Giannis Antetokounmpo has admittedly struggled from the free throw line this season.
Late during a close game against the Utah Jazz, he was fouled and fell to the ground. Exhausted from playing nearly every minute of the second half, he stayed on the ground for a few extra seconds, captured his breath, then stepped to the line.
The crowd was going crazy.
They erupted again on each make. This time for a multitude of reasons.
Those free throws likely sealed the victory. They were points 49 and 50 to cap a historic night for the reigning MVP. And, Giannis hit a free throw.
He had started the game one-of-six from the charity stripe.
When he finally connected on his seventh attempt late in the second quarter, the crowd cheered. Then again on his eighth, ninth and so on.
Cheers that didn’t go unnoticed in the first half. And were especially appreciated late.
“I’m not saying this to please our fans, but at the end of the day, once I walked to the free throw line, and I heard the people, the fans cheering, that basically gave me extra motivation, extra juice,” Antetokounmpo said about his late game foul shots. “I’m like okay, they have my back, I’ve been struggling from the free throw line, but I’ve been working on it a lot so as long as they believe in me I am going to get it done.
“That was big for me, that is why I pointed to the crowd and I’ll be better. But that definitely helped me get over that hump.”
Antetokounmpo joked that momentum in the game finally swung once he hit those second quarter free throws.
Hitting from the foul line can be as much a mental thing as a physical skill. Great players throughout history have hit slumps from the foul line.
“To be honest, I thought I had 50 (points) before that,” he said smiling. “That was good because if I knew that those two free throws were the 50 points free throws, I probably would have missed both of them.
“Yeah, probably get nervous.”