After scoring 64 points, Giannis Antetokounmpo pursues the Pacers to get the game ball

Dec 16, 2023

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MILWAUKEE — Fiery drama unfolded late in the Milwaukee Bucks’ 128-119 comeback win over the Indiana Pacers on Tuesday night. The commotion centered around superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo after Indiana took possession of the game ball following the Greek Freak’s explosive 64-point, 17 rebound performance to lift Milwaukee from a 17-point second half deficit.

Antetokounmpo’s eruption for a new career-high came just 24 hours after dropping 55 points on Washington. But his history-making performance capturing the first ever back-to-back 55+ point showings by a Bucks player almost got overshadowed by the awkward postgame confrontation with Indiana staffers.

As time expired in the comeback triumph still resonating through Fiserv Forum, cameras captured Antetokounmpo angrily gesturing towards the Pacers bench demanding the official game ball. Earlier, Pacers’ backup center Jalen Smith collected the ball as a keepsake commemorating the career night they had just unwillingly witnessed before squirreling it away.

Antetokounmpo stormed over near the tunnel, relentlessly pointing and shouting “Give me the fing ball! That’s my fing ball!” repeatedly until a sheepish assistant coach finally emerged with it. A heated head coach Mike Budenholzer rushed over to intervene before Giannis got T’d up, coaxing the emotional 6-time All Star off the court while staffers brought him the cherished memorabilia.

Addressing the bizarre incident afterwards, Coach Bud tempered criticism saying “Obviously Giannis performs at such an extreme level of passion, tonight scoring 64 and willing us to this comeback…I understand him desperately wanting that Special souvenir. So in the heat of an emotional game, reactions can turn excessive despite the best intentions.” Antetokounmpo himself declined commenting postgame.

While some portrayed Antetokounmpo as petulant, most NBA pundits defended his reaction considering the unprecedented achievements. Hall of Fame analyst Doris Burke said, “Considering Giannis’ back-to-back monumental efforts keying these Milwaukee victories, I deem his erratic response regarding that game ball understandable given the extraordinary meaning behind it.” Retired sharpshooter JJ Redick concurred, tweeting he’d have reacted exactly the same.

Regardless of the extracurricular antics, Antetokounmpo’s 64-burger shares company with Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant as one the top scoring performances ever witnessed. The 17 rebounds also made Giannis only the fifth player ever to post a 60-15 stat line. After starting so frigidly, the Bucks needed every ounce of his second half dominance to overcome Indiana, who led 102-85 midway through the final quarter.

Now averaging a league-leading 32.9 points per game, Antetokounmpo continues ascending higher into elite company in the league’s record books. While his unconventional methods, clenched with emotion after wiping Milwaukee from oblivion, clearly embody the Greek Freak’s singular motivations, Hoisting Larry O’Brien hardware as finals MVP remains firmly in sight. It remains to be seen whether the coach opts to tighten Giannis’ leash to prevent any further in-game outbursts from derailing that championship chase.

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