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Giannis MVP Watch: Bucks vs. Nets

Antetokounmpo makes statement in first game without Kidd

Milwaukee Bucks “point forward” Giannis Antetokounmpo is the wild card among the four favorites to win the NBA’s MVP award (James Harden, LeBron James and Kevin Durant are the other favorites). Antetokounmpo, a native of Greece who turned 23 in December, is a mixture of the size, speed, lankiness, raw power and finesse that’s only seen in the so-called “unicorns” of the league (New York’s Kristaps Porziņgis and Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons). But Antetokounmpo appears to have the most upside of any of those players, and he is slowly nipping at James’ heels for most dominant athlete in the league.

The Undefeated will track Antetokounmpo’s performances that add to his burgeoning MVP candidacy through our “Giannis MVP Watch.” You can catch up on previous entries here: Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV, Part V, Part VI, Part VII, Part VIII, Part IX, Part X, Part XI.

What did he do?

41 points, 13 rebounds, 7 assists, two blocks and two steals on 70 percent shooting in a 116-91 win over the Brooklyn Nets on Friday night.

Did he dunk on someone?

For those of you who haven’t been paying close attention to the Bucks this season — with a 25-22 record, I don’t blame you — they fired head coach Jason Kidd on Monday after 3½ seasons. Reports emerged that Antetokounmpo, who’s only had two coaches in his five-year career, tried to save Kidd’s job, so needless to say the Bucks’ franchise player was none too happy about the firing.

Which brings us to Friday. This was Antetokounmpo’s first game without Kidd (he sat out the past two games with a sore right knee), and he took out all of his 23-year-old, I’m-mad-they-just-fired-my-coach anger on the poor, hapless Nets.

Six-foot-11 Brooklyn center Jarrett Allen, like Mary Corleone, was the poor sap who just happened to be in the way, thus Antetokounmpo ended Allen’s life at 19. He was so young.

After the dunk, Antetokounmpo pulled out the Kobe Bryant Mean Mug and huffed and puffed down the court as if he were going Super Saiyan:

Did he make a crazy play?

The Giannis Chase Down Block is its own category of highlights at this point. What was once a staple of LeBron James’ arsenal (Dem the rules, in case you forgot), Antetokounmpo has single-handedly cornered the market on pinning opponent’s shot attempts to the backboard like he’s hanging up laundry.

What makes his blocks so insane is that it appears that he’s way out of position to alter a shot, and yet he pops up at the last minute. Nets forward Rondae Hollis-Jefferson easily made his way up the middle of the court, hit the patented Antetokounmpo “gyro step,” and looked as if he had an easy bucket. Except Antetokounmpo quickly transitioned from jogging back on defense (he’s a full two steps behind when Hollis-Jefferson commences the “gyro step”) to two Brooklyn Bridge-length strides to catch up and swat the ball away.

What was his MVP moment?

After the announcement of Kidd’s firing, NBA writer Haley O’Shaughnessy at The Ringer said that in recent weeks Antetokounmpo “has all but been taken out of the MVP race,” especially after the dismissal of the team’s head coach. Antetokounmpo appears to think otherwise, because he had arguably his best game of the season on Friday night.

He drove to the basket with ease. He hit step-back bankshots. He hit three (!!!) 3-pointers. What Antetokounmpo wanted, Antetokounmpo received.

After a Bucks 26-point first-half lead was cut to seven near the end of the third quarter, they had to rely on their star player down the stretch. He responded with bucket after bucket, tough shot after tough shot, including the play that effectively iced the game: Antetokounmpo squared up a Nets defender, pulled up from about 19 feet out, and drilled a basket, drawing a foul in the process, to put Milwaukee back up by 13. “M-V-P” chants rained down on the BMO Harris Bradley Center.

And in case anyone said otherwise, Antetokounmpo, needing a Tide Pod to wash out his dirty mouth, reminded the entire NBA that this is his (expletive) (expletive).

Martenzie Johnson is a senior writer for Andscape. His favorite cinematic moment is when Django said, "Y'all want to see somethin?"