In Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee have found a leader who is unfazed by all the noise surrounding him even as he creates history in the NBA Finals. On Tuesday, the Greek forward became only the seventh player in history to score 50 points in a Finals game as the Milwaukee Bucks defeated the Phoenix Suns 105-98 to clinch their first title since 1971.
Earlier, in a tightly-contested Game 5 of the best-of-seven series, Antetokounmpo top-scored for the Bucks with 32 points and also bagged 9 rebounds and 6 assists.
But even when the Bucks were going through a rough patch, down 0-2 after the first games in the final, Antetokounmpo didn't lose his cool.
The Greek forward said he has learnt how to manage his emotions after the Bucks had the NBA's best record in 2019 and 2020 but endured playoff heartbreak, falling in 2019's Eastern Conference finals after taking a 2-0 lead on Toronto then being upset by Miami last year.
"For sure. It helped me mature and grow and become more mentally tough," he said. "One thing I've learned personally in the playoffs, I think early in my career I was getting too high, too low.
"We played a good game, I was so happy, because you feel the intensity from the crowd, the fans cheering and all that. I was getting too high, and maybe the loss I felt like it was the end of the world," Antetokounmpo recalled Monday, according to AFP inputs.
However, this year he didn't allow the results to overwhelm him. "This year, lose or win, that did not happen. I was the same kind of guy. I just live with whatever outcome comes because I believe that I'm supposed to be there in that time and place. So I don't really worry about the outcome. We got to figure out a way to win and never get too high, never get too low."
Meanwhile, Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer has watched as Antetokounmpo has evolved on and off the court into the leader the Bucks need in their quest to end 50-year title drought.
"The vocal leadership you're seeing has been growing," Budenholzer said. "Him just understanding how powerful and how impactful he is. Sometimes it's being vocal. It's maybe just helping teach or learn or grow in a moment.
"His understanding of what we want to do has grown. When you understand things better, you can communicate better. He's got a high level of understanding of what we want to do both defensively and offensively.
"He's got great passion, he's got great commitment, he's got great relationships with the players."
Antetokounmpo feels a special bond as well which eclipses their fate in the NBA Finals.
"No matter how it ends up, I'm really proud of this team, really proud of all the work we have put in," he said.
Talking about his struggles in NBA during his initial years, the two-time NBA Most Valuable Player said once he feared to speak up after arriving from Europe in 2013.
"Early in my career I was really quiet and with the language barrier it was harder for me. I felt like I'll say the wrong thing, I'll say something stupid, so I just chose not to talk at all," he narrated.
"But now it's a little bit easier for me. I realized I would rather say something stupid than not say nothing at all."
Teammates such as Khris Middleton and P.J. Tucker have encouraged him to speak out even as his skills have evolved, from Most Improved Player in 2017 when he led the NBA in points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks to his MVP 2019 and 2020 campaigns.
"Throughout the journey, throughout my career, guys helped me, especially Khris. He was like, talk, talk, say something. And P.J., I've been with him for like two or three months. He's pushing me to talk. I can get a lot better."