Giannis Antetokounmpo still awed by block, but ready to shift focus to Game 5 of NBA Finals

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ESPN 16 July, 2021 - 07:11pm 24 views

What did Stephen A Smith say about Milwaukee?

"Milwaukee is winning Game 6," Smith said. ... If the Milwaukee Bucks win Game 5 Saturday night, their fans in Milwaukee will be celebrating an NBA championship for the first time since the 1970s come Tuesday night ... so if you're the Suns, you have to treat Game 5 like a Game 7." Milwaukee Journal SentinelStephen A. Smith showers Milwaukee fans with praise, says Game 5 is a must-win for Phoenix

PHOENIX -- Two days after Giannis Antetokounmpo's ridiculous block of Phoenix Suns center Deandre Ayton's dunk attempt late in Game 4 of the NBA Finals, the Milwaukee Bucks superstar still can't explain exactly how he pulled it off.

"It's incredible what your body is [able] to do," Antetokounmpo said Friday. "When you think about winning, you go to the extreme.

"I cannot explain the play. But, at the end of the day, that's in the past. When you talk about the past, that's your ego talking. It's in the past. It's over with.

"I got to move on. I got to keep making winning plays. I got to keep competing. I got to keep finding ways to help my team be great. Great moment. I appreciate the moment. Great moment. [But] we got to move on."

The basketball world, on the other hand, has done little moving on in the 40 or so hours since Antetokounmpo's rejection with 74 seconds to go in Game 4, preserving Milwaukee's two-point lead at the time and helping the Bucks even the series at two games apiece as it shifts back here for Game 5 on Saturday night.

There have been comparisons to LeBron James' epic block of Andre Iguodala's layup in Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals, and debates rage over which of them was the more impressive play, along with other great blocks from past playoffs.

For Antetokounmpo, the focus is on something much more tangible: getting a victory in Game 5, which would allow Milwaukee to have the opportunity to claim its first championship in a half-century with a win back at Fiserv Forum Tuesday night in Game 6.

It's an approach that has come from past experiences and learning about the perils of feeling too good after one strong performance.

"I think I would say life. Usually, from my experience, when I think about like, 'Oh, yeah, I did this, I'm so great, I had 30, I had 25-10-10,' whatever the case might be. ... Usually, the next day, you're going to suck, you know?" Antetokounmpo said with a smile. "Simple as that. The next few days you're going to be terrible.

"I figured out a mindset to have that when you focus on the past, that's your ego. 'I did this. We were able to beat this team 4-0. I did this in the past. I won that in the past.' When I focus on the future, it's my pride. 'Yeah, next game, Game 5, I do this and this and this. I'm going to dominate.' That's your pride talking. It doesn't happen. You're right here.

"I kind of try to focus on the moment, in the present. That's humility. That's being humble. That's not setting no expectation. That's going out there, enjoying the game, competing at a high level. I think I've had people throughout my life that helped me with that. But that is a skill that I've tried to, like, kind of ... master it. It's been working so far, so I'm not going to stop."

If Antetokounmpo's play is any guide, he shouldn't be changing much of anything about his approach. Through the first four games of these NBA Finals, Antetokounmpo is averaging 32.3 points, 14.0 rebounds and 5.5 assists and has generally been able to get whatever he's wanted.

Even in Game 4, after which he admitted he could've been more aggressive, he finished with 26 points, 14 rebounds, eight assists, three steals and two blocks in 43 minutes.

More importantly for the Bucks, they have been able to dig themselves out of an 0-2 hole to begin a playoff series for the second time in these playoffs and to recover from a deficit in the series for a third straight time. The past two postseasons, the Bucks have faltered when challenged -- first by the Toronto Raptors in the 2019 Eastern Conference finals, then last year in the conference semifinals by the Miami Heat in the NBA's bubble.

So what's changed this time around?

"I think we worked extremely hard throughout the year building winning habits," Antetokounmpo said. "Just every game competing. I feel like when you compete every game, you put yourself in a position to win.

"We don't worry about the outcome. We don't worry about the score. We just worry about going out there, making many plays, competing as hard as we possibly can, doing it together. Sometimes when you are down 0-1 or down 0-2, whatever the case might be, you don't really care about that. You care about how can you get one, how can you get a second one. Then you kind of build momentum and good things happen.

"So I think we got to give credit to all the winning habits we built throughout the year that we are able to know that when we're down, we still figure out ways to win games."

