Giannis sent this back above the mother freakin’ square(!):
Sam Vecenie @Sam_Vecenie
Ayton catches the ball above the freaking square! It’s just not human that Giannis somehow did all of this stuff in the span of like one second.
This is Giannis’ great NBA play. If they go on and win the title, it’s the one he’s remembered for in history, IMO. https://t.co/prgddp2WLR
Please take a moment to fan yourself. You’ll need it.
Inclinations to compare Giannis’ incomprehensible stuff against similar all-time plays are already alive and well. LeBron James’ chase-down block on Andre Iguodala during the waning moments of Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals naturally spring to mind first.
These were two different plays, not to mention two different feats of athleticism. But you’re kidding yourself if you don’t think there’s a discussion to be had when weighing the difficulty of each block.
Talking heads and dime-store writers like myself aren’t the only ones drawing the parallels, either. Iguodala himself is right there with us:
Without question, the stakes ascribed to each block are not currently acting in harmony. LeBron’s block helped bag the Cleveland Cavaliers an NBA championship, in a Game 7, after falling behind 3-1 in the series. Giannis’ block spared the Bucks from a tie, in a Game 4 they still could’ve won, and in a series that wasn’t over even if they lost.
At the same time, let’s be real: This block represents more than that.
Maybe the Bucks break the tie on their next possession. Counterpoint: Maybe they don’t. A made basket would’ve given the Suns more time to set up their defense, and who knows how the rest of the fourth quarter (or overtime) would’ve played out. Chris Paul turned in his worst game of the postseason, but Devin Booker was both en fuego for much of the night and allowed to play with eight or nine fouls.
And sure, had the Bucks lost, the series wouldn’t have been over. Technically. But a 3-1 deficit, with the Suns headed home for Game 5, is basically a death sentence. Only one team has ever climbed out of that hole to win in the Finals: those 2016 Cavs.
Perhaps it’s not fair to say Giannis saved the Bucks’ season with this play. But he might have. And in the end, this singular moment isn’t the entire point.
It doesn’t have to be pitted against LeBron’s 2016 chase-down stop or spun as a franchise-making moment. The latter remains unsettled. This series is now best-of-three. The Bucks could still lose. They could also win. This block, this signature moment from Giannis helped—if not outright guaranteed—the Bucks’ championship prospects live on.
And that makes it an extension of everything he’s done during the Finals.
Corners of the Giannis discourse veered too far from reality before this series ever tipped off. Peruse through the returns on a “Giannis has no bag” Twitter search and you’ll find some truly disturbing slants dating back to the Eastern Conference Finals—and much earlier.
Blahty, blahty, blah.
This idea that he is a total liability to Milwaukee or more specimen than talent was always finite and flimsy (and stupid)—a stance Giannis never really needed to rebuke. But he’s doing it anyway.
Through his first four Finals games, Giannis is averaging 32.3 points, 14.0 rebounds, 5.5 assists, 1.8 steals and 1.5 blocks while downing a blistering 70.2 percent of his twos. He has also joined the Finals company of one Shaquille O’Neal, because why not:
Oh, and this all comes on the heels of a left knee injury that cost Giannis, like, 2.5 games in the Eastern Conference Finals and originally rendered him doubtful for the opening of this series.
That his status for Game 1 ever hung in the balance makes his performance, and this moment, all the more special. This man (myth?) saw his left knee bend in a completely unnatural direction a little over two weeks ago. Now he’s back to looking like one of the three to five best players alive, on the game’s biggest stage, with his team’s season and best crack at winning a title quite literally on the line.
What’s left of this series will inevitably determine the context in which Giannis’ from-another-galaxy block on Ayton will be remembered. But it will be remembered—forever, without exception—as his signature NBA moment.
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