In Sunday’s 101-89 Game 1 route in Boston, Giannis Antetokounmpo did everything against the Celtics that Kevin Durant failed to do in Round 1.
The most unsung superstar in NBA history, playing for the least-heralded defending NBA champion in history, announced on a Sunday afternoon that it is time to fear the Bucks.
Or, as the Milwaukee motto printed on the Bucks’ warm-up T-shirts states:
“Fear The Deer.” Again.
Capping his second playoff triple-double (24 points, 13 assists, 12 rebounds), Antetokounmpo treated the highlight shows with a toss-off-the-backboard dunk.
Midway through the fourth quarter, the Bucks comfortably ahead by double digits, Antetokounmpo spun away from Boston’s defensive specialist Grant Williams and started driving to the hoop.
“The Greek Freak” then tossed an alley-oop for himself. He knocked it off the backboard, caught it, flushed it, gave the Bucks a 94-78 lead and toyed with the Celtics’ monstrous defense that mutated the Nets.
And the NBA superstar acted like he does this play every afternoon — pokerfaced as he jogged back downcourt. Stephen Curry would’ve done an extended shimmy. Ja Morant would’ve danced the Mamba. The Knicks’ Immanuel Quickley would’ve done his swim move all the way to England.
“I was trying to be aggressive and was fortunate enough to make that play,” Antetokounmpo said in his modest on-court interview on ABC.
In the interview room later, Antetokounmpo allowed a sheepish smile.
“I had the ball, and I was like — oh crap — I’m going to get stuck, then I threw it at the backboard,” he said. “I’m lucky enough to have the ability to jump and go get it again and finish the play. It’s just instincts.”
During the classic seven-game second-round series against the Nets in 2021, Antetokounmpo called Durant the “best player in the world.”
That no longer is the case because “The Greek Freak” has that title — whether he earns the MVP or loses to Denver’s Nikola Jokic, already on the proverbial golf course.
So is Durant, who became the goat against Boston. The Celtics bottled and beat up KD, harassing him into a 39 percent shooting disaster in the Celtics’ 4-0 sweep.
Boston, the East’s best team statistically in the season’s second half, was on a fantastic roll entering its second-round series against the 2021 champs.
Milwaukee’s defense allowed the Celtics just 10 two-point baskets all game, with the length of “The Greek Freak” and center Brook Lopez shutting off the paint. Boston was forced into heaving 50 3-pointers, making just 18.
“We did a pretty good job to send [defenders] in the paint and show a crowd, being active, being there early to block some shots, take charges,” Antetokounmpo said.
Winners of four straight playoff games, the Bucks are clicking into their championship gear. They often didn’t show their dominance during a ho-hum 51-31 regular season in which they were tied with the Sixers for third place.
“We’re playing way, way, way hard,” Antetokounmpo said of their win streak. “We realize in order to win games, we got to guard. One of our best scorers [Khris Middleton] is not out there. If we don’t guard, we won’t have the chance to be in the game.”
This is roughly the same cast that hung Milwaukee’s first championship banner since 1971 but with more 3-point shooting. Former Duke enigma Grayson Allen has been revelatory, ex-Knick Bobby Portis has been threatening from deep in black goggles and Pat Connaughton still is a 3-point ace.
The Celtics made Antetokounmpo more of a Sunday passer — and not just to himself.
“When you whip the ball to these guys, they’re not hesitating,” he said. “It’s going up.”
The Suns begin their second-round series Monday night versus Dallas. Commissioner Adam Silver may want something fresher, he may not want to see a Bucks-Suns rematch in June, but it’s on target.
Battling wrist and foot pain, Antetokounmpo gave a cute answer to how he carries on without complaint.
“First of all, I thrive on physicality,” he said. “I love feeling beat up after games. You probably think I’m a weirdo.”
No, just a potential two-time champion.