Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo puts on a show in playoff win over Toronto

The Greek Freak lives up to his billing

TORONTO — With under two minutes remaining Saturday, Raptors star DeMar DeRozan rose majestically and extended the hand holding the ball towards the rim.

Beneath the basket, Giannis Antetokounmpo elevated like Inspector Gadget and sent the ball flying with his right hand. Then as DeRozan fell away to the right of the basket, the Milwaukee Buck known as the Greek Freak celebrated to the left.

Leading by 19, Milwaukee had the game well in hand. But it was an exclamation point for the young Bucks en route to their 97-83 upset win over Toronto in Game 1 of their first-round playoff series.

The 22-year-old Antetokounmpo pumped his right hand and gave DeRozan a look over his shoulder, earning a somewhat questionable technical foul.

Antetokounmpo, noting he hasn’t seen much of the playoffs, said afterwards he was just caught up in the energy of the sellout crowd of 20,133 at the Air Canada Centre.

“I wasn’t doing anything towards DeRozan. I was just excited,” he said. “But it was the right call. I’ll learn. Next time I’ll be less excited.”

That may be difficult. Antetokounmpo brings excitement — a six-foot-11, 222-pound athletic splinter of a man who can do it all. He can bring the ball down the court at breakneck speed, slash through a defence, stop and put up a shot or feed a teammate.

The Bucks star finished with a career-high 28 points on 13-of-18 shooting from the field, adding eight rebounds and three assists.

“Giannis is a special player and he can cause a problem by getting two or three players on him,” said Milwaukee coach Jason Kidd.

“The defence just focuses so much on him,” echoed Thon Maker, a seven-foot-one centre from South Sudan whose basketball journey took him to the Athlete Institute Basketball Academy in nearby Orangeville.

Milwaukee used the attention on Antetokounmpo to move the ball and get open looks, finishing with 22 assists. Plus they protected the ball, committing just five turnovers to Toronto’s 11.

Early on Saturday, Antetokounmpo put on a one-man show: two dunks, three rebounds, a layup and free throw as Milwaukee turned a 4-0 deficit into a 17-15 lead.

Antetokounmpo’s energy was equally high to start the second quarter, with a running layup, step-back jump shot, reverse dunk and driving dunk. He also floored DeRozan late in the second quarter, collecting a foul to deny a dunk.

Opening the third, a Maker block led to a fast break with Antetokounmpo switching hands with the ball in midair to evade a defender and get a better look at the bucket for a finger-roll layup.

It was more of the same seconds later, with Antetokounmpo standing under the Raptors basket, hands in the air like the Empire State Building awaiting the pass for a layup. Then it was an assist for a Tony Snell three-pointer.

He even managed a pass while lying on his back after going down trying to twirl his way through the defence. He got the ball away and Malcolm Brogdon eventually sank a three-pointer on the play.

His teammates came to his rescue late in the third, when he picked up a fourth foul. Toronto was unable to capitalize on his absence and the Bucks outscored the Raptors 11-5 to end the quarter up 75-70.

The Raptors’ start to the fourth was a nightmare of turnovers and missed free throws as Milwaukee increased its lead.

The game took its toll. Antetokounmpo, who was born in Athens to parents who came to Greece from Nigeria, took his time in the locker-room — with ice bags on each knee and his feet in a tub of ice.

And before limping to the showers, Antetokounmpo had a trainer apply a bandage to his knee.

 

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Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press