Giannis Antetokounmpo provided Nets fans with plenty of fun fodder when he went to the free-throw line Saturday at Barclays Center, but he also scored 40 points and had the last laugh.
“The Greek Freak’’ and his Bucks are moving on to the Eastern Conference Finals. And Kevin Durant said he believes Antetokounmpo may get his first title as the Bucks face the winner of Sunday’s Game 7 between the Sixers and Hawks.
“Give credit to the Bucks,’’ said Durant, who scored 48 points in the 115-111 overtime thriller. “They got a great team and have a chance to win the championship.’’
In the end, the Bucks’ Big 3 was too much for what was left of the Nets’ Big 3. Antetokounmpo tied the score with a minute left in overtime with a hook shot over Durant. Khris Middleton (23 points) hit the game-winner with 20 seconds remaining.
Point guard Jrue Holiday led the Bucks’ comeback in regulation with big 3-pointers and free throws and an offensive rebound. The Nets, meanwhile, shot 1 of 12 in overtime.
“They all made big plays down the stretch ’’ Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said. “Those guys are great competitors.’’
Antetokounmpo, who has never made the NBA Finals, was emotional after the win. He scrawled in the locker room an “8’’ — which is the number of playoff victories the Bucks have so far. They also will need eight more to win a title.
“It’s a great feeling,’’ Antetokounmpo said. “I try not to get too high or low. I got emotional a little bit out there. The team really tried their best. Just being able to come to New York and were 0 for 5 here and in Game 7 and everyone’s anxious and nervous and able to execute and trust each other. It was big time. I’m really happy for this team. We’re halfway through. I want everyone to cherish this moment.’’
Antetokounmpo praised Durant for his last-second 22-footer that sent the game to the extra sesson.
“Big, big shot but we were able to keep our composure,’’ he said. “We really wanted this as a team.’’
As has become Barclays Center custom, the fans mocked the 10-second violations Antetokounmpo has picked up for his painful act of stalling, by counting past 10, sometimes to 13 as he missed 4 of 8 free throws in the first half. But he scored 20 in the third quarter, shot 15 of 24, getting the last chuckle. In the final four games of the series, he averaged 34 points.
With the Bucks down three with 5:59 left in regulation, Antetokounmpo, with the crowd counting, flung an airball, sending the fans into another frenzy — one that never stopped to the final overtime whistle.
He finished 8 of 14 from the line, but he’s going to the Eastern Conference Finals.