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Giannis MVP Watch: Bucks vs. Thunder

Yes, Antetokounmpo stepped out of bounds, but he got the superstar call

If you’re new to this series, read our previous entries about Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo’s MVP candidacy (Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV, Part V, Part VI, Part VII, Part VIII).

What did he do?

23 points, 12 rebounds, 6 assists, 1 steal and 1 block on 62.5 percent shooting in a 97-95 win over the Oklahoma City Thunder on Friday night.

Did he dunk on someone?

Thunder guard Andre Roberson is the top-rated 2-guard defender in the NBA, per ESPN’s real plus-minus, which makes what I am about to type make even less sense. Roberson, responsible for keeping an eye on Antetokounmpo, did the exact opposite of his one job. Antetokounmpo slipped behind Roberson as he rotated over to a cutting John Henson, and the Bucks forward jammed it like a feather over the outstretched arms of Roberson and guard Alex Abrines. It was the most quiet dunk in NBA history. There have been layups more audible than that semi-posterization.

Did he make a crazy play?

So, let’s get this out of the way now. I know I once complained about #YouPeople pointing out traveling in NBA games, but … OK, you got me. Antetokounmpo traveled here (even the Raymond Felton knew it). In 2009, the NBA updated its traveling rules, basically allowing players “on the move to gather the ball, after driving or catching it, and then take two steps.” In most instances, when viewers complain about a player like Antetokounmpo taking an extra step, it’s usually after he’s picked up his dribble in the middle of a step. The NBA says that the player can take two additional steps.

In short, Antetokounmpo didn’t do that here. He gathered the ball … and then took three steps. You got me; he’s guilty. This will be the last time we speak of it.

To make up for that non-call, when (reigning MVP!!!) Russell Westbrook powered past Bucks guard Tony Snell in the winding seconds of the first half, Antetokounmpo came from out of nowhere (he jumped about a second after Westbrook) and volleyed the basketball halfway across the court like he heard those JaVale McGee-to-Milwaukee rumors.

What was his MVP moment?

Again, let’s just get this out of the way. Yes, Antetokounmpo stepped out of bounds. As 50 Cent once expertly stated: He did that, guilty as all.

But the referees saw otherwise, and that made this a résumé game for Antetokounmpo’s MVP candidacy.

Outside of James Harden against the Boston Celtics and LeBron James against the Golden State Warriors, superstar players get superstar calls.

Did Michael Jordan push off on Bryon Russell? Of course he did. But Jordan was a five-time MVP and NBA champion at that point, so he got the superstar call. Did Shaquille O’Neal cave in a defender’s chest with his body in the low post? No doubt. But O’Neal was one of the biggest superstars in the game for a decade, so he got the superstar call. Even though Harden’s card was declined by the referees on Thursday night, the MVP front-runner has a lot of superstar credit; no defender has actually ever fouled Harden, but he gets the superstar calls.

Antetokounmpo was welcomed into the superstar club on Friday.

With less than five seconds left in the game, after a game-tying 3-pointer seconds earlier by (reigning MVP!!!) Russell Westbrook (a very MVP-like moment in and of itself), Antetokounmpo received the inbounds pass, made his way around Josh Huestis and met (reigning MVP!!!) Russell Westbrook at the rim. (Reigning MVP!!!) Russell Westbrook got a hand on it, but Antetokounmpo powered through, and the ball slid through the net with 0.9 seconds remaining.

The referees should have called the play dead the moment Antetokounmpo stepped around Huestis on the baseline, but they didn’t.

Because Antetokounmpo got a superstar call.

Martenzie is a senior researcher for The Undefeated. His favorite cinematic moment is when Django said "Y'all want to see somethin?"