Appearing on Christmas Day is a right of passage for NBA superstars, an acknowledgement of their arrival as one of the sport’s biggest draws. So it’s only right that in the season of Giannis, it was Milwaukee who kicked off Tuesday’s slate of games, defeating the Knicks in a 109–95 victory at Madison Square Garden.
It was a typical tour de force for the MVP favorite in his first Christmas Day appearance, a 30-point, 12-rebound effort. Giannis controlled the paint on both sides of the floor, converting 10 shots at the rim and swatting an Allonzo Trier layup attempt off the glass late in the third quarter. There’s no greater physical force in the league, and Antetokounmpo flexed his muscles again on Tuesday.
Antetokounmpo’s leap from 2017-18 has been the driving factor in Milwaukee’s 22–10 record after its Christmas victory, now sitting second in the East. But his superhuman efforts aren’t the lone reason for the Bucks’ leap from playoff team to East contender. Milwaukee’s sidekicks have been solid all season, shining in re-tooled roles with first-year head coach Mike Budenholzer. Brook Lopez is canning 2.4 threes per game. Khris Middleton is looking well on his way to a big payday in July. Milwaukee is deeper and sturdier than last year, and that should bode well for the spring.
Milwaukee’s supporting cast will need to be passable in the postseason, but for the Bucks to win the East, Antetokounmpo will need to carry them on his oversized shoulders. Thus far he’s been up to the task. There are questions about whether Giannis’s lack of a reliable jumper will doom the Bucks in April and May. But perhaps he’s an entirely new breed, the kind of superstar the league has never before seen. Who needs a jumper when you dunk 134 times in 32 games? Defenders sag six feet off of Antetokounmpo and he still bursts his way to the tin. He’s a menace in transition and a bully on the block. No scheme has been able to slow him down through two months, not even the 2-3 zone look New York threw at Milwaukee. The Knicks were still overmatched on Tuesday.
We’ll table further discussion on Antetokounmpo’s postseason competition for a later date. For now, it’s best to appreciate Giannis’s historic season, including a blowout victory in Milwaukee’s first Christmas Day appearance since 1977. Antetokounmpo leaped into superstardom last season. This year, he’s been in another stratosphere, dunking all over the league as he did on Tuesday in New York. If Giannis continues he current tear into April, he should hoist the Bucks’ first MVP trophy since 1974.