Long before Giannis Antetokounmpo was born, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar led the Milwaukee Bucks to their only NBA title in 1971 by dominating the paint. For Antetokounmpo to bring a long-awaited second title to Milwaukee, playing as Abdul-Jabbar at the post seems like the best way to achieve it.
Antetokounmpo dominated the paint as Abdul-Jabbar during the Bucks’ 120-100 Game 3 win over the Phoenix Suns Sunday night at the Fiserv Forum. He didn’t fire a shot out of 5 feet and finished with 41 points and 13 rebounds. Antetokounmpo now has three 40-10 games this postseason, including his last two games. The NBA record for most 40-point, 10-rebound games in a postseason is five, held by Abdul-Jabbar (1977) and former star center Shaquille O’Neal (2000).
“To see him play is to see not only what he is, but also what is possible,” Abdul-Jabbar once wrote to Time magazine about Antetokounmpo.
During the 1971 NBA Finals, Abdul-Jabbar made a championship a reality in Milwaukee by averaging 27 points per game on 60.5% shooting from a mix of aerial hooks, layups, dunks, and pole moves. The Bucks swept the Washington Bullets in four games to win their first title and the 7-foot-2 center won the Finals Most Valuable Player award.
In the Bucks’ first win of the 2021 Finals, Antetokounmpo became the only player in the past 25 seasons to score 40 points in a Finals game without hitting a 5-foot basket. The next closest during that span was LeBron James (twice) and David Robinson in a game with 25 points. Antetokounmpo’s 14 baskets within 5 feet of the basket tied for third for the most in a Finals game in the past 25 years. He also went a perfect 13 of 13 in the restricted area, which is the most shots made in the restricted area in the last 25 years.
“When he’s in a rhythm like this, like he was in these last two games, you have to give him the ball, give him his space and allow him to get to work,” Bucks forward Khris Middleton said of Antetokounmpo.
Antetokounmpo also had six assists in Game 3 and is averaging 4.7 assists in the Finals to help Middleton and Jrue Holiday.
Bucks power forward Bobby Portis said: “Obviously, Giannis can go out there and score 40 points all the time. But when everyone else is involved, that unlocks him more on the court and creates mismatches and a lot more in one-on-one, and defenders can’t really dig in and be above and behind. “
Antetokounmpo joined O’Neal (2000) as the only two players to have 40 points on 60% shooting in consecutive Finals games.
Abdul-Jabbar didn’t shoot 3s in his career, and Antetokounmpo might be better off if he didn’t. Antetokounmpo made just 10 of 55 3s (18%) in the first three rounds of the postseason. So far in the Finals, he has missed seven of nine 3-point attempts. But in Game 3, the Bucks made a concerted effort to push him to score on the post, giving him 16 touches in the paint in Game 3, the most of his career, according to Second Spectrum.
“It just makes everything else easier,” Middleton said of Antetokounmpo. “He draws a lot of attention every time he has the ball on the perimeter and in the paint. It just makes it easier for everyone else in terms of space and getting open looks at the basket. “
Another similarity between Abdul-Jabbar and Antetokounmpo is that both are not great free-throw shooters. Abdul-Jabbar shot 72.1% from the free throw line during his career. Rival fans have been mocking Antetokounmpo by counting how long it takes him to shoot a free kick. He missed 12 of 30 during the first two games of the Finals when Suns fans did their best to affect him. But at home in Game 3, Antetokounmpo picked up pace and was 13-of-17.
Meanwhile, Suns starting center Deandre Ayton was limited to 24 minutes due to five fouls, slowing his night from 18 points and nine rebounds.
On Ayton’s foul problems against Antetokounmpo, Suns point guard Chris Paul said: “It’s tough, man. Giannis comes hurtling like an NFL running back. “
The final link in common basketball between Abdul-Jabbar and Antetokounmpo is how they prefer the focus to be on the team. Abdul-Jabbar has several big-name quotes about the importance of winning as a team despite all his countless individual accolades. Antetokounmpo has the same mentality.
“Five players on the court working together can achieve more than five talented individuals who come and go as individuals,” said Abdul-Jabbar.
After Game 3, Antetokounmpo referred to his teammates many times.
“I am going to compete as hard as possible and I am going to do the right thing to help my team be in the right position and have a chance to win whatever game we play,” he said.
Abdul-Jabbar predicted on Twitter before the NBA Finals that the Bucks would win the championship in six games. While the Suns still hold a 2-1 lead in the Finals, Antetokounmpo being legendary in the paint, much like Abdul-Jabbar in 1971, could finally make history in Milwaukee.