When Giannis Antetokounmpo stepped to the free-throw line 16 seconds into Game 1 of the 2021 NBA Finals between the Milwaukee Bucks and Phoenix Suns, the crowd started serenading him with a simple chant: "1, 2, 3 ..." If you've been watching the entirety of the playoffs, you'll be familiar with this ritual which continues in every away game for the Bucks.
But if you're casual fan just tuning in, you might be wondering what exactly is going on. Here's a quick explainer to get you caught up one of the most unique ways the crowd has attempted to troll and influence one of the game's biggest stars in recent memory.
Why are fans counting when Giannis is at the line?
Everyone who watches the NBA is familiar with the 24-second shot clock to start every possession. But what you may not know is there's also a shot clock when players are at the free-throw line. This is a lesser-known rule because there's no actual clock counting down, and most players don't come close to a violation.
Giannis, however, has one of the longest free-throw routines in the league, and is constantly pushing the boundaries. In fact, late in Game 1 of the first round against the Miami Heat, he was called for a 10-second violation. Ever since then, it became a story. The Miami fans picked up on it in the first round, and the trend has continued ever since.
By yelling out the count, the fans are not only trying to get in Giannis' head, but they're also trying to force the referee to take notice.
How many times has Giannis been called for a 10-second violation?
So far, despite all of the attention and antics from fans, Giannis has actually only been called for two 10-second violations in the playoffs.
The first one came in somewhat controversial circumstances late in Game 1 of the Bucks' first-round series with the Heat. With the Bucks clinging to a one-point lead with 1:06 remaining, Giannis stepped to the free-throw line and missed his first attempt. As he prepared to let the second one go, a referee stepped in and blew the whistle to call him for a violation.
While Giannis was past 10 seconds on that free throw, the ref's decision to make a rare call at such a crucial moment in the game raised a lot of questions. It also helped bring all sorts of attention to the situation. If that call was made on a random free throw in the second quarter, it's unlikely it would have been such a big deal.
Later on, in Game 3 of their second-round series against the Brooklyn Nets, Giannis was again called for a 10-second violation. As with the previous example, he was well past the 10 seconds, and it got to the point where the refs simply couldn't ignore it any more.
Has the chanting affected his shooting?
Early in his career, Giannis was a pretty solid free-throw shooter. After his rookie campaign, when he barely went to the line, he shot at least 72 percent for five straight seasons. But last season, things began to slip. He shot 63.3 percent in 2019-20 and 68.5 percent this time around.
Whether it's mental or physical -- Giannis has put on an incredible amount of muscle since the early part of his career and no longer has the same shooting form -- or some combination of both, he isn't as solid at the line as he used to be. And in the playoffs, it's even worse. He shot 58 percent in the bubble last summer and 54.1 percent through 16 games in these playoffs.
Giannis is recording the worst free-throw percentage of any postseason in his career. And what's even more interesting is when you look at the home-road splits, you'll notice this is by far the worst he's ever shot from the line on the road during the playoffs. In fact, it's also the first time in his career he's ever shot worse on the road than he did at home.
|Playoff season||FT% at home||FT% on the road|
It's impossible to say exactly how much credit the crowds should get for that decrease, but from a strictly numbers perspective the only conclusion you can draw is that the counting is working.
What has Giannis said about the counting?
When players start getting questions about fan behavior, that's usually a sign that something has gone wrong. Unfortunately, that was the case this season, where we far too often saw fans run on the court, get into fights, throw things at players and make derogatory comments.
With the counting, it's a rare example of something interesting and positive that fans can do to help their team win. It's also something that Giannis has been asked about repeatedly. Here's what he has said throughout the playoffs.
After the first violation call against the Heat:
"I don't remember [being given a warning]. Probably. Probably I did, but I don't remember. And I'm not just going to stand up that play and I'm not going to complain about it because that's not who I am. If it was a 10-second call, great call. Like I'm going to keep doing my routine. Keep trying to make my free throws. And if it's 10 seconds, it's gonna be 10 seconds. I'm gonna live with that."
After Game 2 against the Hawks:
"Usually I take eight to nine seconds. Borderline 10 seconds. When my coaching staff tells me to like, speed it up, I know that maybe I'm around 10. Or sometimes the referee talks to me and tells me, 'You've got to speed it up.' Then I make an effort to maybe take it a second or two seconds faster. But my mindset going into this game was go through my routine, get as many dribbles as I can, get my breath and just shoot my shot."
After Game 1 against the Suns:
"No, [the counting] hasn't come to an end, and I think it's something that's going to follow me for the rest of my career. So, I've just got to embrace it and have fun with it. But at the end of the day I'm just focusing on my routine, my technique, my body, and as I said, it's not going to stop, so I just have to learn to live with it."
"No. I just try to do my routine. And part of my routine is breathing and catching my breath. But yeah, I'm not saying nothing to nobody. Like, who should I say something to? The referee? Why don't you pass me a second early, like I wanted the ball? That's not who I am. That's not me. I focus on what I've got to do. I focus on myself. I focus on the task. And if he gives me the ball one second earlier, I've just got to adjust and find a solution, how can I make the free throw. That's pretty much it."
What does this all mean moving forward?
As Giannis mentioned, this trend isn't going away any time soon. At the very least he's going to hear the count for the rest of the Finals, and likely for many postseasons to come. And in addition to fans bearing down on him, he'll also have the referees keeping a more watchful eye than ever.
For the rest of this series, there's really nothing he can do but acknowledge the situation and try to do the best he can. Moving forward, though, it will be interesting to see if he makes any adjustments to his form or routine heading into next season. One way to try and shake these taunts would be to develop a faster routine that never puts you at risk of a violation. It's also possible that he could shoot better if he had less time to stand there and think with the pressure building.