Cheer the deer: Bucks crowned NBA champs

Giannis Antetokounmpo is an NBA champion. The Milwaukee Bucks are NBA champions.

In a historic performance worthy of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who last led the Bucks to a title in 1971, Antetokounmpo scored 33 of his 50 points after halftime of Game 6 to beat the Phoenix Suns, 105-98.   

Antetokounmpo marked one of the great Finals performances in NBA history with 16 of 25 field goals, 17 of 19 free throws, 14 rebounds and five blocks in 42 minutes. After losing the first two games of the series, Milwaukee won four straight. Antetokounmpo scored 41 points in Game 3, secured Game 4 with an iconic game-saving block, clinched Game 5 with a legendary alley-oop dunk and dropped a 50 spot in Game 6.

Finals MVP recipients do not get more obvious.

The company 26-year-old Antetokounmpo keeps is already few. The two-time regular-season MVP and 2020 Defensive Player of the Year added the award named in Bill Russell's honor to his growing list of accolades. Until Tuesday, only Michael Jordan had those same four trophies in his case. Antetokounmpo joined Jordan, LeBron James, Jerry West, Elgin Baylor, Rick Barry and Bob Pettit as the only players to score 50 points in a Finals game. Pettit in 1958 was the only other player to do it in a close-out game.

Antetokounmpo survived a condensed regular season and a hyperextended left knee in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference finals to achieve a goal that eluded him in two previous disappointing playoff exits. Those losses elicited the criticism that follows growing legends until they win a ring. Antetokounmpo now joins all-timers like Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson and Tim Duncan as Finals MVPs by the age of 26.

The win was a boon for small-market basketball everywhere. In lieu of entering free agency this summer, Antetokounmpo signed a supermax extension in Milwaukee prior to the season, pledging to deliver a title to the team that drafted him. He bucked the player movement trend toward superstar pairings and delivered.

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The Bucks got just 29 points on 10-of-32 shooting combined from Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday, but wide-eyed reserve Bobby Portis contributed 16 points and each of Brook Lopez's 10 points resonated.

Chris Paul led the Suns with 26 points in defeat. Devin Booker scored 19 points on 22 shots.

"For me, it just means back to work," said Paul, who at 36 years old made his first Finals appearance in Year 16 of a future Hall of Fame career. "Back to work. Nothing more, nothing less. Ain't no moral victories or whatnot. We sort of saw what it takes to get there, and hopefully we see what it takes to get past that."

The first 3:19 of the fourth quarter was played within one possession, until an Antetetokounmpo tip-in put the Bucks up 86-82. Paul answered with a quintessential mid-range jumper, but Antetokounmpo's four straight free throws and a Portis layup gave the Bucks a 92-86 lead that put pressure on Phoenix to fold.

The Suns made one final push to close within 100-96 on a Booker layup and two Jae Crowder free throws with 1:14 remaining, but Middleton drilled a 17-foot dagger fading to his right over Booker. All that remained was the embrace of Antetokounmpo and Middleton to celebrate eight seasons working to this moment.

Both teams battled nerves early, combining for three field goals on 15 attempts and six turnovers in the first five minutes. Middleton was first to find his rhythm, scoring seven straight points for a 15-7 cushion. Portis and Antetekounmpo each took turns scoring six straight, pushing the advantage to 29-16 by quarter's end.

In a sure sign of trouble, Cam Payne's five points off the bench led the Suns in the first quarter, but he scored another five to ignite a 10-0 run to start the second. It was not unlike the counterpunch the Bucks threw in the second quarter of Game 5 in Phoenix. By the midway point, Paul's layup tied Game 6 at 33, and a pair of DeAndre Ayton free throws gave the Suns their first lead inside of five minutes before halftime.

Led by Paul's 10 points on 5-for-7 shooting, the Suns shot 61% in the second quarter (11-18 FG) to the Bucks' 20% (4-20 FG), and Phoenix outscored Milwaukee 31-13 in the frame to take a 47-42 halftime lead.

Sniffing a ring, Antetokounmpo owned the third quarter, scoring 14 of Milwaukee's first 18 points after the break and dropping 20 total in the stanza. His burst returned the lead to the Bucks, and six straight points from Brook Lopez — including a thunderous dunk that ignited the crowd — extended their edge to 66-61.

A four-point play from Jae Crowder and inspired effort from backup center Frank Kaminsky helped the Suns withstand the onslaught. With Ayton in foul trouble and Paul resting, Booker helmed a 14-9 run to close the third, scoring or assisting on the final 10 points to even the score entering the fourth, 77-77.

But Antetokounmpo would not be denied, adding 13 points in the fourth quarter to get his 50 points for the 50 years since the Bucks last were champions. His latest pledge is not to wait so long for the next one.

"As Coach Bud said, we've got to do it again," Antetokounmpo told the Fiserv Forum crowd afterwards.

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Ben Rohrbach is a staff writer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at rohrbach_ben@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @brohrbach

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