After winning both games in Milwaukee to even the series, it's now up to the Bucks to find a way to steal one on the road and officially take control of the series in Game 5.

They hope to do so by sticking to the same script that got them back into this series -- and the same one that has caused them to dig themselves out of multiple deficits to advance in these playoffs.

"Same focus, same intent we've been having this whole run," Bucks guard Khris Middleton said. "Stay locked in, play the right way, compete, play as hard as we can. That's it."

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NBA Finals: Chris Paul's turnover barrage, Jrue Holiday's defense and a legacy that should not be at stake

CBS Sports 16 July, 2021 - 09:00pm

As the Phoenix Suns have lost their once-firm grip on these NBA Finals, going from a 2-0 lead over the Milwaukee Bucks to 2-2 heading home for Game 5 on Saturday, Chris Paul critics are circling and savoring the low-hanging fruit of what could, at a surface-level glance, be construed as another postseason choke job in the making. 

We all know Paul's playoff history, which has long been unfairly mocked. Yes, he's had some bad moments on big stages. There was Game 5 in a 2-2 series against the Oklahoma City Thunder in 2015, when Paul, in a one-possession game, coughed up two turnovers inside the last 20 seconds en route to the Los Angeles Clippers blowing a seven-point lead inside the final minute. OKC won the game and the series. 

One year later, the Clippers were up 3-1 on the Houston Rockets with a 19-point lead in the third quarter of Game 6, and they found a way to gag up both the game and the series. Narrative wise, it canceled out Paul's masterful first-round performance against the San Antonio Spurs. All told, Paul's Clippers became the first team in history to lose a series they led at some point in five consecutive postseasons and never advanced past the second round. 

But there is context to all this. For starters, Paul has never been on a team that any logical pundit would consider a title favorite. So he was always expected to lose at some point. That, on occasion, it happened sooner than expected is more about cruel injury luck than anything. 

Paul might've won a championship with Houston in 2018 had he not torn his hamstring in Game 5 of the Western Conference finals. In 2017 with the Clippers, Paul averaged 25 points, 10 assists and five rebounds on 50 percent shooting against the Jazz, but Blake Griffin was lost for the series in Game 3. 

In 2016, the 53-win Clippers went up 2-0 on the Portland Trail Blazers before Paul (broken hand) and Griffin (quad) were lost for the remainder of the series in Game 4. There was no shame in losing to the 2014 Thunder, who were a homegrown superteam and still went on to blow their own 3-1 lead a year later against the 73-win Golden State Warriors, who then blew their 3-1 lead against the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Finals. 

Point is, these things happen. Not just to Paul, but to the likes of Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry and LeBron James. Durant, who is probably the best current player in the world and will likely go down as a top 10 player of all time, has been bashed as a guy who can't win without hitching his wagon to superteam. Curry had one of the most boneheaded turnovers in history when he floated a behind-the-back pass out of bounds with five minutes to play in Game 7 of that aforementioned 3-1 collapse vs. Cleveland.

Meanwhile, LeBron went into hiding against the Dallas Mavericks in the 2011 Finals, when the Miami Heat blew a 15-point lead in Game 2 and he had just eight points in Game 4. In the 2013 Finals, LeBron bricked two 3s and committed a turnover in the final minute of Game 6. Had Ray Allen not bailed him out with the most famous corner 3 in history, the Heat would've lost that series and LeBron's legacy might read a lot differently. 

But those guys, because of the superteams on which they've played, got multiple cracks at championships and eventually faded out the memory of their failures. This was, and still is, Paul's chance to finally do the same. He was the best player on the floor in Game 1 of these Finals with 32 points and nine assists, and his six turnovers in Game 2 went largely unnoticed because the Suns won to take a 2-0 lead. 

But now the turnovers are piling up -- 15 over the last three games, the most Paul has racked up over a three-game playoff stretch since 2012 -- and the Suns are suddenly losing, in large part, because of them. Phoenix shot 50 percent to the Bucks' 40 percent, yet the Suns lost because their 17 turnovers turned into 24 Milwaukee points, while Milwaukee's five turnovers only netted Phoenix five points.  

"The turnovers just crushed us tonight," Suns coach Monty Williams said after Game 4. "[The Bucks] got 19 more [shots] than we did."

