Giannis’ 50-Point Games Propel Bucks to 2021 Aspirations


In human heuristics, there’s something about round numbers that convince us of completeness. Ever notice how gas always seems to be $1.999? Or how triple-doubles are three tens?

Sure, 50 points aren’t much more than 45 or 47. But to Bucks fans, now in awe of our hero Giannis Antetokounmpo, the Freak’s two half-a-hundred outbursts startled the NBA. While he’s sometimes not a runaway scorer, Giannis carries the team through valleys and, with a retooled roster, has realistic Finals ambitions for 2021. By examining his two career nights, fans can consider how the Mike Budenholzer Bucks have evolved around and through the Freak, projecting a scintillating future contingent on only a stroke of a pen.

March 17th, 2019: 76ers 130, Bucks 125 (Giannis 52 points)

It’s too easy to say, “pro athletes don’t need motivation because they should always play 100%.”

It doesn’t work that way.

The grind of an 82 (now, mercifully, 72) game regular season makes this scenario impossible. Also, focus wanders for every person; you can’t be in the zone every second on the court. It’s notable, then, how Giannis dials up his intensity when his team faces long odds. Consider his abbreviated effort in game four versus the bubble Heat. He played with remarkable intensity, but still, the Deer fell behind as their defense slipped.

The 52-17 Bucks, in his career game a season earlier, had few seeding concerns. However, many confused experts thought the Sixers could edge the Bucks in the East playoffs. The Sixers punched first and seemed to validate that notion, coasting to a win not as close as the score indicated. However, they poked a Deer who’s always awake on the court. A tic-tac-toe pass sequence gave Giannis an open dunk to cut the lead to one, and his RPM meter reached red.

The Sixers’ defensive spacing proved suspect that Sunday afternoon, with Giannis often standing alone under the basket. When they more-wisely tried to cut him off, he muscled through anyway. Also, note his three-of-eight outside shooting. Not the scariest number, but it teased a breakout of his least-developed skill.

Silver Lining

While the Bucks could never catch up, Giannis never lapsed, even as Philadelphia fell asleep in the last minute. His dunks shook the rim considerably more, and his dominant expressiveness kept the crowd in the game despite an unusually tough challenge.

Bucks fans who watched their high schools or college teams play may remember “scoreboard” chants. For once, however, the loss wasn’t a total waste. Giannis proved he could dominate a game, even against stiffer opponents. When the Bucks faced less-talented Piston and Celtic teams, the Freak left no doubt. Want to argue, “well, he stank against Toronto”? If Khris Middleton could have made one more shot in game three, Nick Nurse’s adjustments would have been too late. Ifs and buts instead lingered in the offseason, but they didn’t last long.

November 25th, 2019: Bucks 122, Jazz 118 (Giannis 50 points)

While this contest didn’t have the same simmering hatred, the Jazz, make no mistake, brought talent. Ultimately, they finished just 1.5 games out of third and would have beaten Denver this past postseason with one more shot. The Bucks seemed to have momentum as they fried hapless opponents during the winning streak, but Utah refused intimidation. This Ulysses Grant special didn’t have the same feeling as Giannis’s points arrived more naturally in the game flow.

In the Philadelphia game, the Bucks had little chance of winning despite their hero’s excellency. Against the Jazz, though, Giannis played within coach Bud’s broader ball-moving system. He attacked the rim, yes, but did so more fluidly and quietly. The Bucks, then, were able to keep pace with Utah, never falling too far behind while never blasting to an insurmountable lead. Giannis needed all 50 points, none of which came in garbage time.

With 1:24 left and the Bucks up five, Giannis grabbed a board, and Bojan Bogdanovic fouled. If he could make both free throws, the win would seemingly be safe.

As we know, though, Giannis can play nervously at the line. For his first toss, the usually rowdy Forum became a tomb as fans respectfully quieted.

Dribble, dribble–swish.

Giannis hand-slapped Brook Lopez and Wesley Matthews before handing the ball to the baseline official. Second throw: right through. See, he needs to get to 48 points, and his struggles will disappear! The Bucks needed those points as the Jazz cut the lead to two before a Brook block sealed the victory.

Hundreds More

The Bucks lost their magic after the coronavirus suspension, and Giannis’s twisted ankle sabotaged almost any chance of a playoff comeback. However, after an impressive Jrue Holiday trade and free-agent roster rearrangement, Giannis has the tools he needs to go farther. He plays smarter than in the guideless Jason Kidd era, and he’s got more of an athlete ego (see head butt)–which is excellent! He’ll undoubtedly score hundreds of more points in 2021 as his Bucks climb up the East seeding ladder again.

Giannis’ two contrasting 50-point explosions, while similar in the box score, reflect subtle improvement. If he continues to build his attention to detail, Milwaukee might have its first mass gathering in awhile — assuming it’s safe —  for a long-overdue championship parade.

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About Jeffrey Newholm

"Jammin Jeff" Newholm had been a basketball fanatic since his high school days, and remained a casual fan as a student in Whitewater. Wishing to check in as an active participant, he also completed a writing certificate program at UWM. He loves seeing Bucks games more than any other activity in hometown Milwaukee and especially screaming really really loudly to get someone to miss a free throw. Twitter: @JeffreyNewholm

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