The Milwaukee Bucks and Phoenix Suns gave fans another competitive clash for the NBA Finals on Saturday night as stars from both teams showed off in style. In the end, it was the Bucks who came out on top with a 123-119 victory to take control with a 3-2 lead.
Devin Booker led all of the night’s scorers with a high of 40 points, but it wasn’t enough in the end. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday combined 88 points to lead Milwaukee to a comeback victory and bring their franchise closer to their first championship in 50 years.
With the win, the Bucks are one win away from claiming the Larry O’Brien Trophy. We’ll know on Tuesday night whether or not they can do the job or if we’ll see a Game 7.
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Here are some key points of the game:
1. Bucks to a first title win in 50 years
When the Bucks lost 2-0 to the Suns in those NBA Finals, with double-digit losses, it sure didn’t look like they were going to end their long title drought. But things often change quickly in the NBA, and this series was no exception.
Just over a week later, the Bucks won three games in a row to reverse that showdown and take a 3-2 lead. They are only one victory away from their first title since 1971, exactly 50 years ago. It is also the only championship in the history of the franchise.
If the Bucks manage to complete the job in Game 6 or Game 7, it will lead to the fifth-longest title drought in the NBA. And in addition, they will have refused two other franchises that have been suffering for a long time. Only the Kings (70), Hawks (63), Suns (53) and Clippers (51) stayed longer without winning a ring.
2. This time, Giannis launches the clutch alley-oop
In Game 4, Giannis Antetokounmpo made one of the best defensive plays in NBA Finals history when he blocked Deandre Ayton on a potentially equal lane in the dying minutes of the fourth quarter. On Saturday night in Game 5, he again made an incredible play on an alley-oop, but this time he was on the other end.
But first, we have to go back and recap how the Bucks got the ball in the first place. With just over 20 seconds to go, the Suns – after battling a double-digit deficit in the fourth quarter – had the ball with a chance to take the lead. Devin Booker walked over to the basket, stopped in the lane, and pretended to pump in an attempt to take out PJ Tucker. But as he turned back the other way, Jrue Holiday stood there waiting and snatched the ball out of his hands.
Holiday then took the ball the other way, and for a second it looked like he was going to try and waste time. Instead, he spotted Giannis sprinting towards the basket and lobbed the ball. Giannis did the rest by throwing a thunderous slam plus foul to put the Bucks up three and effectively seal the game.
It’s worth listening to the Bucks radio call.
3. Dollars dominate the second quarter
After losing Games 3 and 4 on the road, everyone knew the Suns would come out and give the first punch in this game. That’s exactly what they did, crushing the Bucks with a brilliant first quarter. They shot 14 of 19 from the field, forced the Bucks to six turnovers and took a 16-point lead.
Even in an NBA where leads can quickly disappear, you would have been forgiven for thinking this game was over. The Suns were 8-2 at home in the playoffs and won the first two games of that series without too much trouble. It looked like the same script would play out.
Instead, the Bucks came out of the break on fire. They made nine of their first 10 shots and managed to tie the game even before Giannis rose from the bench to return. By the time the bells rang at halftime, the Bucks had outscored the Suns 43-29 in frame and took the lead. The Bucks shot an incredible 17 of 24 from the field and 6 of 9 from downtown in one of their best offensive quarters of any playoff.
4. Holiday finds its way
While Jrue Holiday has been formidable defensively in this series, he hasn’t always been able to perform well. For example, in Game 4 earlier this week, he fell from 4 of 20 on the field en route. just 13 points. In fact, in the first four games of this series, he was an unlucky 23 of 69 (33.3%) on the field.
Even acknowledging his great job on the other end, that’s just not enough, especially for a Bucks team that struggles to score at times. The Bucks need Holiday to contribute to the scoring department and are a much better team when he does. So far in the playoffs, they’re 7-1 when he gets 20 or more points and 8-6 when he doesn’t.
This includes Game 5, when he put on one of the best offensive playoff games of his career. He finished with 27 of 12 of 20 points from the field to go along with 13 assists and just two turnovers. Holiday was one of the most influential figures in the Bucks’ massive second-quarter turnaround, racking up 14 points in that frame alone.
5. Suns on the ropes for the first time
The Suns have faced a few challenges in these playoffs. They were down 2-1 against the Lakers in the first round with an injured Chris Paul, and had to play the first two games of the Western Conference Finals without their veteran point guard after being placed in health and safety protocols.
For the most part, however, navigation has gone pretty well when it comes to the playoffs. At one point, they won nine games in a row; the only time they hung out in a series was for a first round game; they had a sweep and no streak lasted more than six games; they didn’t play an elimination game.
The point is, they’ve been tested, but they haven’t really felt their backs against the ropes. This is changing in a major way now, as they will be heading to Milwaukee for a must-see road game. While they can obviously still win – the last two games were decided by six points or less – it will be interesting to see how the Suns react to that pressure. Aside from Chris Paul and Jae Crowder, this is a super young team that has never been in such a situation before. Will they be able to hold out against the weight of the moment and what will be an absolutely rowdy crowd?