Paul had five of those turnovers, including the one that will be talked about for far too long if the Suns go on to lose this series. As you'll see in the final play of the video below, with the Suns down two and under 40 seconds to play, Paul crossed over left to right and fumbled the ball, allowing the Bucks to cap their 15-0 advantage in fast-break points and seal the game: 

These are clearly uncharacteristic blunders for Paul, who is one of just three players in history -- along with Magic Johnson and John Stockton -- to have at least 1,000 career playoff assists with at least a 3-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio. He does not give the ball away like this. Paul's 10-point performance in Game 4 on 5-of-13 shooting was an outlier; this postseason, he's the only player to advance past the first averaging at least 18 points and eight assists on 40 percent 3-point shooting. So what happened?

The shock jocks will tell you he's choking again. Don't listen to that. The truth is there are, potentially, three reasons for Paul's recent struggles. The first one is simple: Great players have bad games. Even a few in a row sometimes. If you thought otherwise, consider this an official welcoming to the real world. 

The second reason is Jrue Holiday, who is catching his own form of hell for his offensive struggles but has been such a defensive beast on Paul and Devin Booker that if I were voting, I would have him as Milwaukee's second-most valuable player in this series despite Khris Middleton's 40-piece in Game 4. 

This series changed when Mike Budenholzer unleashed Holiday on Paul in Game 2. Since that time, Holiday has been the primary defender on Paul for 78 possessions, per NBA.com matchup data, and Paul has turned it over on seven of those possessions. For reference, P.J. Tucker, who drew the main Paul assignment in Game 1 and is still a pretty nasty on-ball defender/screen navigator in his own right, has guarded Paul for 35 possessions, and only created one turnover. In the first round, the Los Angeles Lakers' Dennis Schroder guarded Paul for 82 possessions and also forced just one turnover. 

The seven turnovers Paul has amassed when guarded by Holiday should, in fact, be eight. Watch here as Paul's feet clearly come down before he desperately drops the ball to avoid a travel after Holiday pinches every bit of space available to him by fighting over the ball screen. (No matter ... Holiday kept pursuing Paul until he had to force up a jumper with Giannis Antetokounmpo roaming the area).

It's not just the turnovers. Holiday, as he did on the play above, is picking up high, fighting over screens rather than soft switching, and not letting Paul get downhill to his sweet-spot jumpers. By both design and natural cross-matching, Holiday has spent a good amount of time defending Booker, too -- 57 possessions as the primary defender, per NBA.com, and via those possessions Booker has scored only 13 points on 33 percent shooting, including 1 of 7 from 3. 

Any attempt to assign Paul's recent struggles to anything other than Holiday -- and a really improved team effort from Milwaukee in support of the ball pressure as everyone is picking up higher, showing bodies in the middle and compressing down on drivers -- is to discredit what has been a dominant defensive performance from Bucks guard. 

After Holiday's impact, we need to discuss whether Paul is playing hurt. Actually, he almost certainly is playing hurt, but the question is how much it's affecting him. During Game 1, Paul, who was already dealing with a shoulder contusion vs. the Lakers and admitted to playing with torn ligaments in his right hand coming out of the Clippers series, appeared to injure his left hand on this play below: 

The play Chris Paul injured his hand pic.twitter.com/GWFEdwncYG

Paul was asked about his hand being wrapped after the game, and chose not to acknowledge it. (Wait for the final question from ESPN's Malika Andrews). 

If you watch even halfway closely, you can see Paul's handle is looser than normal with his left hand, and he's not dribbling with the same kind of force or confidence at all times. For as great as Holiday is playing, it's not exactly the first time Paul has gone against a tough defender. To see him coughing the ball up with such regularity is a pretty irrefutable indicator that he's not 100 percent. 

It reminds me of Stephen Curry in the 2016 playoffs after he sprained his MCL in the first round and missed two weeks. When he came back, he had moments. He was still great for the most part. But there was evidence all along that he just wasn't quite right namely that he couldn't create off-the-dribble space against the likes of Steven Adams or, infamously, Kevin Love

That's not an excuse; it's just the truth. Curry didn't suddenly stop being able to create space for his jumper against big guys, and Paul didn't suddenly lose his ability to control the basketball. Rather, it's likely a combination of him being defended by Holiday and being hurt. 

With that said, Paul was healthy enough to go for 32 points in Game 1 and shoot 3 for 5 from 3 in Game 2. The Suns aren't saying anything about the hand and Paul won't acknowledge it either. So we go with what we know for sure: Holiday, as of now, has Paul's number, and he's not going anywhere. He's going to be invading Paul's space for as long as this series goes. 

