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Giannis Antetokounmpo couldn’t rally Bucks to victory, as hard as he tried

Giannis Antetokounmpo crouched in front of his teammates while they sat during a timeout. He pointed. He swung his arms. He pounded a chair. He pumped his fist. He yelled what looked like encouragement.

He did everything but coax a better performance from the other Bucks.

Despite an excellent night by Antetokounmpo (42 points, 12 rebounds, four assists, three blocks and a steal), Milwaukee lost Game 2 of the NBA Finals 118-108 to the Suns on Thursday.

This was nearly the Bucks’ dream when they signed Antetokounmpo to a super-max contract extension last offseason. They were in the Finals with Antetokounmpo leading them to success. Milwaukee outscored Phoenix by three in Antetokounmpo’s 40 minutes.

But the Bucks got outscored by 13 (!) in the other eight minutes.

In the last 25 years, players have 11 times scored more than 40 points in a Finals game and had their team outscore the opponent while on the court:

  • Giannis Antetokounmpo (2021 MIL-PHO G2): 42 PTS, +3 – loss
  • Kevin Durant (2018 GSW-CLE G3): 43 PTS, +15 – win
  • LeBron James (2016 CLE-GSW G6): 41 PTS, +26 – win
  • Kyrie Irving (2016 CLE-GSW G5): 41 PTS, +20 – win
  • LeBron James (2016 CLE-GSW G5): 41 PTS, +13 – win
  • Dwyane Wade (2006 MIA-DAL G5): 43 PTS, +1 – win
  • Dwyane Wade (2006 MIA-DAL G3): 42 PTS, +6 – win
  • Allen Iverson (2001 PHI-LAL G1): 48 PTS, +6 – win
  • Shaquille O’Neal (2000 LAL-IND G6): 41 PTS, +6 – win
  • Shaquille O’Neal (2000 LAL-IND G1): 43 PTS, +18 – win
  • Michael Jordan (1998 CHI-UTA G6): 45 PTS, +2 – win

Antetokounmpo is the first to lose the game.

This is getting concerning for the Bucks.

They’re down 2-0 in the series. Teams that lost the first two games of a best-of-seven series on the road have won the series just 6% of the time.

Still, this is as close as Milwaukee has gotten to a title in decades. The window won’t remain open forever. With Antetokounmpo looking healthy – even more so than Game 1 – the Bucks might be squandering a dwindling opportunity.

Antetokounmpo’s supporting cast – Khris Middleton (29), Holiday (31), Brook Lopez (33), P.J. Tucker (36) – isn’t young. Milwaukee already traded so many future picks to get Holiday. The roster is expensive, and the Bucks have a history of dodging the luxury tax (including this year*).

*They’ll pay the tax if they win the championship, triggering an incentive in Holiday’s contract.

If this team doesn’t win the title, how will the situation improve in future years?

Antetokounmpo is doing his best to render the discussion moot. He was particularly strong in the third quarter, scoring 13 straight Milwaukee points and 20 overall:

But he didn’t get cooking in the period until the Bucks trailed by 15. They cut the deficit to five in the fourth quarter, but when Antetokounmpo left the game for just over a minute due to a cramp, Phoenix doubled its lead to 10.

As poorly as the Bucks played without Antetokounmpo, he could play even better. Yes, that’s a high standard. But he recently won consecutive MVPs. A high standard is fair.

Antetokounmpo has always publicly supported his teammates. Tonight was no different.

He puts the onus on himself.

When Antetokounmpo finished his third-quarter motivational speech, he took his seat and pulled up his socks – ready for even more action.