Devin Booker erupted for 42 points in Game 4 of the 2021 NBA Finals, including 18 in the third quarter on 7-of-7 shooting. Khris Middleton had 40 points of his own and outscored the Suns 10-4 over the final two minutes and 15 seconds of regulation, guiding Milwaukee to a 109-103 win over Phoenix.
And yet, it was one play by Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo that had the members of NBA Twitter losing their minds. In the fourth quarter of Wednesday night’s contest, Antetokounmpo gave basketball fans one of the most incredible defensive highlights in NBA Finals history.
Take it away, Mike Breen:
“Giannis just made a spectacular block, a spectacular play,” Milwaukee coach Mike Budenholzer said after Game 4. “His ability to cover ground and get to that point, get to the top — that’s an NBA Finals special moment right there, and we’re going to need more of them. His impact on the game on both ends of the court — it’s a big-time block. That’s what he’s capable of.”
But one of Antetokounmpo’s teammates took it a step further. Bucks guard Pat Connaughton called Antetokounmpo’s rejection of Deandre Ayton the “best block of all time.” Yes, he even put it above LeBron James’ legendary block from the 2016 NBA Finals.
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“Obviously, we’re a little biased, and you can talk about the LeBron block as well,” Connaughton said. “But as far as a block where he was covering the pick-and-roll, he had to judge where the pass was, where Ayton was catching it and trying to dunk it, above the box, it’s about as impressive as you can get.”
OK, Pat, we’re entering this debate into “Hoops Court.” Which former MVP had the better NBA Finals block: Antetokounmpo or James?
The case for LeBron James
The setup: Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals turned into a rock fight in the fourth quarter. It seemed as though the Cavaliers and Warriors were stuck at 89-89 for an hour. With less than two minutes remaining, Golden State appeared to have an opportunity for an easy bucket, as Stephen Curry and Andre Iguodala ran a smooth two-on-one drill against J.R. Smith. Iguodala passed to Curry, who kicked it back to Iguodala. And then . . .
The play: “OH, BLOCKED BY JAMES! LEBRON JAMES WITH THE REJECTION!” The Cavs star was a few steps behind Curry and Iguodala, but he was tracking the play all the way. Smith forced Iguodala to hold onto the ball just long enough to give James a chance — and a chance was all that he needed.
Quotable: “I was just like do not give up on the play,” James said. “If you got an opportunity, just try to make this play. I was also thinking like J.R., please don’t foul him. I know I’m right there, I can get it, I can get it. I was like, ‘J.R. don’t foul him and ‘Bron get the ball before it hit the backboard.’ And we did that.”
Iguodala’s reaction: “I’m like, ‘Man, that s— was so dope to me, too.’ I was a fan. That s— was amazing,” Iguodala said. “When he blocked it, I was like, ‘Damn, somebody got shot.’ I thought it was funny. Somebody just made a good play. What you want me to do? If you enjoy the game of basketball, you should just be like, ‘Dude made a great play. F— it.'”
The result: Less than a minute after James’ block, Kyrie Irving drilled the biggest shot in franchise history, a 3-pointer from the right wing that gave the Cavs a 92-89 lead. They went on to win by a final score of 93-89, bringing the city of Cleveland its first championship in 52 years and opening the door wide open for anyone who wanted to fire off jokes about the Warriors blowing a 3-1 series lead.
The case for Giannis Antetokounmpo
The setup: After trailing by as many as nine points in the fourth quarter of Game 4 of the 2021 NBA Finals, the Bucks battled back and took a two-point lead over the Suns on a Middleton jumper with just over a minute to go. On the ensuing possession, Phoenix ran a dribble handoff with Booker and Ayton near the top of the key. Booker drew Antetokounmpo toward him, then flipped a lob pass to a cutting Ayton. And then . . .
The play: “SHOT BLOCKED BY ANTETOKOUNMPO! WHAT A BLOCK FROM GIANNIS!” Antetokounmpo somehow managed to both contain the ball and recover back to Ayton in time to cleanly swat the ball away.
Quotable: “Just a hustle play. I thought I was going to get dunked on, to be honest with you,” Antetokounmpo said. “But you know, going down the stretch, just do whatever it takes to win the game. Just put yourself in a position that you can win the game. . . . It didn’t surprise me. I saw it coming. Once I saw him put it in his one hand, he was too far for a layup. So I knew he was trying to lob, and I committed so much.
“You kind of risk it. You kind of feel it. I felt him rolling to the rim behind me, so I knew the only chance to get a stop is just jump toward the rim and try to cover that angle for him to score.”
Iguodala’s reaction: “That Giannis block was crazy. [James]-esque!” Iguodala tweeted.
The result: Middleton hit another clutch jumper and some free throws down the stretch to extend Milwaukee’s lead, and the Bucks held on to avoid falling into a 3-1 hole. (Insert your Warriors jokes here, folks.)
Since Connaughton started the argument, we should give him a chance to explain his position in more depth.
“I would look at the criteria of greatest block of all time based off difficulty of the block and then time and score,” Connaughton said. “I think obviously LeBron’s time and score probably has the edge in that situation because of when it was and helped them literally win a championship that game. But I think the difference between the time and score difference and then the difficulty of the block difference gives the edge to Giannis just because a chase-down block, you got a little bit more of an ability to read. And obviously it’s a great block. We’re talking about two of the best blocks of all time, so I don’t want to discredit that block.
“But Giannis was guarding the pick-and-roll. He was guarding the pick-and-roll. That’s a play that they’ve done time and time again. [Booker] threw a great pass. He threw it high and away from any defender, and Giannis was able to recover. He’s Defensive Player of the Year, two-time MVP for a reason, and I think it’s those types of plays to be able to read where Ayton is, where the ball is, and to have the athleticism to get that high and get literally all of the basketball is why I would give the edge to him.”
This feels like the sweet spot. Antetokounmpo gets the slight edge if both plays are being evaluated purely based on degree of difficulty. Antetokounmpo had to quickly turn, leap into the air and find the ball in a very tight window. Plus, Ayton caught the ball above the square with no one in front of him, whereas Iguodala had to duck under Smith.
However, if you factor in the stakes, James has to be No. 1. We’re talking Game 7 of the NBA Finals. What could be bigger?
But really, this whole exercise was just an excuse to repeatedly watch two awesome blocks. There are no losers — well, except for Ayton and Iguodala. Sorry, guys.