Giannis Antetokounmpo delivered a historic 50-point performance when it mattered most in leading the Milwaukee Bucks to their first NBA title since 1971 by defeating the Phoenix Suns 105-98 on Tuesday.
The Bucks captured the best-of-seven NBA Finals by four games to two, becoming only the fifth team to claim the crown after dropping the first two contests.
Antetokounmpo, only the seventh player in finals history with a 50-point game, made 17-of-19 free throws while adding 14 rebounds and five blocked shots as the Bucks went a NBA-best 10-1 at home in the playoffs to end a half-century title drought.
“I want to thank Milwaukee for believing in me. I want to thank my teammates for playing hard with me,” Antetokounmpo said. “I’m thankful I was able to get it done.”
The 26-year-old Greek forward matched the greatest scoring night in a close-out game in finals history, the 50-point effort by Bob Pettit in 1958 for the St. Louis Hawks over Boston.
“He put us on his back. When we needed him, he told us to just feed him,” Bucks guard Khris Middleton said. “It’s amazing to be on this journey with him.”
Two-time NBA Most Valuable Player Antetokounmpo, who had been questionable for the opener with a hyperextended knee, also equaled Michael Jordan and Hakeem Olajuwon as the only players to take NBA Finals MVP and NBA Defensive Player of the Year awards in the same season.
“He’s a special human being. I’ve learned so much from him. He’s a special leader,” said Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer. “These players are champions every day. They’ve embraced getting better every day.”
An expanded “Deer District” party zone outside the sold-out 20,000-seat arena welcomed 65,000 people watching on videoscreens and they had the celebration they had hoped to enjoy.
“I’m happy I was able to do it with this team for Milwaukee,” said Antetokounmpo. “And Coach Bud says we have to do it again.”
The Suns were foiled in their bid for the first crown in their 53-year history. Phoenix guard Chris Paul, playing in the first NBA Finals of his 16-year at age 36, led the Suns with 26 points.
“It hurts. Badly,” Suns coach Monty Williams said. “But I’m also grateful we had this chance to play for a championship. The fourth quarter, it was pretty evident we just couldn’t score enough. We just couldn’t convert.”
Relentless Antetokounmpo scored 12 of his 20 third-quarter points in a 16-8 Bucks run that gave Milwaukee a 58-55 lead only 4:34 into the second half.
He was the first with a 20-point quarter in the finals since Jordan and the game hung on a knife’s edge, deadlocked at 77-77 entering the fourth quarter.
Antetokounmpo scored eight for the Bucks in a 10-6 Milwaukee run for a 94-88 lead midway into the fourth quarter and time and again he would drive to the basket when the Suns cut into the Bucks’ lead.
– ‘We didn’t get stops’ –
Phoenix’s Jae Crowder made two free throws to pull the Suns within 100-96 with 1:14 remaining but Middleton answered with a jumper and added two free throws for an eight-point Milwaukee lead.
Paul missed a 3-pointer, Middleton grabbed the rebound and Bucks fans began celebrating.
“They made timely shots, we didn’t,” Paul said. “We didn’t get stops when we needed to and they just beat us.”
Middleton added 17 points for the Bucks while Bobby Portis had 16 off the Bucks bench and Jrue Holiday had 12 points and 11 assists.
Devin Booker added 19 points for Phoenix while Crowder had 15 points and 13 rebounds for the Suns.
Paul fell to 0-13 in playoff games when game-six referee crew chief Scott Foster officiated. Paul had been critical of Foster after past outings.
The streak included Milwaukee’s win in game three of the finals, in which Antetokounmpo had 17 free throws and the Suns had only 16.
In game six, the Suns went 16-of-19 from the line, matching Antetokounmpo’s free throw total, while the Bucks were 25-of-29.
“It was the same old thing, just about every game, the free throws,” Paul said. “You know what I mean?”
Nigeria Edge Cape Verde in Qatar World Cup Qualifier
The Super Eagles continued their 100 per cent record against Cape Verde in their second match of the 2022 World Cup qualifiers on Tuesday.
The Nigerian team won the game 2-1 after staging a comeback.
A 75th-minute own goal by Cape Verde earned Nigeria a 2-1 win in their qualifying clash in Mindelo on Tuesday, a result that stabilized the Super Eagles’ leadership of the pool as they await a home-and-away fixture against Central African Republic next month.
Dylan dos Santos steered the home team in front after 19 minutes of an intense back-and-forth by both sides, when he slipped behind the Eagles’ rearguard and slammed a rocket of a shot past goalkeeper Maduka Okoye.
The three-time African champions refused to be brow-beaten, and launched series of attacks, with Chidera Ejuke forcing the opposing goalkeeper to an acrobatic save in the 27th minute. Two minutes later, an alert Victor Osimhen would pull Nigeria level, stabbing home from close range after the goalkeeper punched following a defensive blunder.
