After Giannis Antetokounmpo hit a jump shot on the lane to cap a 7-0 career run and give his Milwaukee Bucks what turned out to be an insurmountable lead in an eventual 109-105 win over the Philadelphia 76ers, he celebrated. sitting on the court. court inside the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia and looking straight into the camera with a smile on his face.
That smile remained as he walked back to the group, and as the few fans who were allowed to enter the building showered Antetokounmpo with boos. But, with a victory in hand after a dominant performance (32 points, 15 rebounds and five assists in 43 minutes), Anteokounmpo still had a smile after the game when asked why he chose to celebrate that way.
“Is there something wrong with having fun?” Antetokoumnpo said. “I don’t think there’s anything wrong with having fun. I just like having fun. In the first half, I wasn’t having fun. In the middle, I talked to myself and said, ‘No matter how bad the game is, you can’t forget what you have to do, which is to have fun ”.
“Obviously there are a couple of times where I exaggerate, but I don’t want to take anything back. I wasn’t thinking, ‘Oh, I’m going to sit down.’ I was having fun. I was talking to my teammates, I was talking to them, I was just trying to be in the moment. But I was just having fun. “
It wasn’t as much fun for the Sixers though, who held the Bucks to 12 of 45 shots in the first half overall, including 1 of 17 from 3-point range, and led by as much as 19 points before blowing it late. Philadelphia fell from first place in the East thanks to the Brooklyn Nets winning at Indiana on Wednesday night.
Sixers center Dwight Howard, in particular, opposed Antetokounmpo’s celebration.
“He wanted to go and Stone Cold Stunner for him, but he already had a technology,” Howard said, referring to a move popularized by WWE Stone Cold wrestler Steve Austin. “It’s basketball. He wanted to have fun, but we will see these guys again. Today we let them get back into the game. We did it. We can’t control that.
“But he had an amazing game. He made some tough shots at the end of the game, being the reigning MVP, and he had a great game. I’m not one to talk trash or say anything negative, but we’ll see.” them again and it will be a different result. “
There was a fairly large presence missing from this game: Sixers superstar Joel Embiid, who sat on the bench in loafers and a hoodie and remains out with a bruise on his knee he suffered in a fall last Friday. in a win over the Wizards. But the energy and intensity on both sides seemed reminiscent of a playoff game, and it was a reminder of what could happen in June, when these teams would currently be scheduled to meet in the Eastern Conference semifinals.
Still, the Bucks almost blew the game, squandering a seven-point lead in the final minute of regulation time as Sixers guard Furkan Korkmaz hit a 3-pointer with 0.4 seconds to tie the score at 93. It was then when Antetokounmpo saved. Milwaukee in overtime.
Ultimately, Milwaukee brought out the kind of physical, hard-fought game on the road it will need to win this spring if it wants to break through and reach the NBA Finals for the first time since the 1970s.
“We knew we were playing terrible on the offensive end, missing shots,” Bucks forward Khris Middleton said. “But at the same time, we all stuck together, we stayed positive and we knew there was a lot of play left and we would have a chance as long as we kept playing defense and we kept playing the right way on the other side.”
“At some point the game was going to change and we were going to race, and luckily it did.”
He did so, in large part, due to the heroic acts of Antetokounmpo. After Howard made an unusually long jump to tie the score at 98 with 3:08 by the end of overtime, Antetokounmpo scored on three straight possessions: a hard left-handed hit for a layup; a triple pull-up; and that hesitation, jumping back on the lane – which sent the score to 105-98 with 1:12 left, and almost ensured the Bucks would win.
“When the game starts, you try to get into your rhythm, but you’re not moving in the right way … It’s hard to get into the rhythm,” said Antetokounmpo, who scored 28 of his 32 points in the second. half and overtime. “And the way I try to get into the rhythm is to get everyone involved. I try to move the ball a little bit, move my legs, move my body a little bit. But going into the second half, I wanted to be a little bit more aggressive, but He knew he couldn’t get out of the door and be aggressive.
“But down the stretch, I was just trying to be aggressive … My teammates need me to keep making the right play, and they need me to be aggressive, so that’s what I tried to do.”
The jokes continued on Zoom’s call from Antetokounmpo as well, as at one point he asked for a cheesesteak, making sure to get one with cheese, and was asked where he got the idea to sit on the court.
“Guys, I haven’t seen that,” he said. “That’s what I wanted to do at the time, and that’s what I did. I haven’t seen it. But, like I said, I was just trying to have fun. I try to enjoy the moment.”
Turns out Antetokounmpo wasn’t the only one who had never seen him before.
“I was surprised myself when I saw him do it,” Middleton said with a laugh. “But I don’t think it was a sign of disrespect, although I know some people might take it that way. Knowing him, these last weeks, months, whatever, he wants to have fun.
“I’ve never seen him before either, but I’m glad he did it with a smile after a losing streak in that game.”