NBA official James Williams will serve in the role of the umpire for tonight’s Game 5 of the NBA Finals, replacing Sean Wright, who is unable to officiate due to the league’s health and safety protocols.
Game 5. Our 5. pic.twitter.com/qNm9WzidmI
"Booker comes to the ball, fires a 3.. BANG!" He's got 40 for the 2nd-straight game.. @Suns down 3 with 1:09 left! #NBAFinals on ABC pic.twitter.com/XxuxbiuwTK
🗣 @KingJames shows support for @CP3 at Game 5! #ThatsGame #NBAFinals pic.twitter.com/qduwa9hyW1
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17 July, 2021 - 11:35pm
Dan Wetzel, Pat Forde, Pete Thamel
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.
Then things changed. Over the next 5 minutes and 46 seconds, the Bucks began their comeback.
By the time Booker returned with 6:14 left in the second, the Suns' lead had nearly disappeared. The Bucks had taken all the momentum and never let it go on the way to a 123-119 win to take a 3-2 series lead as the scene shifts back to Milwaukee for Game 6 on Tuesday night.
''We came out and did what we intended to do, get off to a great start and we let it go,'' Booker said. ''They stayed resilient and they kept playing through. So, tough loss for us.''
Booker was impressive for the second straight game, scoring 40 points on 17 of 33 shooting after his 42-point performance in a Game 4 loss.
But the rest of the Suns were either inconsistent or non-existent.
Phoenix looked stagnant on offense, relying on Booker to generate offense by himself. That was readily apparent on a crucial possession in the final minute when Booker drove to the basket, the Bucks' defense collapsed, and Milwaukee point guard Jrue Holiday ripped the ball away for a steal to seal the win.
''We've 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. There were some times tonight where it just stuck a little bit.''
Holiday outplayed Phoenix's Chris Paul for a third straight game. Deandre Ayton scored 20 points but wasn't his usual rim-protecting self on defense. Jae Crowder was quiet after a few early 3-pointers and a dunk. Mikal Bridges had a few good moments but the Suns needed more.
Booker's teammates were able to step up during a fourth quarter push, but it proved to be too late.
The Suns have always depended on Booker's production, particularly when it comes to scoring. Even when Paul - an 11-time All-Star and future Hall of Famer - was added to the roster during the offseason, it was the 24-year-old Booker who remained the cornerstone, having grown up over six years while the franchise built into a championship contender.
The difference this season was that Booker usually had plenty of help.
The Suns employed a high-octane offense that put on a premium on quick passes and sharing the ball. Coach Monty Williams likes to call it a 0.5 second offense because he wanted a pass, shot or drive within a half second.
The offense was clicking early in the finals and the Suns took a 2-0 series lead. It was the Bucks who were struggling to find enough help for two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo. But Milwaukee has flipped the script, winning the last three games - partly because Booker can't do it all by himself.
Phoenix is out of mulligans. If the Suns don't want to watch the Bucks celebrate in Milwaukee, they need to figure it out by the time the NBA Finals return to Wisconsin.
''We're ready, man, we're ready for next game,'' Bridges said. ''If you sulk about it, the blink of an eye the season is going to be over. So, we'll learn from it, coach is going to show clips and what we have to do better, but we know what we have to do. ... We lose it's over.''
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17 July, 2021 - 07:30am
MILWAUKEE, WISCONSIN - JULY 14: (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
As the Bucks continue to flex their muscles and eke out gritty wins over their playoff run as their comeback victory in Game 4 of the NBA Finals showed, they have weathered this storm with their star guard struggling well below his offensive standard.
This is nothing new to Holiday’s first playoff run with the Bucks and easily the longest of his 11-year NBA career. Despite averaging 17.1 points on .406/.295/.704 shooting splits, 8.3 assists, 5.7 rebounds and 1.5 steals across 39.2 minutes per game in 21 playoff appearances, Holiday is struggling even further in these NBA Finals than what we saw against the Brooklyn Nets.
Holiday is still providing some level of offense, but doing so at horrific efficiency standards as he’s averaging 15.3 points on 23-for-69 shooting from the field and 6-for-22 from three (27.3 percent), along with 8 assists and 6 rebounds.
For comparison, Holiday averaged 15.1 points on .361/.261/.727 shooting splits, 6.3 assists and 5.4 rebounds across 39.8 minutes per game in the Bucks’ seven-game series against the Nets.
It hasn’t been a matter of bad process for Holiday, though we will certainly quibble with those questionable attempts early in the shot clock and his extensive struggles from beyond the arc.
Whether it’s been in isolation situations or cutting off the ball to find cracks in the Suns’ defense, Holiday has largely being able to create or manufacture good looks for himself and the Bucks’ offense. This spinning drive on Devin Booker is a perfect example of how Holiday has been able to get to the rim, but has struggled to see the ball go down the bottom of the net.
Over these NBA Finals, Holiday is 11-for-23 on shots attempted in the restricted area and he’s 11-for-26 on driving attempts (42.3 percent), per NBA.com/stats.
Some of that has come as a result of the Suns’ defense, specifically with Deandre Ayton on the floor, making life even more difficult for Holiday than it has been. With Ayton posting a 42.1 defended field goal percentage on shots taken within six feet of the basket from Bucks players this series, Holiday is 9-for-17 on shots taken in the restricted area over the 113 minutes Holiday and Ayton have overlapped on the floor.