He may get the better of him. But it won't be because Paul isn't good enough or mentally strong enough or any of that nonsense. It will be because Holiday is as great at what he does as Paul is at what he does. It will be because Giannis continues to make critics like me look foolish as the best player in the series. It will be because Khris Middleton has also been lazily labeled as an unworthy secondary star when in fact he is, on many nights, more than that. This is how championships are supposed to be decided, and this one is far from over. Unlike Paul's legacy, which was, or at least should've been, cemented a long time ago. 

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Yes, Someone Really Did Predict the Bucks-Suns 2021 NBA Finals in 2016

Snopes.com 16 July, 2021 - 09:00pm

For example, WTMJ, a Milwaukee NBC affiliate, reported that:

The Bucks are playing for their first championship in 50 years. The Phoenix Suns have never won an NBA title. So who would have predicted this NBA Finals match-up? Jarrett Plahmer did. The UW-Madison student sent out this prediction all the way back in 2016: “2021 NBA finals Bucks vs Suns game 7 Bucks win 123-115.”

A similar article was published by the Milwaukee Fox affiliate WITI, and a widely-shared video posted by TikTok user @rundacourt included what appeared to be a screenshot of Plahmer’s tweet:

Plahmer’s tweet was entirely authentic, and his five-year-old prediction was real. We are therefore issuing a rating of “True.” 

Plahmer posted the prediction to Twitter on November 3, 2016. An archived version of his tweet can be found here

Twitter has in the past confirmed for Snopes that it is not possible for users to edit or change the timestamp on a tweet, so Plahmer’s prediction most certainly came in November 2016. 

In some senses, Plahmer’s prediction is remarkable. Firstly, setting aside the relative strength and quality of the teams, their past records, and so on, the basic probability of correctly predicting the two finalists in any given year is one in 225, or 0.44% (since there are 15 teams in the Eastern conference, and 15 in the Western, and one finalist must come from each conference).

Furthermore, Plahmer appears to have only ever made one NBA Finals prediction, based on our search of his Twitter account, which he started in 2016. Some people, especially sports fans, are pathological predictors, and make multiple incorrect forecasts for every one they happen to get right. That isn’t the case with Plahmer, who appears to have a 100% record in correctly predicting NBA Finals line-ups.

What’s more, the two teams he picked hardly looked like contenders at that point. The Suns had the second-worst winning record in the Western conference in the 2015-16 season, and the Bucks had the fourth-worst in the Eastern. At the time Plahmer sent his tweet, the Suns had a 1-4 winning record in the 2016-17 season, and the Bucks a more respectable 3-2. 

In an interview with CNN in July 2021, Plahmer outlined the simple but sound logic behind his predicted match-up, explaining that, although sub-par back in November 2016, the Suns and Bucks (of which Plahmer is a fan) each had two especially promising players who, he thought, could lead their respective franchises to glory after five years of maturation and improvement:

“The Suns had Devin Booker and Eric Bledsoe, and the Bucks had Giannis [Antetokounmpo] and Khris Middleton, and I said ‘You know what, in five years maybe they’ll both be there [in the NBA Finals].'”

Even then, though, Plahmer had to get the year right. He didn’t predict the Suns and Bucks would meet in the 2020 finals, or in 2022, or in 2019 or 2023. He used his knowledge of two of his favorite teams’ rosters, saw some potential, and correctly predicted the NBA Finals line-up in exactly five years’ time. Whether the series reaches a seventh game, and whether the Bucks ultimately emerge victorious, as he also predicted, was yet to be seen as of this writing on July 16.

In another sense, though, it’s perhaps not surprising at all that someone, somewhere, correctly and publicly forecast the 2021 finals line-up, even from a distance of five years. Sports fans love to make predictions, and basketball aficionados are no different. What’s more, there are millions of them active on social media platforms like Twitter. 

With that in mind, it’s actually not that unlikely that, hidden among reams of incorrect calls, a handful of correct predictions would float to the surface. Searching only Twitter, we found the following examples relating to the two most recent sets of NBA Finals:

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End of an era as Spalding basketballs bounce out of the NBA

The Undefeated 16 July, 2021 - 09:00pm

Will the culture continue to connect ‘balling’ with ‘Spalding’?

At the end of these NBA Finals, after the last shot is made or missed, after Chris Paul dribbles out the clock or Giannis Antetokounmpo tosses the ball toward the rafters to celebrate their first championship, a page in hoop history will quietly turn:

Spalding will no longer be the official basketball of the NBA.

