Giannis Antetokounmpo has captured his first NBA championship this year after leading the Milwaukee Bucks to victory over the Phoenix Suns in 6 games. Despite playing against some top opposition in the postseason, Giannis played like the best player in the world. That means he took out some superstar opponents on his way to his first championship, and never looked back once.
Antetokounmpo’s dominant postseason is drawing comparisons to other great performances by players such as Dirk Nowitzki. The big German also went through a slew of superstar opponents on his way to his first NBA title in 2011 and captured the hearts of NBA fans with his heart and skills on the floor. Similar to what Giannis did this year, Dirk was the undisputed best player in the playoffs and the Finals MVP.
But which player had the better postseason run? Was the 50-point performance in Game 6 great enough to usurp what Dirk did all playoffs long to the best players in the world? Here is the breakdown of Antetokounmpo’s 2021 postseason vs. Dirk Nowitzki’s 2011 postseason.
Dirk Nowitzki With Dallas Mavericks
2011 NBA Playoffs
4-2 vs. Portland Trail Blazers (Western Conference First-Round)
In the first round of the 2011 playoffs, the #3 seeded Mavericks (57-25) took on the #6 Portland Trail Blazers (48-34) led by LaMarcus Aldridge. Former superstar Brandon Roy was not the same player he was when he was healthy and in prime shape, so Dallas had the advantage in the superstar battle. Rather, the Mavericks had to deal with Aldridge (who would make his first All-Star Team the following season) and two-way swingman Gerald Wallace.
In the first round, it was all about Dirk. The German led all scorers with 27.3 PPG on 45.2% shooting from the field and 44.4% shooting from three. He outplayed his matchup in Aldridge, who put up 20.8 PPG on 46.1% shooting from the field. Dirk had help in Jason Terry (17.3 PPG) while Gerald Wallace provided 15.2 PPG as a sidekick to Aldridge.
The Mavericks would grab a commanding 2-0 lead to start the series, but Portland would tie the series up going into Game 5 thanks to Aldridge and a vintage Brandon Roy performance in Game 4 (24 points). But Dirk would drop 25 points and 33 points in succession to end Portland’s season in 6 games.
4-0 vs. Los Angeles Lakers (Western Conference Semifinals)
In the second round, Dirk would have major competition in Kobe Bryant and the reigning NBA champions Los Angeles Lakers. The Lakers would finish 2nd in the Western Conference thanks to the All-Star play of 32-year old Kobe Bryant and 30-year old Pau Gasol. The Lakers were looking for a 3-peat but looked out of their depth against the Mavericks. More specifically, the Mavericks were raining three-pointers on the Lakers without much defensive resistance.
Despite a 36-point performance by Bryant in Game 1, Dallas would win a close game 96-94 and followed that up with a 12-point beatdown in Game 2. Nowitzki and Jason Terry would score 32 points respectively in each of the next two games which ended the Lakers’ chances of winning their 3-peat. The Game 4 loss was particularly embarrassing for Los Angeles, who would lose by a 36-point margin.
Dirk led the Mavericks with 25.3 PPG and 9.3 RPG while Kobe chipped in 23.3 PPG. The Mavericks were simply better and outplayed the Lakers on both ends of the floor. Even if they were reigning 2-time NBA champions, their time was up and it would not be long before the Kobe Bryant era would slowly come to an end. For now, it was Dirk’s time.
4-1 vs. Oklahoma City Thunder (Western Conference Finals)
In the Western Conference Finals, Dirk was once again dominant. In fact, he would have his best series yet as he was completely unstoppable. Despite playing against an impactful shot-blocker in Serge Ibaka (2.4 BPG during the regular season), Dirk would just shoot over him with his one-legged fadeaway. Nowitzki was in his bag all series long, averaging 32.2 PPG on 55.7% shooting from the field and 36.4% from three.
Nowitzki was also automatic from the line, attempting 61 free throws in the series and nailing 59 of them. Dirk had every move in his arsenal which forced Oklahoma City to fight fire with fire, which they did in Game 2 after losing Game 1. Despite 29 points from Dirk, the Thunder took care of business and got a massive boost from their 6th man James Harden who chipped in 23 points off the bench.
