Giannis back in NBA Finals MVP contention after Game 3 performance
Against the odds, Giannis Antetokounmpo returned to the Milwaukee Bucks lineup in time for Game 1 of the 2021 NBA Finals and has hit his stride, despite playing through a grueling knee injury.
The star forward — who hyperextended his knee in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals and missed Games 5 and 6 of that series — turned in a historic performance in Sunday’s NBA Finals contest, which launched him back into the NBA Finals MVP conversation.
NBA Finals MVP 2021
Thu, July 22 2021, 11:00 PM
With No. 3 seed Milwaukee down 0-2 in the series against the second-seeded Phoenix Suns, Giannis racked up 41 points, 13 rebounds, and six assists in a 120-100 blowout victory.
That output followed a 42-point, 12-rebound showing in Game 2. Though, this time around, Giannis was all the more brilliant, as the oft-erratic free-throw shooter went 13-of-17 from the charity stripe.
With two more consecutive 40-point performances, Antetokounmpo would tie a record achieved by Michael Jordan in the 1993 NBA Finals, when the Chicago Bulls defeated Charles Barkley’s Suns.
The two-time league MVP has already surpassed Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for most games with 30 points and 10 rebounds in a Bucks postseason (11). Only Shaquille O'Neal (13) and Elgin Baylor (12) have recorded more in NBA playoffs history.
NBA Finals MVP down to two-man race
Heading into Game 4 on Wednesday in Milwaukee, Giannis’ odds to win NBA Finals MVP are set at +205, the second lowest, behind frontrunner Chris Paul’s (-240).
The player with the next-best chance to claim the award after Giannis is Devin Booker, whose odds have ballooned to +1100 following a dismal outing in Game 3.
Booker scored just 10 points while shooting 3-of-14 from the field, including 1-of-7 from behind the arc. He also added six rebounds and two assists.
Before the start of the Finals series, Booker owned +250 odds. He and Deandre Ayton (+6000) are now longshots to secure NBA Finals MVP, while Bucks forward Khris Middleton is a +10000 choice.
Middleton scored 18 points, grabbed seven rebounds, and dished out six assists in Game 3, but he struggled in Game 2, with just 11 points on 31.3% shooting.
Jrue Holiday (+15000) also stepped up in Game 3, with 21 points, nine assists, and five rebounds, but has been too inconsistent in the postseason to back as an MVP longshot.
Paul still the best bet for NBA Finals MVP
Considering the extraordinary numbers Antetokounmpo has posted in spite of his health, the MVP award will assuredly fall to him should Milwaukee win the title.
Nonetheless, the odds favor Phoenix to win the series (-265), which makes Paul the obvious choice for Finals MVP.
The 36-year-old point guard recorded 19 points, nine assists, and a steal in Game 3, and has averaged 24.7 points and 8.7 assists in the series. He has led his team in scoring in two of three Finals games, thus far, and has tied for the game-high in assists each night.
Antetokounmpo will continue to spearhead Milwaukee's fight to stay in this series, but Paul will ultimately make the difference in clinching a championship for Phoenix.