Giannis might have the best block and the best dunk so far in the NBA Finals | SportsNation

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ESPN 19 July, 2021 - 07:02am 11 views

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Analysis: Popovich has to love play from Olympians in finals

The Washington Post 19 July, 2021 - 09:01am

The second-happiest should be USA Basketball’s Gregg Popovich.

Game 6 of the finals is Tuesday in Milwaukee, when the Bucks can win their first title in 50 years. Game 7, if necessary, is Thursday in Phoenix. And when the series is over Holiday, Middleton and Booker will trade their green, white and orange uniforms for red, white and blue at the Tokyo Olympics. They all say they’re going to honor the commitment to play, even though the finals will have just ended and then a flight halfway around the world awaits.

The Americans have not exactly been a high-octane steamrolling machine in their Tokyo tune-ups so far, with a 1-2 record in three exhibitions in Las Vegas and now coming off some roster revamping following the virus-related withdrawal of Bradley Beal and an injury-related withdrawal by Kevin Love. Beal and Love are out, Keldon Johnson and JaVale McGee take their place.

It looks like the U.S. absolutely will need Holiday, Middleton and Booker if it’s going to get the job done in Tokyo. And there’s a very real chance that the Americans will have no more than one practice with their entire Olympic team together before they open their quest for a fourth consecutive gold medal next Sunday in Tokyo against France.

It was never going to be easy for the U.S.; having almost no time as a team together before things get real in Tokyo will only make it that much tougher.

“I have watched the games,” Popovich said a few days ago when asked if he’s watching the NBA Finals while on USA Basketball duty in Las Vegas. “I have to admit that I watch three guys more than I watched the teams. I just can’t help myself. I keep watching them, I keep hoping that they stay healthy. And then, we all think about what would be the best way to include them and blend them into the group. There’s no formula for that.”

He didn’t say which three guys. He didn’t have to. It’s obvious.

USA Basketball knew it was rolling the dice by choosing players that had a shot of going to the NBA Finals, but had no choice given the timeframe. They ended up with three and it could have been more; the Americans took a run at getting Phoenix’s Chris Paul to commit to Tokyo, but he ultimately decided not to play on the team.

The plane carrying the Olympic team — some of it, anyway — to Tokyo leaves Las Vegas on Monday morning. Middleton, Holiday and Booker won’t be on that flight; they’ll still be at their real jobs. They’re coming over separate from the rest of the team in the week.

Popovich can’t be thrilled about that part, of course. But he must have been downright giddy with how his finals Olympic trio did Saturday night, particularly at crunch time.

Middleton — who has picked the perfect time to play the series of his life — made a stepback 3 to put Milwaukee up eight with 2:23 remaining. Booker answered on the next possession to get the Suns within six, then a 3-pointer with 1:24 left to cut the lead to 120-117. And when Phoenix was within one, it was Holiday who stripped Booker and then found Giannis Antetokounmpo for an alley-oop dunk with 13.5 seconds remaining.

Popovich has deep ties with Budenholzer, deep ties with Phoenix coach Monty Williams as well. He’ll be thrilled for whichever coach wins this series, heartbroken for the one that loses. But it’s a safe bet that he might be pulling for the Bucks on Tuesday night to end this series — and therefore get the Olympians to the Olympics as quickly as possible.

“I think it’s going to be a little bit by the seat of the pants because there’s no formula to go by,” Popovich said. “It depends how the team is doing and the condition of the players here, what we think we need. Our first game is France so we’ll look in terms of what fits might work best, but it’s not going to be like they’re going to come and sit for a week and get ready. They’re going to have to come in and play.”

True, even a successful coach like Popovich isn’t sure how this will work. But if Holiday, Middleton and Booker bring this form to Tokyo, the struggling Americans could be just fine.

Tim Reynolds is a national basketball writer for The Associated Press. Write to him at treynolds(at)ap.org

Opinion: Suns on cusp of losing NBA Finals after relying too much on Devin Booker

USA TODAY 19 July, 2021 - 09:01am

Dan Wetzel, Pat Forde, Pete Thamel

So, of course, Devin Booker had the ball in his hands. This time, though, Booker could not deliver one of his many shots that would impress a supportive teammate (Chris Paul), an ally sitting courtside (LeBron James) and a mentor from up above (Kobe Bryant).

Instead, Booker drove to the paint and met a swarm of defenders before Milwaukee Bucks guard Jrue Holiday pick-pocketed him from behind. Holiday then raced toward the other end of the court to throw a lob to Giannis Antetokounmpo. He threw down the dunk for yet another highlight reel that essentially ensured the Bucks something more than just a 123-119 win in Game 5 of the NBA Finals. While the Suns experienced only their second three-game losing streak this season, the Bucks can cement their first NBA title in 50 years in a decisive Game 6 in Milwaukee on Tuesday.

"I was just trying to score the ball and he was behind me," Booker said. "I turned and he was right there."