But Dallas would win the next 2 games convincingly, ending the Thunder’s great season. Kevin Durant (28.0 PPG) and Russell Westbrook (23.6 PPG) were superstar players in their own right, but they lacked maturity and Dirk ripped their hearts out with scintillating offensive displays. For the second time in his career, Dirk found himself in the NBA Finals again.
4-2 vs. Miami Heat (NBA Finals)
Once again, Nowitzki was up against the Miami Heat in the Finals. Dirk and the Mavericks played Dwyane Wade and the Heat in 2006, losing the series thanks to one of the most dominant Finals performances in NBA history by Wade. This was time for Dirk’s revenge although Wade would have a lot more help with MVP LeBron James and All-Star Chris Bosh by his side over an aging Shaquille O’Neal.
But Dirk did not care who his opponent was and wanted to win his first championship. Going into the series, everyone favored the Miami Heat because they owned the best Big Three in NBA history at that time. But fortunately for Dirk, LeBron James would have his worst playoff series in his career and would go on to average only 17.8 PPG. On the other side, Dirk was unbelievable. The big German averaged 26.0 PPG and 9.7 RPG on 97.8% shooting from the stripe, although he shot a very poor 41.6% from the field. Luckily, Nowitzki had Jason Terry to pick up the slack by chipping in 18.0 PPG on 49.4% shooting. With Terry outscoring LeBron in the series, it was time for the Mavericks to close the deal.
The Heat and Mavericks would split the first 4 games, but Dirk and Terry would go on to score 29 points and 27 points respectively to end the series. This was also the series where Dwyane Wade and LeBron James would mock an ill Dirk Nowitzki who had flu-like symptoms, but the German would get the last laugh by hoisting the NBA trophy at their expense. By defeating the most talented team in the NBA, Dirk completed an epic postseason journey for the ages.
Notable players Dirk Nowitzki beat: Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, James Harden, LaMarcus Aldridge, Pau Gasol
Mavericks Starting Lineup: Jason Kidd, Deshawn Stevenson, Shawn Marion, Dirk Nowitzki, Tyson Chandler
Notable Bench Players: Jason Terry, Peja Stojakovic
Giannis Antetokounmpo With Milwaukee Bucks
2021 NBA Playoffs
4-0 vs. Miami Heat (Eastern Conference First-Round)
Giannis and the Bucks had the perfect opportunity to exact their revenge on the Miami Heat, the same team that beat them in last year’s Bubble. The Heat made the Bucks, and Giannis specifically, look foolish by building a wall in the paint and preventing Giannis from scoring easy buckets. With Giannis being exposed for the poor shooter he was, Miami made their way to the NBA Finals.
This year, it was a different story. The Heat had Goran Dragic and Bam Adebayo to lead the way, but no other player provided much help including Jimmy Butler (only 14.5 PPG). This allowed Giannis and Khris Middleton to make quick work of the Heat, embarrassingly dominating them. Game 1 was close with a 2-point win ending in Milwaukee’s favor, but the Bucks would blow out the Heat by 34 points, 29 points, and 17 points respectively over the last 3 games.
Giannis would lead all scorers with 23.5 PPG, 15.0 RPG, and 7.8 APG while Middleton chipped in 21.5 PPG and 6.8 RPG. The Heat had no answer for the rampant Bucks, who shot 46.8% from the field as a team while limiting the Heat to only 39.5% shooting. With the series out of the way before any other in the playoffs, the Bucks were well-rested heading into an exhausting 7-game showdown against the Brooklyn Nets.
4-3 vs. Brooklyn Nets (Eastern Conference Semifinals)
If James Harden and Kyrie Irving were fully healthy for this series matchup, it is obvious the series would have gone a different way. Irving injured himself in a Game 4 win against the Bucks, ruling him out of the series. James Harden only played 43 seconds in Game 1 before missing the next 3 games. Harden would return in Game 5 but would look like a shell of himself.
