Giannis Antetokounmpo has done incredible work in the past week moving his star closer to the center of the NBA universe. Returning from what looked to be a devastating knee injury with head-spinning speed, he was surprisingly effective in Game 1 of the NBA Finals. He was legitimately legendary in Game 2 and perhaps even better in Game 3 as the Milwaukee Bucks clawed back in the series with a desperately needed home win.
Antetokounmpo dropped 41 points Sunday evening, one shy of his Thursday night total, on 14-for-23 shooting while grabbing 13 rebounds and doling out six assists. Demons at the line were thwarted in 13-for-17 fashion. All of his field goals came from within five feet of the hoop, historic inside dominance when one considers he's the first player in the past 25 years to score at least 30 points without making a shot from any type of distance.
The Shaquille O'Neal comparisons may have felt a bit forced earlier this week. Now they're ringing as authentic as the two-time MVP stakes claim after claim to land near the rim and defenders are helpless to combat his brute force.
In golf parlance, Giannis had a case of the gimmies. He was was chronically close enough to the cup for his opponents to concede the inevitable. Win or lose these Finals, he's forced the entire basketball world to give him the respect and recognition he deserves. Respect and recognition that's been a slower burn than it should be, for a combination of reasons — the most important that he'd never done something like this on such a big stage. It's time to flip that conversation around. Because he's now and forever a member of a select club of NBA players who have built a week like this.
And he's not done. Listen to his postgame comments and try to imagine a world where a neutral observer wouldn't feel happy for a guy like this, who has perspective to burn and an enviable attitude.
Matthew Modine would tell you that there's a certain dichotomy of man at play with Giannis. A gentle giant. A guy who is going to get his come hell or high water but is always filtering through the lens of teamwork. Someone who had a chronic case of the gimmies without the selfishness of the Berenstain Bears.
His last 78 minutes have yielded 83 points on 64.4 percent shooting. A potential career-changing leg injury is long in the rearview mirror and obscured by a career-defining stretch. If healthy — and here's the exciting part — he can continue this pace for three or four more games. We very well may be seeing an obvious example of an athlete taking control of their legacy by sheer strength and will.
About as special as it gets.