By Terrance Turner
May 7, 2022
Today, the man many argue could be the NBA’s best player put on a show at Fiserv Forum. Milwaukee Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo shined in Game 3 as the Bucks battled the Celtics. Powering through defenders on play after play, he dazzled the home crowd in his best game of the series (so far). It was Antetokounmpo’s combo of high-flying offense and deft defense that sealed the deal for the Bucks in what would became a nail-bitingly close game.
Celtics star Jayson Tatum was the first to score, but Giannis lobbed a pass to Bucks center Brook Lopez for the slam, giving both teams two points a piece. The game was tied at six when Giannis took over. He ran over Celtics center-forward Robert Williams before heaving a one-handed pass to get the basket and the foul. Then, midway through the first quarter, he hit a jumper to put the Bucks up 13-9. Boston came back to tie it at 13 before Pat Connaughton’s three-point shot. Milwaukee led 22-19 at the end of the second quarter.
The Celtics kept things close to begin the second quarter. Celtics center-forward Al Horford missed a wide-open shot, but point guard Payton Pritchard rebounded the ball and passed it right back to him. This time, Horford hit the three to tie the game at 22. Brook Lopez answered with a rebound dunk to give Milwaukee a two-point lead.
Minutes later, Antetokounmpo steamrolled the Boston defense for another highlight. As he drove to the basket with nine minutes left, Pritchard reached in and tried to make a steal. But Giannis clutched the ball, spun around, and secured possession. Trapping Pritchard’s arm and yanking him around, he then leapt to the hoop for a one-handed slam.
He made a similar play shortly afterward. With the Bucks trailing 38-39, he launched another spin dunk. Then, as Tatum was about to score in the paint, Antetokounmpo blocked his shot (a possible goaltend) and then rebounded a miss by Celtics power forward Grant Williams. He followed that up by rebounding a teammate’s shot for a one-handed putback. But his dominant play wasn’t enough to maintain Milwaukee’s lead. Boston went on a 7-0 run to end the half; they lead 50-46 at halftime.
In the third quarter, Giannis turned a turnover into a layup in transition. Later, as he bulldozed Williams, he lobbed a one-handed layup against the backboard that bounced between both sides of the rim and went in. He even turned defensive plays into scores: with 9:30 remaining in the quarter, an errant pass by Tatum hit Bucks guard Jrue Holiday in the head and hit Antetokounmpo in the hands. In a remarkable play, he drove to the basket, stepped through defenders and laid the ball in with his left hand. He later assisted Bobby Portis with a floater that gave Milwaukee a 62-54 lead — their largest lead of the game.
That lead would only grow as the third quarter wore on. Thanks to Jrue Holiday and Brook Lopez, Milwaukee went on to rack up a double-digit advantage over Boston. Holiday’s 23-foot three-point shot pushed the lead to 14, and Celtics player Derrick White only trimmed it by one, as he made only the first of his two free throws after a foul. The Bucks led 80-67 at the end of the third quarter.
Milwaukee stayed in control as the fourth quarter commenced. And after going 0-for-4 from the line, Antetokounmpo finally connected for three! His successful three-pointer put the Bucks ahead 86-73 with 9:46 left to play. But Boston went on a furious rally, chipping away at Milwaukee’s lead. Boston even managed to eke out a 100-99 lead at one point late in the game, but baskets from Antetokounmpo and Jrue Holiday put Milwaukee back on top.
According to the Associated Press, “Boston trailed 103-100 when officials determined Marcus Smart was fouled by Jrue Holiday just before attempting a potential tying 3-pointer with 4.6 seconds remaining. Because it was a non-shooting foul, Smart got just two free-throw attempts. Smart made the first free throw, then missed the second intentionally — flinging a shot that went hard off the backboard before hitting the rim.
Smart got the rebound, but missed his putback attempt. Boston’s Robert Williams charged toward the basket and sent the ball up and off the glass. Horford was waiting on the right side with a putback attempt that also went off the glass. Horford then got his own rebound and banked it in” — but his final shot came just nanoseconds after the buzzer sounded. The referees reviewed the play and determined that the shot was too late; Horford’s shot (which would’ve sealed the game) didn’t count.
The Bucks won, 103-101. Giannis Antetokounmpo finished with 42 points, adding 12 rebounds and 8 assists for a double-double. He later credited the win to staying the course. “There’s going to be struggles, but at the end of the day, if you keep with it and you stay with it and you stay on course, you’re going to succeed,” Antetokounmpo said. “If you don’t stay on course, you’re not going to succeed. It’s as simple as that.”