If you don’t hoop, you might not care. But this is serious news for us citizens of Hoop World – players who care as much about the feel of the ball in our hands as the shoes on our feet. For those of us who need the rock like Jay-Z needs the mic or Colson Whitehead needs to write, any development with our most beloved piece of equipment must be checked.

So why the switch? And what could it mean for us hoopers?

The sportsman Albert Goodwill Spalding created the first basketball in 1894 at the request of the inventor of the game, James Naismith, and Spalding has been the official ball of the NBA since 1983. The brand also has become synonymous with the idea of what a basketball is – ask Kendrick Lamar, Drake, Meek Mill, Takeoff, G Herbo, Kanye West or countless other rappers who connect “balling” with “Spalding” on their records. (Special shout to Childish Gambino for “ball hard like it’s cement inside of my Spalding.”)

But Spalding’s sponsorship contract with the NBA expires after this 2020-21 season, and they were unable to agree on terms for a new deal. Spalding will continue to produce the official NBA backboards and rims, plus a full line of other basketballs, including the TF-1000 and my personal outdoor favorite, the Neverflat.

The twist is that the official Spalding NBA basketball is hardly ever seen in the mortal realms of Hoop World. If you pull up to a pickup game, college practice, morning YMCA run or AAU tournament, official NBA basketballs are rarer than a Ben Simmons 3-pointer.

That’s mainly because the NBA is the only league that plays with a 100% leather ball, which can be smoother and harder to handle than the composite material on virtually every other ball. The NBA rock also needs a lengthy break-in period to reach its mythical butter-soft state, which is why you often see pros with a ball that’s brown instead of orange. Spalding sent me one of its final NBA editions to play with, and while my J is known to be wet, it was tough shooting that thing, even after eight or nine sessions. The high degree of difficulty made me marvel even more at the touch and range of NBA guys.

But there is a chance this could change. Enter Wilson, which provided the official NBA basketball from the founding of the league in 1946 until Spalding snatched the rock in ’83. Almost every member of Hoop World has played with a Wilson, specifically the Wilson Evolution, which hit the court about a dozen years ago. This model has become so popular, the last time I finished a run at LA Fitness, finding my personal Evolution was like looking for one pair of Jordans at a Chicago Bulls game. The Evolution is made of a composite material with great feel and grip right out the box, not too sticky and not too slippery. It’s a shooter’s ball, and when you let that thing fly, it feels like straight cash all day.

I bet Steph Curry could shoot 60% from deep with this ball – but the NBA is not switching to the Evolution. “The Wilson NBA game ball will have the same leather material, configuration and performance specifications as the current game balls,” Christopher Arena, NBA senior vice president of identity, outfitting and equipment, said in an email.

Smart move. In 2006, when the NBA and Spalding tried to change to a basketball made of synthetic material, it was a bigger fiasco than the weight room at the last NCAA women’s tournament. This time, Arena said, the NBA worked with teams and the players’ union to develop the new game ball. It was introduced at the NBA draft combine in June, is endorsed by Trae Young and Jamal Murray, and has started to be distributed to NBA teams.

Chris Brickley, a top NBA skills trainer and consultant with Wilson, helped develop the new ball and has been using it in his workouts for several months. “They didn’t try to reinvent the wheel and make some special basketball,” he told me. “They kept it simple. They kept it how the NBA basketball has been.”

Hoopers from elementary school to Division I can wear the exact same shoes, shorts, socks, sweats, even underwear as NBA players. But when it comes to the most important item on the court, we fall back into the comfortable grip of leather that’s made in a lab instead of grown on a cow. (Calm down, PETA.)

Spalding isn’t ready to tank. Vice president Matt Murphy said in an interview that its market share grew over the past year. It still has its name on all those NBA and college backboards. It remains the official ball of leagues from high schools to FIBA to the legendary Drew in Los Angeles. It plans to release a new portable hoop that can be assembled in half an hour. “We truly believe that as long as we continue to innovate and deliver the very best products,” Murphy said, “we’re going to be the go-to brand for the player, for the athlete, for any person engaging with the game, whether it be in their driveway or in an arena or a gym or a park.”

Or a rap record. “Killin’ like Wilson” could be a bad look. But Wilson could soon be killing the game if its NBA basketball ever incorporates Evolution technology. It has already done that with its new WNBA ball, which debuted this season. It uses “Evo Next” materials that, according to Wilson general manager of team sports Kevin Murphy, have a different center of gravity to improve shooting and can absorb the sweat off your hands.

