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Giannis MVP Watch: Bucks vs. Pacers

Lance Stephenson, Joe Young realize the foolishness of their ways

The wild card among the four favorites to win the NBA’s MVP award is Milwaukee Bucks “point forward” Giannis Antetokounmpo (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 Porziņģis 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 document Antetokounmpo’s performances that add to his burgeoning MVP candidacy through our “Giannis MVP Watch.” You can keep track of previous entries here: Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV, Part V, Part VI, Part VII, Part VIII.

What did he do?

31 points, 10 rebounds, 5 assists, 1 steal and 2 blocks on 66.7 percent shooting in a 122-101 win over the Indiana Pacers on Wednesday night.

Did he dunk on someone?

Defenders have two choices when Antetokounmpo is gliding toward the basket: do something or get out of the way. It’s normally foolish to attempt the former, but some players have the courage (or craziness) to attempt to block an Antetokounmpo dunk. Pacers guard and known ear-blower Lance Stephenson and teammate Joe Young were two such players — and they quickly realized the foolishness of their ways.

As Antetokounmpo sprinted toward the paint, Bucks center John Henson tried to force a pass between him and Young. The third-year guard poked the ball away just as it hit Antetokounmpo’s hands, leaving the ball tumbling toward two Pacers defenders. But at the last second, Antetokounmpo reached from nearly inside the restricted area to the bottom of the free throw circle like his arms were made of the same material as Stretch Armstrong, corralled the ball and dunked it with Young in his front and Stephenson coming from behind. Both received the Kobe Mean Mug for their troubles.

Did he make a crazy play?

Antetokounmpo may not (yet) be the “next” LeBron James, as many basketball fans have rushed to crown him, but he is slowly perfecting one of the most deadly weapons in James’ multilayered arsenal: the chase-down block. While James is known for turning on the jets to get from one side of the floor to the other to send a shot attempt into the stratosphere (see: Iguodala, Andre), Antetokounmpo prefers to take as few steps as possible from just about anywhere on the court to add players to a Chris Jericho-like list of shots he’s obliterated.

After a Bucks turnover, Pacers guard Cory Joseph was on the fast break for what he thought was a run-of-the-mill transition layup. Wrong. Antetokounmpo kept his eye on the ball the entire way up the court, keeping up with short strides, and when he noticed that Joseph was going to keep the ball, Antetokounmpo decided at the 3-point line to elongate those strides like the galloping Bambi he is and pinned the ball to the backboard.

What was his MVP moment?

Antetokounmpo’s MVP moment against the Pacers was actually him not having a moment at all.

After building a commanding 93-76 lead at the end of the third quarter, Bucks head coach Jason Kidd pulled Antetokounmpo, who had scored 31 points in 29 minutes, for the rest of the game.

That decision was MVP-worthy. In the middle of the 2015-16 season, then-reigning MVP Stephen Curry sat out about one-third of fourth quarters for the Golden State Warriors because the team had built enough sizable leads that they didn’t need the best player in the league to play.

The Bucks are nowhere near the championship-winning team that the Warriors were that season (this was the 73-win team), but it speaks volumes that Kidd thinks Antetokounmpo is important enough, like Curry, to conserve Antetokounmpo’s energy for the Bucks’ next game rather than have him play 35-plus minutes as he normally does.

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