The special ones seem to have the uncanny ability to mesmerize you and then rip your heart out.
Jordan and Kobe both did it. LeBron still does it. And now it appears the Greek Freak is looking to gain entry into that fraternity.
The Milwaukee Bucks’ Giannis Antetokounmpo, the NBA’s breakout star of the season and Sports Illustrated cover boy, had his first career drop the mic moment on Wednesday. And at Madison Square Garden, no less.
“For a few seconds I didn’t feel anything,” Antetokounmpo said after his buzzer beater stunned the Knicks, 105-104. “And then one of my teammates jumped on me. We won. Now, let’s go home.”
The Knicks’ losing streak is at six games and counting but this one hurt the most. The day after spending an entire practice ironing out their defensive issues, the Knicks’ schemes were no match for Antetokounmpo’s length, quickness, talent and will.
Over the final 7:05, the Knicks got to witness the Freak show firsthand. Giannis scored 12 points, with two rebounds, one huge blocked shot and an even bigger steal with 8.6 seconds remaining that set up his fade away jumper over Lance Thomas at the buzzer.
“The play was for (Jason Terry),” said Antetokounmpo, who finished with 27 points and 13 rebounds. “I was looking for Jet. He wasn’t open so I had to shoot the ball.”
Thomas defended it well. Antetokounmpo caught the ball in the corner near the Knicks bench and began backing down Thomas. When the Knicks didn’t send a double team, Antetokounmpo stepped into the lane and sank a 15-footer.
The Garden fell silent except for the Bucks running onto the court to celebrate.
“I work on that shot a lot,” he said.
The Bucks overcame a 16-point second-half deficit by outscoring the Knicks, 32-17, in the fourth. Milwaukee seemed to blow it when Jabari Parker lost a defensive rebound with 12 seconds left and the Knicks leading 104-103.
The Bucks immediately fouled but they had a foul to give. With the Knicks inbounding near midcourt, Jeff Hornacek elected not to insert Brandon Jennings, a quick guard and good free throw shooter. Instead, he left Thomas and Joakim Noah in which made the Knicks easier to defend.
The 6-foot-11 Antetokounmpo and his ridiculous wing span immediately caused trouble for the Knicks when Carmelo Anthony threw the inbounds pass to Derrick Rose. Antetokounmpo slapped at the ball, knocking it out. It was a questionable non-call. It could have easily been ruled a foul. Instead, the play was reviewed for possession and the call was overturned since it clearly hit off Rose’s hip.
The play is what separates Antetokounmpo from some of the NBA’s other rising stars, including Kristaps Porzingis who missed his third straight game with a sore Achilles. The Greek Freak can beat you with or without the ball.
And once he really learns how to play Antetokounmpo will be unstoppable. This is already his fourth season and he only turned 22 last month.
“His confidence is growing,” said Bucks coach Jason Kidd. “We are lucky to see him every day in practice. What won’t be talked about are the blocks he had. Those are winning plays.”
Kidd is one of many familiar faces with the Bucks. Apparently, former MSG executives never really die. They simply relocate to Milwaukee and build a state-of-the-art arena around a once-in-a-generation talent. “We all speak the same language,” says Gus Johnson, the popular former Knicks broadcaster who calls roughly 25 Bucks games. “There are a lot of us out there.”
The names Patrick McDonough, Mike McCarthy, Peter Feign and Matt Pazaras may not ring a bell but you know their work. They were some of the Garden’s behind-the-scenes guys during the last golden era of basketball at the World’s Most Famous Arena.
They belong to the group of Garden expats now running the Bucks. The team has a New York flavor to it. The Bucks’ owners, Marc Lasry and Wesley Edens, are New York businessmen with strong political ties. When Lasry shook hands with Allan Houston prior to Wednesday’s game he told the former Knicks guard, “I was a big Knicks fan … before I bought the Bucks.”
The Bucks’ traveling party even includes former college coach Craig Robinson, the brother of First Lady Michelle Obama. Robinson is the team’s vice president of player and organizational developments.
It’s an eclectic group to be sure. But billionaire owners, savvy executives and a smart coach can only take you so far. It’s a superstar-driven league. That’s what wins. The Bucks may have two, assuming Parker continues to develop. They most certainly have one in Antetokounmpo. And he’s only getting better.
He’s a freak for sure.