The Milwaukee Bucks fell two games short of the NBA Finals. They won big at the NBA Awards. A tearful Giannis Antetokounmpo earned Most Valuable Player honors and Mike Budenholzer won Coach of the Year on Monday night in Santa Monica.
Antetokounmpo, a 24-year-old forward from Greece, beat out Paul George of Oklahoma City and James Harden of Houston, who won last year.
Antetokounmpo was a resounding winner. He received 941 points and 78 first-place votes in the balloting — 165 points more than Harden, who finished second with 776 points and 23 first-place votes.
“MVP is not about stats and numbers, and obviously James Harden had unbelievable numbers and Paul George also, but obviously it’s about winning,” Antetokounmpo said backstage. “We created great habits throughout the season and were able to stick by them, and that’s why we were able to have a chance in every single game we played and were able to win 60 games.”
The show had an international flair, with three international players besides Antetokounmpo winning.
Antetokounmpo averaged 27.7 points and 12.5 rebounds while earning All-NBA first-team honors this season, his sixth with the Bucks. He led the franchise to the best record in the regular season and the Bucks reached the Eastern Conference finals.
Tears rolled down his cheeks as Antetokounmpo thanked his mother and brothers in the audience at Barker Hanger. He credited his late father for pushing him toward his goals and his teammates and coaching staff for their help.
“We started from nothing as a family,” he said, “and we are going to be in every stage that we can be as a family.”
Antetokounmpo said backstage that he had vowed to his family he wasn’t going to cry. “When you hear your name up there on the stage and then you realize these years of hard work, what you did in the past, then you start getting emotional,” he said.
Budenholzer also got choked up while thanking his family after his second coaching honor. He earned the trophy for the first time with Atlanta in 2015. He guided the Bucks to a 60-22 record in the regular season in his first year with the franchise, leading them to the Eastern Conference finals, where they lost to eventual NBA champions Toronto.
“What they did on the court this year, including the playoffs, was special,” Budenholzer said backstage. “We weren’t good enough in the end, but we certainly feel like we have enough talent, we have enough character to be a team that’s playing in the finals and winning a championship.”
Budenholzer also coached Team Giannis in the All-Star Game last season. [AP]