By Johnny Askounis/ [email protected]
Giannis Antetokounmpo, shortly after guiding the Milwaukee Bucks to their first championship since 1971 and earning the NBA Finals MVP award, was quick to admit he has yet to realize the outcome of the 2020-21 season. He talked to Greek pay-tv channel Cosmote TV about playing through the knee injury, free throws, and more.
“I still can’t believe it. It is unbelievable. It will take some time to sink in,” he admitted tipping off the interview after the Game 6 triumph over the Phoenix Suns, “I am trying to enjoy these moments with my family here. I believe it will take some time to realize it. I cannot wait to return to Greece, to see my friends, my coaches, visit Sepolia and Zografou. To be in Greece.”
Antetokounmpo, 26, suffered a knee injury in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals versus the Atlanta Hawks. He recovered and actually dominated the Finals against the Suns averaging 35.2 points, 13.2 rebounds, 5.0 assists, 1.8 blocks, and 1.2 steals per contest. An impressive turnaround after early troubling signs on the injury coupled with plenty of offensive and defensive highlights up to his 50-point showing in Game 6.
“Yes, I am hurt,” he acknowledged, “To be in pain is the least compared to competing in the Finals. You don’t feel pain out there but have fun. The fans help you forget the pain. I feel good. I have the time to sit back and relax, recover and get back to 100%.”
“In some occasions, carrying an injury helps you find a better rhythm and slow down on the court,” he said adding another view on the impact of the injury, “Your moves are more calculated. I can’t know for sure if I would be better playing healthy.”
“I am not perfect”
Injured or not, the Greek Freak does not feel comfortable labeled perfect. He walked through his approach to the game and to life in general.
“I am not perfect. I make mistakes and learn from them every day. I try to improve myself as a player and a person,” he detailed, “With hard work and by believing in yourself, you can achieve great things. I want to prove this to everyone.”
Eight years ago, Antetokounmpo landed in the USA for the first time. He was selected with the 15th overall pick by the Bucks. His effort through those years has earned him an NBA championship but he is far from done.
“As long as I am healthy, I will keep working,” he mentioned, “Arriving in New York, my first time in the USA, I couldn’t believe I would make it this far. Everything has happened with hard work. With more to come, I can’t stop working. I can’t change as a person. This mentality has made me a champion, helped my family and my friends.”
“It was way too hot there”
Back to the exciting 2021 NBA Finals, with his side up 3-2 and playing at home, he really did not want to return to Phoenix for a Game 7.
“It was way too hot there. My bed was not comfortable,” he jokingly pointed out, “We had the opportunity and didn’t want to waste it. I tried my best in defense, in offense, and in communicating with my teammates, to go strong and win the game. We did it.”
His free throws have been largely discussed and heavily attracting the interest of fans in nearly every away game. However, he made 17/19 in Game 6 building his 50-point season-ending outing.
“I made them when it counted the most”
“The free throws were made because I practice on free throws. I made them when it counted the most,” he said, “I haven’t stopped working on free throws despite the criticism. That doesn’t matter to me.”
The Bucks finished the Regular Season third in the Eastern Conference. It was not ideal but part of the initial plan.
“I was saying from the beginning of the season that wins and losses don’t count, but improving as a team counts,” he reminded, “We indeed improved as a team game-by-game and peaked at the end. That was the goal. I am proud of my team. It is a historic moment for the team and the city.”
“I want to win with the national team”
Finally, after winning the NBA championship, Antetokounmpo hopes he can enjoy similar success with the Greek national team after the disappointing outcomes in major international tournaments since his debut with the senior squad in 2015.
“I want to win with the national team. Maybe not a gold medal. I just want to achieve something great with Greece. I have not fulfilled that dream yet,” he said, “I won the NBA championship and other things, which are all in the past. I hope to keep improving and wish for something great with the national team to make Greece proud.”
Photo Credit: Getty Images
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