Game 1 of the 2019 NBA Finals took place on Thursday night, and the Toronto Raptors proceeded to stun the defending champs to take a 1-0 series lead. It was a long and arduous road to get there, which took Kawhi Leonard and company through an East gauntlet that terminated with the Bucks and perhaps the league’s leading MVP candidate in Giannis Antetokounmpo.
As it turned out, Giannis still had a few things to learn before he could lead his team to an NBA Finals appearance, and that was to be expected. Rarely, do players — even ones of his considerable caliber — make a leap like that without some growing pains along the way.
And Giannis, though clearly disappointed, is taking it all in stride and using it as a learning experience. Never before had he seen the type of defense Kawhi, Marc Gasol, and the rest of the Raptors threw at him for five straight games, and though he wasn’t able to figure out the equation this time around, he understands he’ll be a better player for it in the future.
Via Eric Nehm of The Athletic:
“And, thank you. Thank you, because Gasol and Kawhi made me a better player. I’m not trying to be sarcastic. I’m being honest. They’re going to push me to be better. You gotta use this year as motivation. You cannot just come here and mope around.
“As much as it hurts and it hurts, you gotta use that as motivation, man. Take it step-by-step. Offseason, training camp, Game 1, Game 50, Game 80, playoffs. Take it step-by-step and hopefully you’re in the same situation again and you can be way better.”
Giannis still might win the MVP trophy at the annual NBA Awards next month, but it’s obvious he still has another hurdle to clear before he reaches the point of his career where it doesn’t matter how opposing teams try to defend him.
All of this should only further terrify everyone else around the league. Giannis was already a nightmare to deal with. With his steadily-improving jump shot and a better understanding of how to use his many skills to make himself even more unstoppable, we might see an even better version of him next season, which is difficult to comprehend.