“The NBA game ball is special, and we made it for those players,” he told me. “We needed to deliver consistency and make sure we lived up to their expectations. And then hopefully, maybe, we’ll see where things go.”

That destination could be down here in Hoop World, where we try to make the ball do what it does in Hoop Heaven, but need more help than we want to admit. Until then I’ma keep rocking with the Spalding Neverflat on the playground, the Wilson Evolution on the hardwood – and letting those shots fly.

Jesse Washington is a senior writer for The Undefeated. You can find him giving dudes the bizness on a basketball court near you.

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Watch now: One of the best seats in the house to watch the Milwaukee Bucks isn't a seat — or in the house

Madison.com 16 July, 2021 - 09:00pm

MILWAUKEE — Some spent thousands of dollars to sit courtside among Kareem, Oscar and A-Rod, just feet from the acrobatic Greek.

A few saved up their money from lawn-mowing gigs for $380 seats in Fiserv Forum's upper deck.

But not much farther away, others settled for a T-shirt, a can of Miller Lite and a prime sightline to a jumbo screen in the adrenaline-pumping party scene known as the Deer District.

Milwaukee Bucks fan Jon Liedtke cheers as he watches Game 4 of the NBA Finals Wednesday on the plaza of the Deer District in Milwaukee. Thousands gather in the space for both home and away games to watch the action on massive screens. Game 5 is Saturday in Phoenix.

Max Hillery and Trey Hauge spent very little even though they had coveted spots from which to watch Game 4 of the NBA Finals Wednesday night.

The incoming freshmen at Monona Grove High School got a ride from a parent and found themselves outside, pressed against a steel fence in the front row of the Deer District. No ticket was required -- just their Milwaukee Bucks gear, their enthusiasm and the satisfaction of knowing they were taking part in Wisconsin sports history. 

Trey Hauge, second from right, and Max Hillery of Madison had a front row perch to watch Wednesday's game on the plaza in the Deer District. The duo, who will be freshmen this fall at Monona Grove High School, arrived hours before the 8:10 p.m. tip to secure their prime spot in front of a jumbo television screen.

And it will all happen again Saturday night, even though the series, tied at 2-2, resumes in Phoenix.

"It's been an experience," said Hillery, 13, the glow of the massive television screen reflecting off his face and his Giannis Antetokounmpo jersey.

"Really exciting," Hauge, 14, quickly added. "Don't bring much. You don't want to be carrying it around."

Fans can arrive more then three hours before tipoff to get a prime spot to watch Milwaukee Bucks games on the plaza outside Fiserv Forum. The Deer District includes bars and restaurants, food carts and trailers selling Bucks merchandise.

The outdoor plaza of the Deer District -- rimmed with restaurants and bars, beer stands, food carts and portable toilets -- is the place to be for those unable or unwilling to buy a ticket into the $524 million arena. But even for away games, the district has grown into a thriving, pulsing community.

This is where fans Wednesday night repeatedly chanted "Bucks in six," waved white "Fear the Deer" towels, groaned en masse at missed shots and blown calls by the officials, and wildly celebrated under the explosion of fireworks when the Bucks tied the series at two wins apiece.

It's easy to imagine what this place will be like Tuesday if the Bucks return from Phoenix with a 3-2 lead and have a chance to win their first championship since 1971, when Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Oscar Robertson ran the floor of the Milwaukee Arena, which still stands today across the street.

More than 20,000 people can gather to watch a Milwaukee Bucks game outside Fiserv Forum, whether it's a home game or away.

So if you come here, whether it's for Saturday's Game 5 or Tuesday's Game 6, expect a madhouse. Arrive early, figure out your parking options ahead of time, keep an eye out for stars like former New York Yankee shortstop Alex Rodriguez and soak it all in at a cost of next to nothing. 

These things don't happen often in Wisconsin. The Milwaukee Brewers' last appearance in the World Series was in 1982, and it has been 10 painful years since the Green Bay Packers won the Super Bowl.

About the closest thing we've come to a Deer District experience was in 2015, when the Wisconsin Badgers basketball team lost to Duke in the National Championship game. Fans crammed Madison's State Street, peering into bars and watching their phones to follow what was just a single game.

The Deer District is organized, clean and a multigame experience that feels like a tradition in the making.