In the 41st minute, the lively Ejuke again rattled the Cape Verde number one, before Osimhen came close to adding another one from a corner with a minute to recess.
Kelechi Iheanacho and six other UK-based players were absent when the Super Eagles played the Blue Sharks in Mindelo.
The players were forced out from the tie after the UK government insisted individuals who travel to “red zones” — which Cape Verde falls into — must quarantine for 10 days upon return.
Aside from the seven UK-based players, Serie A defender, Ola Aina, also did not travel with the squad to Mindelo, and returned to Italy instead.
In the second half, Ahmed Musa latched onto a centre by Osimhen as the Eagles pushed forward, but his tame shot was easily collected. Substitute Onyekuru was also guilty of putting too low a purchase on his shot in the 73rd minute as Nigeria streamed to the opposition area.
Two minutes later, in a spectacular backpass to his goalkeeper, Kenny Santos scored an own goal as the ball floated above the goaltender and landed in the net. The goal put Nigeria in front and eventually gave the Super Eagles the three points on the night.
Victory took the Eagles to maximum six points from two matches, three points ahead of second –placed Liberia, ahead of the Day 3 and 4 games scheduled for October.
WC Qualifier: Nigeria to face Cape Verde without UK-based Stars
The Super Eagles will tackle the Blue Sharks of Cape Verde this afternoon in Match Day 2 of Qatar 2022 FIFA World Cup qualifier without the services of UK-based players.
The Super Eagles contingent landed on the island of Mindelo yesterday morning, after a four-hour flight from Lagos aboard a special Air Peace jet.
There were 21 players on board, following the departure of UK-based players, who returned to their base as a result of UK authorities COVID-19 protocols and guidelines that must be observed by anyone returning to Britain after visiting a country with COVID-19 red label, of which Cape Verde is one.
Today’s encounter, scheduled for the 5,000 –capacity Estádio Municipal Adérito Sena, affords a number of ambitious fresh legs not deployed in Friday’s 2-0 win over Liberia in Lagos to stake claims for permanent shirts in the Nigerian squad.
The absence of Olaoluwa Aina, William Ekong, and Leon Balogun probably means that Italy –based Tyronne Ebuehi, Chidozie Awaziem of FC Boavista in Portugal, and Spain–based Kenneth Omeruo will start against the Blue Sharks this evening.
The departures of two-goal hero Kelechi Iheanacho and Alex Iwobi also open the door for perhaps Terem Moffi and Henry Onyekuru. But it is in the midfield that Coach Gernot Rohr would have to enlist entirely unaccustomed partners and charge them to deliver.
Oghenekaro Etebo, Wilfred Ndidi, and Joseph Ayodele-Aribo have all returned to the UK.
Coach Rohr may opt to deploy the versatile Abdullahi Shehu to the midfield as he has done a couple of times, most recently in Sierra Leone against the Leone Stars in a 2021 AFCON qualifier. Russia–based Chidera Ejuke, Italy–based former junior international Kingsley Michael, and new face Innocent Bonke from Sweden are available.
Captain Ahmed Musa will earn his 100th cap for Nigeria, 11 years after he won his first against Madagascar in Calabar if he takes any part in today’s encounter.
Three points will consolidate Nigeria’s leadership of Group C, confirmed after the victory over Liberia that followed the draw between Cape Verde and the Central African Republic in Douala. A win will guarantee Nigeria a minimum of three points ahead of any other team in the pool, even if Liberia’s Lone Star is victorious against Central African Republic in Monrovia.
A win will also brighten the path of the three–time African champions to the knockout final round, given that home-and-away fixture against the Central African Republic is what is on the plate in October.
Conte breaks silence, says pre-deal with Arsenal not true
Antonio Conte’s agent, Federico Pastorello has revealed that the coach has not agreed to a pre-deal with Arsenal FC.
There have been speculations that Conte is in line to replace Mikel Arteta at the Emirates after the later failed to win a single game this season in the Premier League.
The Gunners have also not recorded any goal in their defeats to Brentford, Chelsea and Manchester City.
Although Conte is out of work since leaving Inter Milan, he is not close to returning to the dugout.
Transfer specialist, Fabrizio Romano, tweeted: “There’s absolutely NO pre agreement between Antonio Conte and Arsenal. Conte has no verbal/pre-agreement with any club and he’s free.
“Federico Pastorello – agent close to Conte since years – confirms to @Freddie_Paxton: “Rumours about Arsenal pre-deal are not true”.
There’s absolutely NO pre agreement between Antonio Conte and Arsenal. Conte has no verbal/pre agreement with any club and he’s free.
Federico Pastorello – agent close to Conte since years – confirms to @Freddie_Paxton: “Rumours about Arsenal pre-deal are not true”.
— Fabrizio Romano (@FabrizioRomano) September 5, 2021
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