Ex-New York Knicks forward Bobby Portis is in his first NBA Finals, and that feeling had only sunk in when the Milwaukee Bucks arrived in Phoenix for the first two games of the series.
“I think yesterday is when it finally hit me,” Portis said following their Tuesday morning shootaround. “After the game on Saturday, I was just so pumped up and so thrilled still that we got the victory and that the series is over, and that we’re moving on to the Finals, I didn’t get a chance to just decompress and just sit down and just think about it. When I got on the plane yesterday and got to the hotel room and I was actually by myself for a change, that’s when it hit me. Yeah, like we’re the Finals now, and it was a big accomplishment.”
“It’s a first for me — first time in the playoffs in four years too — so being able to get a chance to go about each round and compete in every series and get to this point with this amazing group of guys is great.
After the Knicks did not pick up his $15.75-milllion team option last year, Portis took a significant discount for a chance to have a deep run in the playoffs. He signed a two-year, $7.5 million deal to join the Bucks, saying he resisted larger offers from other teams.
That decision paid him huge dividends on the court.
In the last two Milwaukee wins to wrap up the series against Atlanta Hawks, Portis had a pair of big games starting with a playoff career-high 22 points, eight rebounds, three assists, and three steals in Game 5. He almost had a double-double in the series-clinching Game 6 win (12 points, 9 rebounds).
After his epic Game 5 performance, Portis revealed that the turning point for him was when his one-year stint with the Knicks hit rock bottom.
“The pandemic really drove me to find out about myself,” Portis said.
Portis averaged 10.1 points and 5.1 rebounds as one of the ‘too many power forwards’ on a poorly constructed Knicks roster that ended up winning only 21 games.
He said he was hurt not being in the playoffs, watching the Orlando Bubble on TV at home. But he used that as a motivation. He spent the next nine months with his mother while he worked on his game with his eyes set on playing for a contender.
“I finally found peace, man,” Portis said after the Bucks led 3-2 in the series. “I’m at peace with myself and at peace in my life and at peace with everything going on around. I was just always trying to find it again, and really couldn’t find it. But having great teammates and great coaches. And the pandemic, like I said, really helped me find out more about myself more than anything.”
That prepared Portis for the highs and lows of this COVID-19 condensed season. From having DNP in the final three games against the Brooklyn Nets in the second round to emerge as the Bucks’ X-Factor in the Eastern Conference Finals, Portis stayed locked-in for this chance.
“This moment is special,” Portis said on Tuesday. “Growing up as a kid watching KG [Kevin Garnett] versus Kobe in the Finals, LeBron all those years and things like that, so being able to be a kid from Little Rock, Arkansas, being able to represent myself, my team, this organization, my family, and my state on the biggest stage in basketball is remarkable, man! All the hard work I put in, being able to be in the NBA Finals is a dream come true, and it’s a special moment.”
Portis won’t hear chants of “Bobby! Bobby!” as he had in Milwaukee with the first two games on the road. His starting gig isn’t even guaranteed with Antetokounmpo a game-time decision. But those are the least of his worries.
Portis is ready to bring his high-octane energy that fueled the Bucks, whether he was coming off the bench or starting in place of their franchise player.
“Just stay together knowing that every possession matters, being together, staying in the moment, just trying to burn the motor out. Ain’t no tomorrow. We’ve got seven games to win four, and I’m just trying to blow the motor out and go as hard as I can and get them all,” said Portis of his mindset heading into the Finals.
If he returns to the bench, Portis believes he can still impact the game. As superstars usually cancel out each other on the big stage, role players like him on the bench will be critical.
‘It’s big, man. Obviously, me, Bryn, Jeff and Pat, we’re the catalysts of the second unit. We have to come in and be ourselves and come in and bring some energy to the game, some scoring and things like that. So, I think it’s going to be very vital to help out the starting lineups and things like that,” Portis said.
“[The Suns] do a good job on their end too with Cameron Payne and Saric and those guys. Cam Johnson, as well, coming off the bench and scoring the basketball and bringing some energy to the game.”
Portis’ swing skill isn’t just his shooting that can stretch the floor or his rebounding. It’s his ball of energy that can shift the momentum to the Bucks’ side.
“I think whoever has the most energy and plays with the most effort is going to win these games. That’s what it’s really going to come down to. Obviously, it’s July. Guys have been playing since December, and it was a short offseason last year. I think whoever is the most conditioned, the most well-rounded, and the most energetic team is going to obviously come out victorious.”
Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo