Giannis Antetokounmpo led the Milwaukee Bucks to a wild 115-111 victory over the Brooklyn Nets in Game 7 of their second-round series on Saturday, but it took all 40 of his points to hold off the home team because of yet another brilliant performance from Kevin Durant. The Brooklyn star scored 48 points, the most ever in a Game 7, and at the end of regulation, he came one toe short of sending the Nets to the Eastern Conference finals by hitting a long jumper that counted for only two points because he was just barely inside of the arc.
Antetokounmpo may be the superstar advancing, but he was quick to acknowledge Durant's heroic performance and what it means in the greater context of the league. In his post-game interview, he called Durant the best player in the NBA.
"I said it a couple of days ago, he's the best player in the world," Antetokounmpo said of Durant. "He's still the best player in the world." The first time Antetokounmpo bestowed that title on Durant came after Game 5, when the former Finals MVP scored 49 points in a legendary victory. He was similarly excellent in Game 7, but Antetokounmpo himself had a performance for the ages. He scored 40 points, pulled in 13 rebounds and dished out five assists to overcome Durant.
Many superstars would want such a victory to serve as personal vindication. Antetokounmpo is a two-time MVP, and a win like this could only come from a player who is among the very best in the world. But Giannis did not argue on his own behalf. He acknowledged Durant's greatness in a series that was far closer than it should have been.
James Harden hurt his hamstring in the opening minute of Game 1. Kyrie Irving sprained his ankle midway through Game 4. A hobbled Harden returned, but Durant has had to carry an enormous load since his star teammates went down. In the last three games, Durant scored 129 of Brooklyn's 314 points, more than 41 percent in total. He also averaged 10.6 rebounds and 5.4 assists in the series as a whole while anchoring Brooklyn's defense with 11 steals and eight blocks.
Few players in history could have made this series as competitive as Durant did with all of those injuries on his roster. It was a performance for the ages, and even if Antetokounmpo follows it up with a championship, even he couldn't deny what it means for the league's hierarchy. Right now, Durant is the best basketball player on Earth.