Giannis Antetokoumpo’s free throws weren’t why the Bucks won the championship

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A tumultuous crowd counts from 1-10, placing Giannis Antetokounmpo, an already inconsistent free throw shooter, under a time pressure.

A student of behavioral science would’ve told him to eliminate conscious thought and allow the subconscious to access the automated muscle memory of a free throw. And Giannis’ subconscious was telling him to run the entire court and vehemently dunk on the entire team, regardless of the free throw outcome.

That’s confidence.

Giannis eventually rid himself from the free throw woes and went 17-19 from the charity stripe in a 50-point effort to secure a championship in Game 6, Bucks vs Suns, arguably the greatest closeout game in NBA history. A veritable triumph.

“I made my free throws, and I’m a freaking champion!” he said at the press conference.

But was it really that simple? Was it that if he makes the free throws, he wins a chip? And if he doesn’t, he loses? If that was the case, they should call it a free championship from the free throws. But championships aren’t free; they’re earned.

Free throws are all psychological. Just you and the rim. But Giannis wasn’t playing the rim. He was playing a team- the Suns.  The free throw redemption arc may have been a deciding factor for THAT game. But it was not the whole story.

Everyone assumed that the crowd’s veiled counting threat would pressure Giannis. But a closer look would show you that it was Giannis, who was pressuring the crowd. Free throws were a byproduct of his increased aggression. He was imposing himself on the other team’s defense, and not the other way around. This was simply an inability to guard.

So why did Giannis give notice to the free throws in the quote? Maybe it was to shade Chris Paul who caustically said, “Everybody is anticipating him to miss, even him.”

Perhaps the made free throws were a telltale of his increased focus in a closeout game. But just one look at his countenance could show that. Or maybe his back-to-back 40-point games. Regardless, it was obvious.

It would be backwards to attribute the Bucks’ championship to Giannis being perfect from the free throw line when the entire championship run was built on NOT being perfect. Milwaukee shot 32.1% as a team on threes. 14th out of 16th of teams in the playoffs. The “it’s a make or miss league” myth was debunked.

The idea was that if you can’t shoot, then you can’t perform in the clutch. Then how did Giannis close Game 5 with an alley-oop? Phoenix should’ve recognized this faster than anyone, recalling the Deandre Ayton game winner.

Playoff basketball is ugly. The Bucks compensated their shooting struggles with points in the paint, many of which were transition opportunities leading to fast break points. In the playoffs, Giannis had 16.9 restricted-area points per game. The second highest in the last 25 years, eclipsed only by Shaquille O’Neal’s 18.6 in 1998.

“Thanks for bringing old school bully basketball back. It’s only one Superman now and that’s you.” Shaq said on an Instagram caption. A twinge of shade towards Dwight Howard.

Shaq was, in fact, the progenitor of the free throw strategy. A perilous strategy. The Suns essentially tried to let Giannis beat them, as opposed to trying to actively beat him. And just like with Shaq, the strategy failed. The game is more than a free throw contest.

Giannis’ aggression wasn’t jarred with his free throw struggles, and that’s what makes him a superstar. A stoic superstar. He didn’t join a super team or complain about his teammates. Hopefully he staunchly remains a Buck for the rest of his career.

Giannis has changed the game, and teams in the future will have to plan differently.  For disheartened Suns fans, do not fret. This is a special player.