DETROIT (AP) — Giannis Antetokounmpo will have his unique talents on display in the second round of the NBA playoffs for the first time in his six-year career.
If Milwaukee’s superstar can match or beat his latest jaw-dropping highlight, everyone is in for a treat, unless they play or root for the Boston Celtics.
Antetokounmpo scored a career playoff-high 41 points to lift the Bucks a 127-104 sweep-sealing win over the Detroit Pistons on Monday night.
“This means a lot,” he said softly.
The top-seeded Bucks will face fourth-seeded Boston in a postseason rematch. The Celtics are also coming off a sweep, against Indiana, and should have confidence in the matchup after eliminating Milwaukee in the first round last year.
The Bucks swept a seven-game series for the first time since 1983, when they did it in the conference semifinals against Boston.
“We’re going to celebrate it and have fun, but we’ll quickly focus on Boston,” Milwaukee guard Sterling Brown said. “It’s going to be a fun series. Last year, they got us in Game 7.”
Milwaukee has come a long way from Antetokounmpo’s first postseason appearance four years ago when Chicago advanced with a 120-66 win.
“From where we were and where we are right now, it’s been an unbelievable journey,” Antetokounmpo said. “The organization has done a great job of just pushing in another direction.”
Antetokounmpo has had a lot to do with that, smashing expectations for the No. 15 pick overall in 2013.
In games and practices, he has impressed his teammates with spectacular plays and even they were shaking their head in disbelief after his latest highlight.
“It’s crazy to be able to witness each one of these, it seems like each and every game,” Bucks center Brook Lopez said.
The latest one, though, wasn’t a play any of his teammates could recall seeing before.
Antetokounmpo leaped in the middle of the lane, trying to dunk on Andre Drummond with his right hand.
He was met by Detroit’s 6-foot-11, 279-pound center in the air and got fouled, getting bumped off his path in the paint.
Antetokounmpo had enough strength to bring the ball down to corral it with both hands before flicking his right wrist just enough before landing to make the shot to get the ball up and into the hoop.
“It was just unbelievable,” Bucks guard Eric Bledsoe said.
Brown was on the court for the three-point play late in the first half. A couple hours later, he still couldn’t believe what he saw.
“Everybody is not like him,” Brown said.
That appears to be true off the court, too.
Bucks assistant coach Vin Baker has been watching Antetokounmpo up close on a daily basis and raves about his game as much as his personality.
“He’s the best player in the world right now,” said Baker, a former NBA starter. “He reminds me sometimes of Scottie Pippen, but Scottie wasn’t 6-11. Sometimes I see some LeBron (James) in his game. But Giannis is so unique I don’t think there’s ever been another NBA superstar like him.
“And, he’s just 24 and he attacks every day like it’s his first day in the league.”
Baker has seen Antetokounmpo accommodate requests from young and old fans and marvels at his humility.
“He’s one of the best people I’ve ever been around,” Baker said. “He doesn’t say no to people and unlike some stars, it’s not an act.”
Bucks: Malcolm Brogdon remains out because of a right foot injury, but Budenholzer said he might have a better sense in the next 3-5 days about a timetable for his availability. … The Bucks won every game they played against Detroit this season, including all four in the regular season. … Milwaukee had not swept a best-of-7 series since the 1983 conference semifinals against Boston.
Pistons: Detroit’s most recent postseason victory was May 26, 2008, in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference finals against Boston. The New York Knicks lost 13 straight playoff games from 2001-2012, but the Pistons have now eclipsed that mark.
To the line
Milwaukee went 31 of 41 on free throws, while Detroit was only 9 of 12. Casey was called for a technical foul in the third, and the fans weren’t at all pleased with the officiating.
At one point, Milwaukee had a 32-8 edge in free throw attempts. A stat showing that was put on the main video board, but there didn’t seem to be any further reaction from the crowd.
“Giannis shooting eight more free throws than our entire team — you’re not going to win a game like that,” Griffin said. “And their team shooting 41 — you’re not going to win a game like that. … Some of that’s on us.”
The Bucks move on to face the Celtics, who knocked Milwaukee out of the playoffs in seven games last year.