(News4usonline) – For the Phoenix Suns, Game 6 is all about surviving the moment to make to a Game 7. For the Milwaukee Bucks, Game 6 represents an opportunity the franchise has not had in 50 years.
How many people remember it was Hall of Famers Oscar Robertson and Kareem Abdul Jabbar who last took the Bucks to the NBA mountaintop back in 1971? It’s been a while. At least the Bucks can claim they have a title. The Suns cannot make such a claim unless they storm back to win Game 6 and Game 7 in this year’s thrilling NBA Finals.
Something has to give. Right now, neither team is giving up too much, even though Milwaukee has the edge over the Western Conference champs. With the NBA Finals all tied at two games a piece, Jrue Holiday, one-third of Milwaukee’s Big Three, played a big part in the Bucks stealing Game 5 from the Suns.
While both teams poured it on all game, Holiday, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton combined for 88 of Milwaukee’s point totals that enabled the Bucks to come away with a 123-119 win.
Holiday turned out to be the X-factor in Game 5, scoring 27 points and dishing off 13 assists in the Bucks’ win. Milwaukee now lead the best-of-seven series with a 3-2 advantage and can wrap things up if they secure a victory in Game 6.
“We knew this wasn’t going to be easy,” Phoenix guard Chris Paul said. “We didn’t expect it to be. It’s hard. Coach said it all year long, everything we want is on the other side of hard and it don’t get no harder than this. So, we got to regroup, learn from this game, but it’s over, we got to get ready for Game 6.”
The Bucks are in this position to win the series because after a busted up first quarter in which they gave up 37 points and trialed by 16 at the end of the period, Milwaukee began making plays on the defensive end.
“I think it all started with stops,” Holiday said. “That first quarter, they came out hitting and they were hot. Crowd was into it. I feel like we got stops and started playing fast, playing faster. It’s a lot easier to play faster when the ball is not going through the hoop. So, getting stops, getting out in transition, just making plays and that’s how we like to play.”
When it comes to making plays when it counted, this is the second straight contest in which the outcome of a game was decided by a defensive play. Both games were decided by what Milwaukee did. In Game 4, Antetokounmpo saved the Bucks’ hide with a block of a Deandre Ayton dunk, which turned the game around in Milwaukee’s favor.
With Phoenix threatening to take the lead near the end of the fourth quarter, Holiday came up with the play of the game, stripping Devin Booker of the ball and giving Antetokounmpo a majestic assist on a lob pass for a dunk that all but sealed the win for Milwaukee.
“I was just trying to score the ball, he was behind me,” Booker said. “I turned and he was right there.”
Holiday gave credit to team defense and not something he did on his own.
“Honestly it was great team defense,” Holiday said. “ I feel like we knew Booker wanted to take that last shot and played great defense on him and made him turn his back and he turned right into me. I guess I was just in the right place at the right time.”
The first quarter belonged to the Suns, outscoring the Bucks 37-21, but the next two quarters were all Milwaukee. While Phoenix made a run in the fourth quarter, it was not enough to come back from the lead the Bucks generated throughout the game.
Game 5 was an incredible turnaround for Holiday, who was coming off a horrendous Game 4 where he scored 13 points, making just 4 of his 20 field goal attempts. Holiday was pedal to the medal all game long, giving consistent offense from start to finish while constantly guarding either Paul or Booker.
Middleton put on another solid performance, scoring 29 points and coming up with big shot after big shot in the fourth quarter.
The Greek Freak was given the name “Run and Dunk man” by social media this season. Well, “Run and Dunk man” had 32 points, nine rebounds and six assists, so clearly running and dunking is working for him.
Between second chance points, posting up, running the break with a full head of steam or just flat out using his size to score, Antetokounmpo makes a 30 point game look like something he can do every time he shows up on the court. Antetokounmpo is averaging 32.3 points and 14 rebounds in this NBA Finals.
“We can’t worry about the outcome,” Antetokounmpo said. “We got to keep playing good basketball and hopefully get the win.”
Antetokounmpo followed up his epic block in game four with possibly an even more epic play, an alley oop through contact to seal the game.
Booker had his second consecutive 40 point game of the Finals, doing his very best to carry his team offensively through the game. He almost had his best play of the series where he dunked through contact over Antetokounmpo. However, the whistle was blown in the backcourt before Booker’s dunk. It was so loud in the Footprint Center, Booker could not hear the whistle before running on the break. All five starters scored in double figures for Phoenix, but it was not enough to thwart Milwaukee.
“We came out and did what we intended to do,” Booker said. “We came out strong and we let it go. Tough loss for us.”
While Booker had back-to-back 40 point games, Paul has had back-to-back questionable performances. While he did have 10 points on four for five shooting, Paul had 11 points on 11 field goals the previous three quarters of the game. That is unacceptable from the second option and “floor general” in Phoenix.
For all the praise Paul gets for helping take this team to the Finals, he needs to show up now when it matters most, and it has felt like he has disappeared in important parts of this series.
The Footprint Center did its best to serenade Antetokounmpo at the free throw line like they do in every Phoenix home game. Some may believe it worked, as Antetokounmpo shot four for 11 from the free throw line in Game 5. He has averaged 13 free throw attempts a game in the NBA Finals and is shooting a subpar 59 percent.
Home court advantage shifts to Milwaukee’s favor as Game 6 is in the Fiserv Forum. Phoenix has been outstanding on the road all season long despite dropping the two away games this series in Milwaukee.
“I think we got to impose our will,” Paul said. “ I think in that third quarter, I remember there was a timeout and guys said they hadn’t missed a shot that whole quarter. Like I said, we come straight here from the game, we ain’t looked at nothing yet. So, I think we’ll go home, look at it, watch it tomorrow, we’ll see what we need to do better for Game 6.”
The Suns have now lost three games in a row to the Bucks, but can they steal Game 6 in Milwaukee? Or will Giannis and the Bucks seal the deal? Game 6 is Tuesday night and it is shaping up to be the most high pressure game of basketball of the year.
Featured Image Caption: Milwaukee Bucks guard Jrue Holiday (21). Courtesy Milwaukee Bucks/FB