Karina Ream and her husband had vacation time planned months in advance to match up with the Finals. So they made the trek from Cleveland, Ohio, with their three boys, ages 13, 11 and 7. They stood for the entire game about 35 feet from the big screen.

"Pack a lot of patience, bring your water, and go with it and have a good time," Ream said. "It's like a once-in-a-lifetime thing for the kids, so it's definitely pretty cool."

Milwaukee Bucks Grand Dancer Juju Gramms hands out "Fear the Deer" towels to fans gathered Wednesday at the Deer District in Milwaukee.

Parking lots and garages in the immediate area of the District can cost between $40 and $60, but cheaper options can be found farther away. If you're lucky and arrive early enough, a spot on the street is possible. Make sure to wear good shoes. There are no seats. And if you arrive too late, you'll be forced to stand not on the concrete of the plaza but on the gravel of the overflow lot that had been home to the Bradley Center but also has a big screen television for the playoffs.

The lot is being eyed for further development, while on the opposite side of Fiserv Forum, Middleton-based North Central Group has teamed up with the Bucks to build a nine-story, 205-room Marriott Autograph Hotel at 420 W. Juneau Ave. The Bucks have also announced the plaza will be home to eight night markets this summer beginning July 28.

Fans on the plaza of the Deer District celebrate a 3-pointer by Milwaukee's Khris Middleton during Game 4 of the NBA Finals between the Milwaukee Bucks and the Phoenix Suns. 

"New ownership came in here, they set the goal of getting this new arena built. It's quite spectacular, this whole plaza around it," NBA commissioner Adam Silver told NBA Countdown Wednesday night. "They're replicating this in a lot of cities around the league. … It's a gathering place."

And you can come and go as you please. Many people were still arriving into the second quarter. Others grabbed a pregame meal or drink along Old World Third Street. The tables covered in white table cloths at Carson's Prime Steaks & Famous Barbecue (where a wedge of iceberg lettuce goes for $14 and a full slab of ribs for $32) were filled with customers wearing Bucks and Suns jerseys.

The Loaded Slate, a sports bar housed in a former music store building constructed in 1892, was packed with fans, along with Uncle Buck's on 3rd, Milwaukee Brat House and Buck Bradley's Saloon & Eatery. If you can get in, make sure to check out MECCA Sports Bar & Grill on the Deer District plaza to see its mammoth two-story, 38-foot high-definition television.

Back on Old World Third Street, Connor Wood and Trenton Brackett, both 12, were enjoying slices at Brick 3 Pizza. The best friends from southwestern Illinois bought their tickets to get into the game with money earned from mowing lawns. They were accompanied by Connor's parents, Chris and Becca Wood. 

"He had so much faith the Bucks would be here he started saving money and said, 'Dad, when they get there, I want to buy my own ticket to the finals,'" Chris Wood said of his son. "They cut grass and did their own thing. They did an awesome job, but they believed (the Bucks) would be here."

Andy Menchal, center, poses with the Rupcich family prior to Game 4 of the NBA Finals between the Milwaukee Bucks and the Phoenix Suns in Milwaukee. John Rupcich, third from left, had 16 tickets for the game, eight of which were courtside. 

John Rupcich, who owns Lifestyle Staffing in Madison and has offices around the country, was waiting on the plaza to get into Fiserv Forum about two hours prior to the tip. The Middleton man was born and raised in Milwaukee and has gone all out to be a part of the Bucks' season and championship run. He had 16 tickets to Wednesday night's game, which included eight courtside seats for himself and his sons and nephews. He had another eight elsewhere in the arena for his corporate employees and two other family members. Rupcich estimates he has spent about $200,000 this season on tickets. The season-ticket holder has attended every home playoff game. 

"It's been amazing," said Rupcich, who was decked out in a Bucks jersey and cap. "This is just great for the city and the state. The Deer District has revitalized the downtown."

Carl Sauer, of West Bend, didn't have tickets to the game but had just purchased a $42 Bucks T-shirt from the Bucks Pro Shop trailer parked on the plaza. His right arm featured a tattoo of the Green Bay Packers' logo. A Bucks tattoo could be next.

"We'll see," said Sauer, 30, who works for a tree service. "They've got to win a championship."

Milwaukee Bucks Grand Dancer Juju Gramms hands out "Fear the Deer" towels to fans gathered Wednesday at the Deer District in Milwaukee.

