Giannis, Kostas and Thanasis – the 'Antetokounbros' – make history in Bucks-Lakers
By Melissa Rohlin
FOX Sports NBA Writer
Giannis Antetokounmpo's storybook NBA career got a special new chapter Wednesday night in the nationally televised Bucks-Lakers game.
With 2 minutes and 18 seconds left in the contest, Antetokounmpo's brothers Kostas and Thanasis were subbed in, marking the first time that all three brothers were on the court together in an NBA game.
"This moment today was probably my favorite moment I've had so far in the NBA," Giannis said after the Milwaukee Bucks' 112-97 win. "You can never have a feeling like this, no matter what you do. You win a game with a buzzer-beater, you score 50, you score 40, it does not freaking matter."
The Antetokounmpo brothers were raised in Athens by their parents, who were migrants from Nigeria. They often struggled to find work and the brothers peddled items on the street to help their family stay afloat.
Poverty is now a distant memory for Giannis, who signed a five-year, $228-million max extension with the Bucks in December.
But he couldn't help but be transported back to his childhood in Greece after Kostas entered the game for the Lakers late in the fourth quarter, joining him and Thanasis on the court.
"This moment, just seeing the guys that I grew up with and we slept in the same bed and we were looking at the ceiling and imagining if we're ever going to play in the NBA, if we're ever going to make it," Antetokounmpo said. "Just being on the same court while our mom is having her phone and videotaping the whole thing, I think it's priceless and nobody can take this away from us."
It was just the second time in NBA history three brothers have played in the same game (Giannis' teammate Jrue Holiday and his brothers, Aaron and Justin, did it in 2019) and one of the many personal moments of joy that the back-to-back MVP has found this season despite his team's ups and downs.
The Bucks have slipped into the shadows cast by the superstar-laden Brooklyn Nets and the Philadelphia 76ers, who have managed to weather the absence of Joel Embiid despite him missing the last nine games because of a bone bruise in his left knee.
The Bucks are in third place in the Eastern Conference with a record of 30-17, 2 1/2 games behind the first-place Nets (33-15). For a team that failed to make the Finals the last two seasons despite having the best record in the league, the gap somehow seems much bigger.
Through it all, Giannis has kept his perspective.
He consistently finds joy in talking about his one-year-old son, Liam. He's weathered the team's losing streaks with a quiet calm, telling reporters in February after dropping four-straight games, "It's not the end of the world."
Antetokounmpo is not too worried about the Bucks.
That doesn't mean he doesn't think they need to improve before the playoffs. The Bucks, who had the top-rated defense the last two seasons, are now eighth in that category.
"Defensively, we've got to pick it up," he said. "I think sometimes that we play well defensively, sometimes we don't—and the effort [has] always got to be there."
The Bucks have 25 games left to figure things out.
Added Antetokounmpo: "I think we're going to be good."
This much is for sure—the Bucks have lost a bit of their buzz this season.
According to NBA championship odds from FOXBet.com, the Bucks are tied with the Utah Jazz for the fourth-best chance to win the title (+1000), behind the Nets (+225), Lakers (+270) and Los Angeles Clippers (+600).
This is a far cry from 12+ months ago, when the Bucks entered quarantine as the best team in basketball.
When asked if the Bucks are getting the appropriate respect around the league now as opposed to the last two seasons, Lakers coach Frank Vogel acknowledged there may have been a dip because of the team's record, though he doesn't agree with that thinking.
"From my point of view, they're every bit a title contender as anyone else in the East or the West," Vogel said before Wednesday's game. "They're a team that's basically led the NBA in two consecutive years and their core is back. And their system is back. They're working in some new parts, and I think they have the ability to reach that ultimate level and get over the hump this year if things come together for them. I don't think it's any lesser of a force than what they were the last couple years."
Clippers coach Tyronn Lue said it's unclear if the Bucks' so-called stock went down, but added that this team can't be underrated.
"I'm not sure, but anytime you have a two-time MVP and the job that Bud [Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer] has done over there, you have to be aware of this team," Lue said before the Clippers' 129-105 win over the Bucks on Monday.
They wanted to take some of the pressure off of Antetokounmpo on the offensive end and make it more difficult for opposing defenses to be able to collapse on him as an effective strategy.
With Holiday, the Bucks are constantly imploring him to be more aggressive on the offensive end, something he did against the Lakers, finishing with a game-high 28 points on 11-for-16 shooting.
"We need him to be aggressive," Antetokounmpo said. "That's the only way this is going to work."
And on defense, the Bucks are switching more, a tactic that they're still trying to tweak.
It's very much a work in progress, as evidenced by them allowing the Lakers to shoot 8-for-13 from beyond the 3-point line in the first quarter. But the Bucks were quick to correct their mistakes.
During a timeout between the first and second quarters, the players met amongst themselves to discuss what was going wrong. They adjusted and went on to hold the Lakers to 2-for-23 shooting from beyond the arc for the rest of the game.
"It was just impressive," Budenholzer said. "Before we could even get into the timeout, the players were talking and aware of it and kind of just coaching themselves."
Of course, Wednesday was no measuring stick win for the Bucks.
The defending champion Lakers were without LeBron James (high right ankle sprain) and Anthony Davis (strained right calf and tendinosis) and they lost the newly acquired Andre Drummond, who sustained a right big toe contusion after playing only 14 minutes in his L.A. debut.
As for Antetokounmpo, the win was of secondary importance.
After Wednesday's game, he wrapped his arms around his brothers. The three men grinned at each other, savoring a moment they had dreamt of all of their lives.
"I could never ask for anything better," Antetokounmpo said.
Melissa Rohlin is an NBA writer for FOX Sports. She has previously covered the league for Sports Illustrated, the Los Angeles Times, the Bay Area News Group and the San Antonio Express-News. Follow her on Twitter @melissarohlin.