The Milwaukee Bucks tied up the NBA Finals at two games apiece after a thrilling Game 4 win over the Phoenix Suns Wednesday night, highlighted by a jaw-dropping block from franchise superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo who once again came to the rescue to preserve the Bucks win.
The play came with roughly 90 seconds remaining in the game with the Bucks clinging to a two-point lead. Devin Booker threw up a lob pass to Deandre Ayton, but instead of finishing off the alley-oop, the Suns' big man was met at the rim by Antetokounmpo who stuffed his shot mid-dunk attempt.
It was as shocking as it was mesmerizing not just because it saved the Bucks win, but because of the improbability of Giannis actually getting the block. Ayton was already in the air before Antetokounmpo could even turn around, but one giant step and a freak of nature level of explosiveness got the two-time MVP in the right position to make the play. After the game, Giannis even admitted that he didn't think he would be able to pull that play off.
"I thought I was going to get dunked on, to be honest with you," Antetokounmpo said. "But you know, going down the stretch, just do whatever it takes to win the game. Just put yourself in a position that can win the game."
Antetokounmpo continued to say that the lob from Booker didn't catch him off guard at all.
"It didn't surprise me. I saw it coming. Once I saw him put it in his one hand, he was too far for a layup," Antetokounmpo said. "So I knew he was trying to lob, and I committed so much. You risk it. You kind of feel it. I felt him rolling to the rim behind me, so I knew the only chance to get a stop is just jump toward the rim and try to cover that angle for him to score."
While Antetokounmpo might shrug it off as just a hustle play, his teammates made sure not to downplay the ridiculousness of what he just did
"I kind of said, in my opinion, it's the best block of all time," Bucks guard Pat Connaughton said. "Obviously, we're a little biased and you can talk about the LeBron block as well. But as far as a block where he was covering the pick-and-roll, he had to judge where the pass was, where Ayton was catching it and trying to dunk it, above the box, it's about as impressive as you can get."
Connaughton is referring to LeBron James' block in Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals against the Golden State Warriors when he came out of nowhere to trail Andre Iguodala and pin his shot on the backboard with two minutes remaining of what was a tied game. The Cavaliers went on to win their first-ever championship after the final buzzer, cementing that block as a championship-defining moment.
If we're comparing the two by difficulty standards, then Giannis wins hands down. That's not to discount the ridiculous level of athleticism it took for LeBron to track Iguodala down and pin his shot, but there was more thought that had to go into Antetokounmpo's block. He was already at a disadvantage because he took a step toward Booker who could've pulled up for a jumper. Then he had to cover enough ground and meet a freight train of a human being in Ayton in mid-air to swat the ball out of his hands. That's not just elite athleticism, that's fundamentals, a high basketball IQ and an insane amount of hustle to time that perfectly.
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Although the stakes weren't as high for Giannis given it wasn't a Game 7, it was still a series-saving play made by the Greek Freak. If Antetokounmpo doesn't get that block and Ayton finished the dunk, it's suddenly a tie game. Booker was still torching Milwaukee, and there were no easy buckets for the Bucks on the other end. Maybe the Suns manage to pull out that win and go up 3-1 with the opportunity to close out the series at home in Game 5. So while it didn't secure a championship for Milwaukee at that moment, it certainly kept their title hopes alive.
If Milwaukee does manage to win this series, that block will be elevated even more as a turning point for the Bucks, so there's potential for it to reach the level of what James did in 2016 from a legacy perspective. But there's no doubt already that what Antetokounmpo pulled off in Game 4 is amongst the greatest plays we've seen in NBA Finals history.