The Milwaukee Bucks and the Phoenix Suns provided fans with another competitive NBA Finals matchup on Saturday night as the stars for both sides showed up in a big way. In the end, it was the Bucks that came away on top with a 123-119 victory to take control with a 3-2 lead.
Devin Booker led all scorers on the night with a game-high 40 points, but in the end it wasn’t enough. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday combined for 88 points to lead Milwaukee to a comeback victory and bring their franchise one step closer to its first championship in 50 years.
With the win, the Bucks are one victory away from laying claim to the Larry O’Brien Trophy. We’ll find out on Tuesday night whether or not they can get the job done or if we will see a Game 7.
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Here are some key takeaways from the game:
1. Bucks one win away from first title in 50 years
When the Bucks went down 2-0 to the Suns in these NBA Finals, with both losses coming by double digits, it certainly didn’t seem like they were going to end their lengthy title drought. But things often change quickly in the NBA, and this series has been no exception.
A little more than a week later, the Bucks have won three games in a row to flip this matchup on its head and take a 3-2 lead. They’re now just one win away from their first title since 1971 — exactly 50 years ago. That also happens to be the only championship in franchise history.
If the Bucks do manage to finish the job in either Game 6 or Game 7, it will snap the fifth-longest title drought in the NBA. And what’s more, they’ll have denied two other long-suffering franchises in the process. Only the Kings (70 years), Hawks (63 years), Suns (53 years) and Clippers (51 years) have gone longer without winning a ring.
2. This time, Giannis throws down the clutch alley-oop
In Game 4, Giannis Antetokounmpo made one of the best defensive plays in NBA Finals history by going up to block Deandre Ayton on a potential game-tying alley-oop in the final minutes of the fourth quarter. On Saturday night in Game 5, he once again made an incredible play on an alley-oop, only 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 left, the Suns — having battled back from a double-digit deficit in the fourth quarter — had the ball with a chance to take the lead. Devin Booker drove toward the basket, stopped in the lane and pump faked to try and clear out PJ Tucker. But as he spun back the other way, Jrue Holiday was right there waiting and ripped the ball out of his hands.
Holiday then took the ball the other way, and for a second it seemed like he was going to try to waste some time. Instead, he spotted Giannis sprinting toward the basket and lobbed the ball up. Giannis did the rest by throwing down a thunderous slam plus the foul to put the Bucks up by three and effectively seal the game.
It’s worth listening to the call from Bucks radio.
3. Bucks dominate the second quarter
After losing Games 3 and 4 on the road, everyone knew the Suns would come out and throw the first punch in this game. That’s exactly what they did, overwhelming the Bucks with a brilliant first quarter. They shot 14 of 19 from the field, forced the Bucks into six turnovers and took a 16-point lead.
Even in an NBA where leads can disappear quickly, you would have been forgiven for thinking this game was over. The Suns were 8-2 at home in the postseason, and had won the first two games of this series without much trouble. It seemed like the same script would play out.
Instead, the Bucks came out of the break on fire. They hit nine of their first 10 shots, and were able to tie the game before Giannis even got up off the bench to check back in. By the time the buzzer sounded for halftime, the Bucks had outscored the Suns 43-29 in the frame and seized 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 the entire playoffs.
4. Holiday finds his shot
While Jrue Holiday has been tremendous defensively in this series, he hasn’t always had his shot working. For example, in Game 4 earlier this week, he went 4 of 20 from the field en route to just 13 points. In fact, through the first four games of this series he was a woeful 23 of 69 (33.3 percent) from the field.
Even acknowledging his great work on the other end, that’s just not good enough, especially for a Bucks team that struggles to score at times. The Bucks need Holiday to contribute in the scoring department, and are a much better team when he does. So far in the postseason, they’re 7-1 when he gets at least 20 points, and 8-6 when he does not.
That includes Game 5, when he put together one of the best offensive playoff games of his career. He finished with 27 points on 12 of 20 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, putting up 14 points in that frame alone.
5. Suns on the ropes for the first time
The Suns have faced some 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 he got placed in health and safety protocols.
For the most part, though, it’s been pretty smooth sailing as far as playoff runs go. At one point they won nine games in a row; the only time they’ve trailed in a series was for one game in the first round; they had one sweep and no series has gone longer than six games; they haven’t played an elimination game.
Point is, they’ve been tested, but they haven’t really felt their backs against the ropes. That changes now in a major way, as they’ll head to Milwaukee for a must-win game on the road. While they can obviously still win — the last two games have been decided by six points or less — it’s going to be interesting to see how the Suns respond to this pressure. Aside from Chris Paul and Jae Crowder, this is a super young team that hasn’t been in a situation like this before. Will they be able to stand tall against the weight of the moment and what will be an absolutely raucous crowd?