With blood trickling down from his eye, and lonely – probably, since the nearest defender was 20 feet away – Giannis Antetokounmpo gets the catch-and-shoot, fourth-quarter three-point shot from a heads-up pass from Wesley Matthews.
It was a shocking stab to the Boston Celtics’ heart in the Milwaukee Bucks’ 110-107 win in Game 5 of their Eastern Conference semifinal series Wednesday night, and a shut-the-hell-up message to all the critics. Now the Giannis three-pointer must belong in Milwaukee lore, right up there with “Bucks In Six.”
Because this is what makes the Giannis three-pointer even more special: So many athletes invent or embellish their naysayers and nonbelievers to boost their own motivation to the point that it has become cliché. But Antetokounmpo doesn’t have to imagine the monsters in the closet and under the bed. They’re there and they’re screaming.
TNT analyst Stan Van Gundy isn’t the only one, he’s just the most recent one.
radio reporters. Digital reporters. Impartial reporters and analysts. Basketball purists. Buck’s fans. Anti Bucks fans. Podcasters. Posers.
And the oh-so-many who rushed to delete social media comments ripping the Giannis three-pointer when it blanked, trying to save face when it swished. It has been amusing to watch the dust storms over the audacity of Giannis to keep taking that shot – and for some of us, to enjoy a little smugness in saying, with that sunk three, “I told you so.”
Amirite, Mike Budenholzer?
And Antetokounmpo’s fourth-quarter three – his second made three in the second half – had to be humiliating on some level to the exceptional Celtics with that top-ranked defense. That alone makes it worth it.
But I propose that some of you should join me and love the Giannis three.
And to be abundantly clear: I don’t mean the sweet “You Sunk My Battleship” three-pointer that finally hits.
I mean the ugly flyover air ball.
And all the cringe-y rebounds from those threes – like fireworks that don’t launch – that will take off someone’s head if they don’t grab it or duck.
I’ve loved them like a mother loves an ugly pug with a sinus problem.
Here’s a few reasons why you can as well:
women people rarely make history.’
These are facts: Giannis was 2 of 19 from three-point range in 4½ games with the Celtics in this series. To continue shooting it was not smart, they said. It was a wasted possession, they said. Thank you, Celtics fans said.
And that’s all more than fair.
And that’s why Giannis is Giannis, and not one of us mere mortals. Talented, never outworked and a ruthless risk taker at his core, no matter how much sports psychology and maturity he uses to temper it. He’s Elon Musk wanting to inhabit Mars. He’s a doer other a dreamer
It keeps the defense honest
This is just the simplest way to understand perhaps the only value of shooting 224 playoff three-pointers. And making 58. (That’s 25.8%).
When Antetokounmpo drives to the basket for the other 60 possessions of the game, he brings a traffic jam with him that clogs up everything. Spacing at this level is such a big deal to anyone, including the Bucks. No matter the analytics, the forecasts, the game plans and defensive strategies, Antetokounmpo’s threat of an outside shot is still real and even the best NBA players are human and will think about honoring it, even if it’s just giving in instinctually.
The Greek Freak is the ultimate competitor
Gentle reader, have you already forgotten? Game 2 at Boston? The Celtics won by scoring 60 points off threes. The Bucks had nine points. It was lopsided and icky.
Antetokounmpo and Jrue Holiday were asked about it, but it was Holiday who offered answers. Antetokounmpo just sat and held his tongue. Why? What he just tired? processing? Or what he … plotting? If the team needs me to take some threes, then I will do that, too.
Leadership should not be confused with heroism. Sometimes leading means doing what needs to be done to get others on board. A beacon in the storm.
In Game 5 the Bucks attempted 29 threes, and 11 were made by Holiday, Matthews, Pat Connaughton and Grayson Allen.
Sometimes leadership means sacrificing your own image to do the right thing.
With Antetokounmpo the Bucks made 6 three-pointers in the fourth quarter to not only erase a large deficit, but to avenge Game 2.
Progress and adapt with change. Or cling to old ways and just look … old doing it
I believe in the square to the basket stance, the use of the backboard on a layup, the bend the knees jumper and the bounce pass to the true center inside. The fundamentals of the game are its foundation and shall be honored with respect, if not reverence. In the name of Dean Smith, Bob Knight and John Wooden, Amen.
The Giannis three is just the unorthodox exception to all that. The Giannis three is a disruption of all that is logical, practical and safe. It’s a threat to the defense, not to the sanctity of the game that we love. And it belongs, too.
A Giannis three could be like the Olympic ice skater or gymnast “too athletic” and not artistic enough, who medals anyway. A Giannis three could be like the running quarterback who “should” make plays with his legs and not his arm, and then strikes with a glorious touchdown pass in traffic in overtime anyway. A Giannis three could be like Mike Holmgren telling Brett Favre that they are bonded and will rise or fall together, and the NFL’s all-time interception thrower, the gambling gunslinger, reawakens Titletown.
I love the three because it’s who Giannis is. If you squash the spirit of someone special, how many gifts do you kill as well?
Nobody is perfect and thank goodness we are not Puritans.
Shoot that three.
Message Lori Nickel on Twitter at @LoriNickel, Instagram at @bylorinickel or Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/ChinUpLoriNickel