Trey Hauge, left, and Max Hillery of Madison had a front row perch to watch Wednesday's game on the Plaza in the Deer District.

Fans watch from a balcony at Fiserv Forum as the Deer District fills with fans Wednesday in Milwaukee.

Milwaukee Bucks fan Jon Liedtke cheers as he watches Game 4 of the NBA Finals Wednesday on the plaza of the Deer District in Milwaukee. Thousands gather in the space for both home and away games to watch the action on massive screens. Game 5 is Saturday in Phoenix.

Fans pose for photos outside of Fiserv Forum before Game 4 of the NBA Finals in Milwaukee.

Fans purchase Milwaukee Bucks gear prior to the start of Game 4 of the NBA finals between the Milwaukee Bucks and the Phoenix Suns in Milwaukee.

A Milwaukee Bucks fan buried in the Plaza crowd takes a selfie in the Deer District in Milwaukee.

People stream into the Deer District in Milwaukee prior to Wednesday's game four of the NBA Finals.

Pheonix Suns fan Javier Jurado poses with a cardboard cutout of Chris Paul outside of Fiserv Forum in Milwaukee on Wednesday.

More than 20,000 people can gather to watch a Milwaukee Bucks game outside Fiserv Forum, whether it's a home game or away.

Fans watch Game 4 of the NBA Finals in the Deer District in Milwaukee on Wednesday.

Andy Menchal, center, poses with the Rupcich family prior to Game 4 of the NBA Finals between the Milwaukee Bucks and the Phoenix Suns in Milwaukee. John Rupcich, third from left, had 16 tickets for the game, eight of which were courtside. 

Not recommended but a fan body surfs the crowd gathered on the Plaza Wednesday night in Milwaukee's Deer District.

Fans on the plaza of the Deer District celebrate a 3-pointer by Milwaukee's Khris Middleton during Game 4 of the NBA Finals between the Milwaukee Bucks and the Phoenix Suns. 

Fans gather at the Deer District in Milwaukee on Wednesday.

Bucks fans, from left, Jason Duetsch and his son, Luke, react to missing out on a "Fear the Deer" towel while gathered in the Deer District Wednesday in Milwaukee.

Bucks fans cheer as the Bucks tip off against the Suns in Game 4 of the NBA Finals Wednesday at the Deer District in Milwaukee.

Trey Hauge, second from right, and Max Hillery of Madison had a front row perch to watch Wednesday's game on the plaza in the Deer District. The duo, who will be freshmen this fall at Monona Grove High School, arrived hours before the 8:10 p.m. tip to secure their prime spot in front of a jumbo television screen.

Fans can arrive more then three hours before tipoff to get a prime spot to watch Milwaukee Bucks games on the plaza outside Fiserv Forum. The Deer District includes bars and restaurants, food carts and trailers selling Bucks merchandise.

Barry Adams covers regional news for the Wisconsin State Journal. Send him ideas for On Wisconsin at 608-252-6148 or by email at badams@madison.com.

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Milwaukee Bucks fan Jon Liedtke cheers as he watches Game 4 of the NBA Finals Wednesday on the plaza of the Deer District in Milwaukee. Thousands gather in the space for both home and away games to watch the action on massive screens. Game 5 is Saturday in Phoenix.

Fans can arrive more then three hours before tipoff to get a prime spot to watch Milwaukee Bucks games on the plaza outside Fiserv Forum. The Deer District includes bars and restaurants, food carts and trailers selling Bucks merchandise.

More than 20,000 people can gather to watch a Milwaukee Bucks game outside Fiserv Forum, whether it's a home game or away.

Trey Hauge, second from right, and Max Hillery of Madison had a front row perch to watch Wednesday's game on the plaza in the Deer District. The duo, who will be freshmen this fall at Monona Grove High School, arrived hours before the 8:10 p.m. tip to secure their prime spot in front of a jumbo television screen.

Milwaukee Bucks Grand Dancer Juju Gramms hands out "Fear the Deer" towels to fans gathered Wednesday at the Deer District in Milwaukee.

Andy Menchal, center, poses with the Rupcich family prior to Game 4 of the NBA Finals between the Milwaukee Bucks and the Phoenix Suns in Milwaukee. John Rupcich, third from left, had 16 tickets for the game, eight of which were courtside. 

Fans on the plaza of the Deer District celebrate a 3-pointer by Milwaukee's Khris Middleton during Game 4 of the NBA Finals between the Milwaukee Bucks and the Phoenix Suns. 

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