Bucks-Suns NBA Finals score, takeaways: Giannis-led Milwaukee rallies past Phoenix, one win away from title

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CBSSports.com 18 July, 2021 - 12:11am 16 views

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. 

Here are some key takeaways from the game:

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. 

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. 

AS CALLED ON BUCKS RADIO: pic.twitter.com/Z8CWBLevw6

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. 

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. 

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? 

THE VALLEY OOP. pic.twitter.com/0aOpSSmcLa

1 to go. pic.twitter.com/XIkhfXyWgh

The best plays from tonight’s #NBAFinals Game 5 WIN!! pic.twitter.com/3ej3uROf7A

.@DevinBook is tonight’s @FanDuel Stat Line of the Game. pic.twitter.com/HMUqagQT7S

THE STEAL & THE DUNK!! pic.twitter.com/3OQEShmon4

Job is not done #FearTheDeer

2️⃣1️⃣ 🔒 pic.twitter.com/oV4ex2yEnR

Jrue DID IT ALL.@MotorolaUS | #FearTheDeer pic.twitter.com/OXUlow9AXH

Big time bucket getter.@MotorolaUS | #FearTheDeer pic.twitter.com/AjJXww1wvq

His nickname is The Greek Freak for a reason.@MotorolaUS | #FearTheDeer pic.twitter.com/DfOnkaj2GO

3-2. pic.twitter.com/60zDIBFfq9

👀 pic.twitter.com/PNn7ouv2Nk

🗣 #FearTheDeer

THE DUNK. pic.twitter.com/2MZwqGhr5C

RT IF MOOD. pic.twitter.com/8cAeeyPknC

WHAT UP, BUCKS FANS?!? pic.twitter.com/Pn4jQZU5lo

123-119 bucks. they take a 3-2 lead in the finals and are going home with a chance to win their first title since 1971. giannis with an and-one alley oop in the closing seconds to seal the win. he finished with 32 points, 9 rebounds and 6 assists. jrue holiday with a massive 27 points, 12 assists and three steals, including the one on booker late in the fourth. middleton adds 29 and hit a number of tough shots late. booker goes for 40 again, but it's not enough

FREAK. https://t.co/dDkVJ3GnxR pic.twitter.com/CLPsROmF8y

The job is not done. pic.twitter.com/dli7LJ9ful

BUCKS WIN!! pic.twitter.com/hzyihk3Y3q

Final. pic.twitter.com/ghrT6kS6Po

THREW IT UP TO WHERE ONLY GIANNIS COULD GET IT. pic.twitter.com/BYaaJ1a7ZC

booker misses... loose ball... it's over!

123-119 bucks with 9.8 seconds left. suns ball. finals tied 2-2

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Analysis | Giannis Antetokounmpo joins Jordan, Russell and LeBron with an iconic NBA Finals defensive play

The Washington Post 16 July, 2021 - 02:19pm

The block was so improbable, so unbelievable, it was difficult to process in real time. Slow-motion replays from multiple angles, zoom-ins and wide-lens shots provided a better understanding of what transpired. But the more times Antetokounmpo’s help-spin-and-recovery-block is watched — at whatever speed, angle or size — the only way to truly reckon with the play is with a head-exploding emoji.

“Excuse my language,” Bucks all-star Khris Middleton said, “but it was one of those ‘Oh, [expletive]!’ moments.”

Antetokounmpo called it “just a hustle play,” but that’s like referring to a Bugatti as just a means of transportation. With the Bucks desperately clinging to a two-point lead with roughly 80 seconds remaining, Antetokounmpo first converged with P.J. Tucker to cut off Devin Booker’s driving lane and force a lob pass. Then he anticipated Ayton was behind him elevating for a dunk and pirouetted into position. Later, he propelled himself as if the court were a trampoline and soared high enough to track down the ball. Finally, he placed his hand in the perfect spot to stifle Ayton without fouling.

The number of players capable of executing what Antetokounmpo did is fewer than the syllables in his last name. The sequence required a level of athleticism, basketball IQ, agility and strength that rarely — if ever — finds itself in a 6-foot-11 package. But Antetokounmpo also possessed another quality that best prepared him for those heroics. Although Ayton was higher, Antetokounmpo was a tad crazier.

“I thought I was going to get dunked on, to be honest with you,” Antetokounmpo said. “I was late.”

Antetokounmpo wasn’t afraid — to be embarrassed or to fail. He met Ayton at the rim. Now he’s two wins from meeting his first ring.

