MILWAUKEE -- The last time Giannis Antetokounmpo scored 50 points was Game 6 of the 2021 NBA Finals, as he clinched the Milwaukee Bucks' first championship in 50 years. When he did it again on Tuesday night in a 128-119 win over the Indiana Pacers, it wasn't quite as important, but it was just as impressive.
A young Pacers frontcourt of Goga Bitadze and Jalen Smith simply had no answers, as Giannis outclassed and outmaneuvered them all night long. He finished with 50 points, 14 rebounds and four assists on 17 of 21 from the field. Giannis now trails only Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for 50-point games in Bucks history. The Hall of Famer has 10, however, so it will be a while before that record is truly in danger.
Sitting at the podium for his postgame press conference, Bucks head coach Mike Budenholzer paused and shook his head in near-disbelief as he considered the performance.
"It's Giannis," Budenholzer said. "He's special. It's hard to fathom scoring 50 on 21 [shots]."
There's a reason it's hard to fathom; it's almost never happened. Per Basketball Reference's Stathead, Giannis is just the fourth player in NBA history to score 50 or more points on 21 or fewer shots. In addition, Giannis is just the ninth player ever to score 50-plus points while shooting at least 80 percent from the field.
For as dominant as Giannis was on Tuesday, perhaps the most encouraging sign was that he went 14-of-18 from the free throw line. After some of the struggles he went through the last few seasons, and the chanting during the playoffs, he seems to have truly figured things out. He's now shooting 72 percent, which would be his best mark since 2019.
"I get upset when I miss free throws," Giannis said. "I work too hard. I love when I make my free throws. It gives me rhythm, makes me feel good. Like I can miss every three, I can miss layups, but when I make free throws it's like my dopamine hit because I work extremely hard to make them. It just makes the game easier. It makes me able to drive the ball all the time and when I get hit I'm excited to go to the free throw line. I don't second guess myself anymore. I'm like, 'I'm gonna make this.'"
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All told, it was a stunning, historic performance. Even Giannis' teammates, who are with him every single day, were in awe.
"What's going through my head is 'damn,' Jordan Nwora said. "It's special seeing it in person. What's really crazy about it is he makes it look so easy. He's like barely sweating. I think I was looking at him when he scored his 50th point, the crowd's cheering and he's barely sweating. Still full of energy in the locker room after he does it. It's just part of being one of the greatest ever to play."