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The Milwaukee Bucks are NBA champions.

In his first trip to the NBA Finals, Giannis Antetokounmpo earned Finals MVP honors, scored 50 points in the closeout Game 6, and cemented himself as one of the game’s most prolific players at just 26 years old.

The two-time MVP and former Defensive Player of the Year is also a five-time All-Star, was the Most Improved Player in 2017, is an All-Star Game MVP, has made three All-NBA first teams and three All-Defensive first teams.

Antetokounmpo is one of the most likable superstars this league has ever had and he dazzled during the Finals, despite hyperextending his knee three weeks prior to hoisting the Larry O’Brien Trophy above his head and despite all criticism that suggested he would not be able to make it to the end.

Can Jazz trio help respective countries achieve Olympic glory in Tokyo?

But, there’s just one aspect of Antetokounmpo’s incredible Game 6 performance that I want to focus on today — his free throws.

Antetokounmpo shot 58.7% from the charity stripe throughout the playoffs. He was hacked and targeted and heckled relentlessly. Opposing crowds took to counting in unison when he was at the free-throw line because he’d earned a 10-second violation for the unusual amount of time he spends on his pre-shot routine at the foul line.

Through all of that, he never stopped trying to play through contact, never gave in to what could have been embarrassing for other players. He air-balled free throws, hit the front of the rim, and missed out on a lot of points because he isn’t a good free throw shooter.

Then, on Tuesday night, up 3-1 against the Phoenix Suns, with a chance to win an NBA title, something inexplicable happened. Antetokounmpo shot 17 of 19 from the free-throw line.

I don’t know if it was divine intervention from the basketball gods, if it was Antetokounmpo’s will and drive to persevere, or if it was something else entirely. What I do know is that the greatest players in the NBA always find a way and that’s what he did on Tuesday night, when the lights were the brightest.

New with the Jazz

Why good is not good enough: Jazz face hard questions heading into draft, free agency

Stat of the week

Giannis Antetokounmpo was named Finals MVP after averaging 35.2 points, 13.2 rebounds and 5.0 assists on 61.8% shooting. After scoring 50 points to go with 14 rebounds and five blocks, he became the first player in NBA Finals history with 40 points, 10 rebounds and five blocks in a game since blocks began being recorded in 1974.

This week on ‘Unsalvageable’

Check out “Unsalvageable: A Utah Jazz Podcast,” hosted by Deseret News Utah Jazz beat reporter Sarah Todd and lifelong Jazz fan Greg Foster (no, not that Greg Foster). This week, They talk about the NBA Finals, the greatness of Giannis Antetokounmpo and some free agent targets for the Jazz.

New episodes come out every Wednesday. You can listen on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, Overcast and anywhere else you stream podcasts.

Special edition mailbag

Q: Do the Jazz still have the biannual exception available this year? I haven’t seen anyone list it as an asset for them, but they didn’t use it last year, so it should be available to them this year, should it not? —Robert

A: The biannual exception (BAE), worth roughly $3.7 million this coming season can be used to sigh free agents for up to the exception amount and can be used on more than one player. The BAE cannot be used two years in a row (as its name implies). Most importantly for this conversation, the BAE hard caps a team at the apron, which is projected to be around $142 million for the 2021-22 season. A team cannot use the BAE if it will be above the apron.

Technically, yes the Jazz have the biannual exception (BAE) available to be used. But, the Jazz are obviously hoping to re-sign Mike Conley, which would put the Jazz’s total salary above the tax apron for the season. At that point, the Jazz would not have the BAE available. Also, even if the team is not able to re-sign Conley, they wouldn’t want to be hard capped at the apron by using the BAE. So, while they technically could use the BAE, they will not.

From the archives

First two days of free agency could dictate what the Jazz do the rest of the summer
International players continue to gain ground on NBA

This week in Jazz history  

My, how things can change. Nine years ago, as the Jazz prepared for the 2012-13 season, the biggest questions weren’t how far would the team go in the playoffs or what offseason moves would they make to truly be a contender. The biggest question for the team in July of 2012 was, who is going to start for the Jazz when the season begins?

Extra points

  • Jazz to work out draft prospects including Quentin Grimes (The Athletic)
  • These two Milwaukee Bucks rookies from Utah universities had a front-row seat to the NBA Finals (Salt Lake Tribune)

Around the league

Bill Russell to auction most of his prized NBA memorabilia.

Phoenix Suns guard Chris Paul says he isn’t retiring after Finals loss.

Brooklyn Nets to open 2021-22 NBA season as championship favorites.

Up next: Tokyo Olympics, men’s basketball featuring Jazz players

July 25 | 2:20 a.m. | Australia vs. Nigeria

July 25 | 6 a.m. | USA vs. France

July 27 | 7 p.m. | Nigeria vs. Germany

July 27 | 10:40 p.m. | USA vs. Iran

July 28 | 2:20 a.m. | Australia vs. Italy

July 28 | 6 a.m. | France vs. Czech Republic

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