What made the play more remarkable is that Antetokounmpo launched himself off the same left knee that bent backward only two weeks earlier. His hyperextended knee, which placed the rest of his postseason in doubt, pushed him into championship lore. And for Antetokounmpo to do it in the NBA Finals — where Hall of Fame legacies and legends are cemented — puts the play on another level.

“It's the best block of all time,” Bucks guard Pat Connaughton said. “It's about as impressive as you can get.”

The most iconic Finals moments generally involve someone putting the ball in the basket. But in a few instances, standout defensive plays remain the defining moments of classic series — and the game’s legendary figures.

Michael Jordan was able to do both in his memorable closing act with the Chicago Bulls in 1998. With the dynasty on its last legs, facing the possibility of a Game 7 with the shell of Scottie Pippen, Jordan seized the opportunity to snatch his sixth ring. After bringing the Bulls within one with a layup, Jordan stripped Karl Malone from behind with 20 seconds remaining. Jordan then rushed the ball up the court before the defense fully set, nudged Bryon Russell out of the way and struck a pose.

Bill Russell started the Boston Celtics’ dynasty nearly four decades earlier by doing what Jordan achieved in reverse. In the final minute of Game 7 of the 1957 NBA Finals against the St. Louis Hawks — the team that drafted and traded him the previous summer — Russell made a layup to bring the Celtics within one, then chased down Jack Coleman, slamming the shot against the backboard to keep his team alive in a game it eventually won in double overtime.

Hakeem Olajuwon — a native of Nigeria, where Antetokounmpo’s parents were from — forced a Game 7 on the defensive end during his first title run with the Houston Rockets in 1994. The New York Knicks were down two with 7.6 seconds remaining, and Coach Pat Riley designed a play for John Starks to shoot a go-ahead three-pointer. Patrick Ewing set a screen to free Starks, but Olajuwon switched over and got a fingertip on the shot.

Not every memorable defensive gem resulted in a title. In the first-ever Finals game played in Los Angeles in 1962, Jerry West stole an inbounds pass from Sam Jones and streaked down the floor for a game-winning layup at the buzzer to lead the Lakers to a Game 3 win. The Lakers would eventually lose to the Celtics in seven games.

And not every memorable stop was made by a future Hall of Fame player. Gerald Henderson picked off James Worthy in Game 2 of the 1984 Finals, which Boston won in seven, and Horace Grant secured the Bulls’ first three-peat in 1993 in Game 6 in Phoenix by smacking away Kevin Johnson’s runner at the buzzer.

Antetokounmpo is a two-time MVP making his Finals debut, hoping to be among the all-time greats who preceded him with a title. He won the 2020 defensive player of the year award but somehow got criticized because he doesn’t regularly attempt to shut down the opposing team’s best perimeter scorer one-on-one. It’s an odd request of a player who is a tremendous help defender, a forceful rebounder and a fearless rim protector who takes pride in altering shots.

His defensive instincts and the work he has invested to be great at that end prepared him for his Game 4 heroics. The block on Ayton immediately drew comparisons to a more recent historic stop — LeBron James’s chase down of Andre Iguodala in the 2016 NBA Finals, known simply as the Block. James pinned Iguodala’s layup attempt in Game 7 with the score tied, setting up Kyrie Irving’s go-ahead three-pointer to complete a 3-1 comeback for the Cleveland Cavaliers’ first title, ending a 52-year championship drought for the city.

“I would look at the criteria of greatest block of all time based on difficulty of the block and then time and score. I think obviously LeBron’s time and score probably has the edge in that situation because of when it was and helped them literally win a championship that game,” Connaughton said. “But I think the difference between the time and score difference and then the difficulty of the block difference gives the edge to Giannis just because a chase-down block, you have a little bit more of an ability to read. And obviously it’s a great block, and we’re talking about two of the greatest blocks of all time, and I don’t want to discredit that block.”

How Antetokounmpo’s block will eventually be regarded depends on the outcome of this series, which is tied at 2-2 with Game 5 set for Saturday in Phoenix. Antetokounmpo wasn’t concerned about where the play would rank, only that it needed to be made. Afterward, he flared his nostrils, stretched out his mandible — Kobe Bryant style — lifted his arms and flexed.

“It’s ‘How bad do you want it?’ ” Antetokounmpo said. “Sometimes I block shots and I run the other way, but I think there was so much emotions into me and I tried to enjoy that moment. I want to enjoy every single moment. It felt good.”

• Game 1: Suns 118, Bucks 105 | Game 2: Suns 118, Bucks 108 | Game 3: Bucks 120, Suns 100

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