That meant the most talented superteam in NBA history (perhaps usurping the 2011 Heat) only had Kevin Durant on the floor to counter Giannis Antetokounmpo. Durant had a historic series, averaging 35.4 PPG and 10.6 RPG on 49.7% shooting from the field. A hobbled Harden would only average 10.8 PPG for the series, leaving Durant to carry a massive burden in the series.
Giannis would have a terrific series averaging 31.9 PPG and 12.9 RPG, while Middleton would contribute like the All-Star he is averaging 24.3 PPG. While Durant did not have another All-Star beside him, Giannis and Middleton pushed Brooklyn to a Game 7 despite losing the first 2 games of the series (with a healthy Kyrie Irving). In Game 7, one of the greatest three-point shots in NBA history by Durant looked like a game-winner with the Bucks up 2, but his toe was on the line and the game went into overtime.
An exhausted Durant and hobbled Harden could not get the job done over Giannis and a clutch Khris Middleton as the Bucks booked their way back to the Eastern Conference Finals.
4-2 vs. Atlanta Hawks (Eastern Conference Finals)
Trae Young and the Hawks were surprisingly great all season, finishing with the 5th seed in the Eastern Conference. The Hawks played great team basketball and Trae Young would officially arrive as a superstar in the game. But the Bucks were simply too big and athletic for the Hawks.
Giannis would have another monster series averaging 26.5 PPG and 10.0 RPG but would miss the final 2 games of the series tied 2-2 with injury. Brook Lopez and Khris Middleton would step up, dropping 33 and 32 points respectively to finish off the series.
The fact that the Bucks could finish off the Hawks without Giannis showed their team chemistry and belief in one another, and they would soon welcome back their MVP in the NBA Finals showdown against the Phoenix Sun.
4-2 vs. Phoenix Suns (NBA Finals)
The story was about Chris Paul when the NBA Finals kicked off. After all, Paul is 36 years old and this was the first time he was in an NBA Finals. He had an All-Star in Devin Booker by his side and a terrific Deandre Ayton who was playing out of his mind in the playoffs. But as great as Phoenix was, they were no match for Giannis and the Bucks.
Once again, the Bucks would fall into a 0-2 deficit. Everyone was predicting a Phoenix Sun victory because Chris Paul was due for a championship, but Giannis would shake off his injury and come to life. In the series, Giannis finished with 35.2 PPG and 13.2 RPG while having some iconic moments.
His block on Deandre Ayton in Game 4 is one of the best defensive plays in Finals history, and his 50-point masterpiece in a closeout Game 6 will forever be his greatest game. Even though Giannis struggled from the free-throw line all year, he would drain 17-19 free throws and win his first NBA title for the Bucks who hadn't seen a title since 1971.
Notable players Giannis beat: Kevin Durant, James Harden, Kyrie Irving, Devin Booker, Chris Paul, Deandre Ayton, Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo, Trae Young
Bucks Starting Lineup: Jrue Holiday, Khris Middleton, PJ Tucker, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Brook Lopez
Notable Bench Players: Bobby Portis, Pat Connaughton
Who Had The Better Run?
Both superstar forwards were the MVP of their teams and the biggest standout performers in the playoffs. But the better run was done by Dirk Nowitzki in 2011 thanks to the clear difficulty of navigating past some dominant teams.
Giannis played against some top stars including Kevin Durant, Devin Booker, Chris Paul, and Trae Young; but the quality of teams could not compare to what Dirk had to go through. Just think about it: Dirk Nowitzki managed to defeat Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant, and LeBron James in the same playoff run. That is almost unprecedented.
Giannis faced a Miami Heat team that reached the Finals last year by fluke, a Brooklyn Nets team without James Harden and Kyrie Irving healthy, and an inexperienced Suns squad. In comparison, Dirk had to deal with the 2-time defending champion Lakers and a Big Three Heat with prime LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh. Yikes.
The fact that Giannis faced weaker teams and had Khris Middleton close games for him while The Greek Freak was injured in the Eastern Conference Finals doesn't help his case either. Giannis had the best single performance over Dirk in his Game 6 closeout showing, but in terms of an all-around postseason run, the advantage goes to Dirk Nowitzki who managed to outplay 3 of our game's greatest ever players.