This Giannis Antetokounmpo fella is, it turns out, pretty good at basketball. The Milwaukee Bucks kicked off their first championship defense in five decades on Tuesday night against the Brooklyn Nets, and despite their opponents being viewed as the favorites to win an NBA title this year, the Bucks managed to cruise to a 127-104 win.
The festive environment in Fiserv Forum — where Milwaukee raised a banner and put on championship rings — translated to some absolutely beautiful basketball by the defending champs. And as he oftentimes is, Antetokounmpo was at the heart of everything. The reigning NBA Finals MVP was in total control of his environment, leading the Bucks with 32 points, 17 rebounds, seven assists, two blocks, and a steal in a mere 31 minutes of work.
32 PTS & 14 REB
Giannis was back at it again tonight pic.twitter.com/Vnamre9nnN
— NBA on TNT (@NBAonTNT) October 20, 2021
Continuity oftentimes is a huge help for teams early on in the year, but even by that standard, the Bucks already look like a team that is not going to take long to get humming on all cylinders, which is something that Kevin Durant mentioned after the game. A major reason why is Antetokounmpo, which is always the case when good things happen to Milwaukee. He was omnipresent on defense, keyed the Bucks’ offense (particularly after Jrue Holiday left with a heel injury), and was crucial in earning the team extra possessions, as evidenced by his game-high five offensive rebounds.
Above all else, Antetokounmpo looks like someone who has an extra air of confidence about him, something that can only come from finally winning a championship. His flashing of a new-look jumper during the preseason was a reminder that, despite his consistent individual excellence, there are ways for Antetokounmpo to get better. It’s early days, but Antetokounmpo looks like someone ready, willing, and able to find another level for his game. If so, Tuesday night might go down as game one in a special, 82-game campaign.