"We got to move it around," Suns coach Monty Williams said. "We know what Book can do with the ball, but the one thing we talked about was getting to the paint, finding guys on the back side. We feel like that's a formula."

The Suns did not follow that formula consistently.

The Suns stormed out to a 37-21 first-quarter lead, only for the Bucks to hold a 64-61 halftime lead following multiple double-digit runs. The Suns shot a blistering 14-of-19 from the field on eight assists in the first quarter, only to become offensively stagnant in the second with a 10-of-28 clip with three assists. The Suns stayed in the game in the third quarter because Booker scored 14 points on a 6-of-11 clip. But the Suns’ increasing reliance on isolation ball did not match the Bucks’ depth and ball movement.

"The whole third quarter was pretty much that," Booker said. "We were trading basket for basket for I think five minutes straight. But we're at our best when we get stops and get out in transition."

The Suns were hardly at their best in those areas.

They allowed Antetokounmpo to dominate once again (32 points, nine rebounds), while also leaning on Khris Middleton (29 points), Holiday (27) and Pat Connaughton (14). While the Suns did not contest the Bucks enough from deep (14-of-28), the Suns became too reliant on their paint and mid-range presence at the expense of being enough of a perimeter threat (13-of-19).

"It felt a little on and off," said Suns center Deandre Ayton, who had 20 points and 10 rebounds. "We were playing hard in some spurts. When it got to a point where we're still in this thing and long stretch of the game we kind of picked it back up. But games like this, you can't really take no plays off."

No, you can’t. Not in the NBA Finals. Not against a Bucks team determined to win their first NBA title since 1971 after falling short as the top seed for two consecutive years. But the Suns have shown resiliency all season, so there marked no reason they would back down now.

Instead, Holiday disrupted Booker’s hope to win the game by going one-on-one. It's totally understandable for Booker to operate that way, specifically on a possession that could have determined the outcome. But Booker often seemed compelled to play that way most of the time because of the team’s inconsistency. His teammates enabled that because he seemed to be the best option.

"We have been a ball-movement team, and sometimes the switching can cause you to do that," Paul said. "We exploit it at times, and sometimes we don't. We'll go back and look at the film and see what we could have done better."

The Suns already know what they could have done better. Though their success surely hinges on how well Booker plays, it also hinges on their ability to master everything else so that the burden does not just fall on him.

The Bucks are one win away from the franchise's first NBA title in 50 years after beating the Suns 123-119 in Game 5.

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Holiday created, assisted, or scored 67 points in Game 5.

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PHOENIX (AP) When Devin Booker took his usual seat on the bench at the beginning of the second quarter, the Phoenix Suns lost their stranglehold on Game 5 of the NBA Finals. Booker had scored 11 points and the Suns built a 16-point lead on Saturday night against the Milwaukee Bucks. The Footprint Center was in a frenzy and Phoenix couldn't miss a shot.

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The 29-year-old pulled out of the Opals squad citing mental health issues ahead of the team's departure from Las Vegas, where they have been completing their pre-Games preparations. Cambage's move came after Basketball Australia launched an investigation into an altercation involving the Las Vegas Aces centre during a warm-up game against Nigeria on Thursday.

Three-time National Basketball Association (NBA) All-Star guard Bradley Beal of the Washington Wizards was forced to go into health and safety protocol this week, and Cleveland Cavaliers five-time All-Star Kevin Love withdrew from the Games citing ongoing recovery to a calf injury. "Our hearts truly break for Brad and Kevin," USA Basketball Managing Director Jerry Colangelo said on Friday.

The most likely outcome is he re-signs with the Nuggets, but Barton will be a free agent.

Team USA is reportedly back at full strength.

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Best Bucks player prop bets in Game 6 of 2021 NBA Finals vs. Suns

DraftKings Nation 19 July, 2021 - 08:30am

We go over the best player prop bets on DraftKings Sportsbook to consider for the Milwaukee Bucks heading into Game 6 of the 2021 NBA Finals.

Here are the top player props for the Bucks against the Suns in Game 6.

Middleton is on fire right now and is a big reason why the Bucks are nearly home in the title pursuit. He’s averaging 29.0 points per game in Milwaukee’s three victories and is shooting the ball extremely well. He’s also the Bucks’ closer, meaning he’s going to get a ton of shots late. Take the guard to go over 25.5 points in Game 6.

There’s not a lot of value here because the Greek Freak usually finds a way to reach this milestone. Antetokounmpo is averaging 32.2 points and 13.0 rebounds per game in the Finals and has a double-double in every single game except one. Take him to register one at home in Game 6.

Holiday was a big scoring factor in Game 5, but the point guard is averaging 9.0 assists per game in the Finals. In Milwaukee’s three wins, Holiday is averaging 9.7 assists per game. While the shooting continues to be inconsistent, Holiday’s passing and defense remain solid. He’s Milwaukee’s third star and he is good value on this prop at + odds.

NBA Finals Giannis

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