Holiday’s aggressiveness surely hasn’t been a problem all playoffs long and ultimately, it’s what the Bucks need from their second-best perimeter scorer. Unfortunately, it still just hasn’t come together consistently for Holiday, though his 21-point performance in the Bucks’ Game 3 victory may ultimately the best offering he has in this series, at least in a complementary sense.
All of that doesn’t mean that Holiday hasn’t had a sizeable impact in this series. His defensive play and matchup on Chris Paul has increasingly bothered the future Hall of Famer point guard and Holiday has been a large reason for his growing amount of turnovers in this series.
Just as was the case in the Nets series, Holiday has had his work cut out for him on the defensive side of the ball. If his offense can make a long-awaited resurgence just for one night, it will only tilt the Bucks’ title hopes further towards their direction at this critical juncture.
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17 July, 2021 - 07:00am
You could argue for Game 7 of the 2018 Western Conference finals between the Warriors and the Houston Rockets. Both the 2019 and 2020 Finals went to Game 6, but the eventual champions -- the Toronto Raptors and Los Angeles Lakers -- piled up 3-1 leads before dropping Game 5s.
Those two Finals didn't feature anyone quite like Chris Paul: an all-time great on the precipice after a career of heartbreak. Paul did not play in Games 6 or 7 of the 2018 conference finals after injuring a hamstring. This is the biggest game of Paul's illustrious career, and it comes right after one of his worst.
Paul has 15 turnovers in the past three games. He ceded the offense to Cameron Payne on an alarming number of possessions in Game 4 while Devin Booker sat with foul trouble. The Suns are not winning this series unless the Point God reappears.
Game 5 is tonight at 9 p.m. ET. Let's bounce around the big questions:
Milwaukee is walloping the Suns in the possession game, peaking in Game 4 on Wednesday, when the Bucks somehow attempted 19 more field goals and 10 more free throws than Phoenix. It is very hard to win with that kind of deficit -- as evidenced by Phoenix outshooting the Bucks 51% to 40% and losing.
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17 July, 2021 - 12:32am
Up by seven late in the fourth quarter and on the verge of taking a 3-1 lead in the series, the Suns saw it all evaporate like a glass of water left out on a hot day. It was theirs to take and then it was gone.
Chris Paul had one of his worst games in years in Game 4. Devin Booker had a poor outing in Game three.
By all accounts this team should be considered down and ready to be counted out.
The truth of the matter is this Suns are in control of these NBA Finals.
Part of it is home court, which the whole world has seen play out in this series already with both teams holding serve on their home ground. The Series is a best-of-three with Phoenix hosting two of those games.
But that’s just part of it.
The other part and the part that should give Suns fans plenty of confidence regardless of where the momentum meter is pointing at this stage in the series, is the steady hand of Monty Williams.
Coaches probably get too much blame and quite often too much credit for what transpires from night to night in the field of play.
But at this point in time with the Series where it is, Williams influence cannot be overstated.
He’s a man who has seen it all in his career and learned from his past so when the tendency is to panic or think something is slipping away, Williams is the ideal voice to get those wayward thoughts away from the people in which they can do the most harm.
Williams’ life experiences from his career, from his first foray coaching which he readily admits was a real learning experience to his off-court dealings with real life have prepared him for a moment like this like few others.
His message to his players heading into an all-important Game 5 on the Suns home court: “Don’t drift on me.”
“I think it’s just life,” Williams said of where that message came from. “You’re going to face stuff. You know what I’m saying? The human tendency, the natural tendency, is to drift, not count your blessings.
That was what I was trying to do, remind our guys how hard they’ve worked to get to this point.
“That was a tough loss,” Williams said. “But any loss in the Finals is a tough loss. So I didn’t really put much thought into it, which is usually what I struggle with. But our guys have accomplished so much, and we have something right in front of us that I didn’t want them to lose sight of even in that moment. I hope it served them and us well.
When you’ve been kicked around as much as I have, in basketball and life, you learn that you have to keep your head up, look for the positives in everything and count your blessings. It’s typically not as bad as you think.”
And the Suns situation isn’t as bad as one might think.
The Game 4 loss was anything but crisp Suns’ basketball. Look no further than the 17 turnovers for proof of that.
And then ask yourself what are the chances of Chris Paul having back-to-back five turnover games?
It’s hardly likely giving his track record. Paul certainly doesn’t seem to be overly worried about it.
“Even though it may be an anomaly, it happens,” Paul said. “I turned the ball over hella times before.
“End of the day, we got to win the game. Me turning the ball over is not giving us enough shots at the basket. I’ll figure it out.”
The fact of the matter is not only are the Suns coming home to their raucous crowd and familiar surroundings they are coming back knowing the things that prevented them from having a lead in this series are easily corrected.
From Paul’s uncharacteristic turnovers, to Booker’s foul trouble which kept him from taking the force and rhythm he had in the third quarter of Game 4 into the fourth, the Suns have plenty of room for improvement and they know it.
And they have Williams saying all the right things and keeping this team locked in on the prize ahead.
Sure the last two games haven’t gone their way, but the series remains theirs to take.
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