The surging Milwaukee Bucks took control of the NBA Finals and moved on the verge of their first title in five decades with a 123-119 victory over the host Phoenix Suns on Saturday, July 17 (Sunday, July 18, Manila time).
After dropping the first two games of the series, the Bucks have roared back to life with three consecutive wins and now lead the best-of-seven NBA Finals, 3-2.
Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo, whose brother and teammate Thanasis was ruled out of the game due to the NBA’s health and safety protocols, had a team-high 32 points.
Khris Middleton added 29 points for the Bucks, who shot a blistering 57.5% in the crucial win.
Milwaukee can clinch its second NBA title in franchise history and first since 1971 when it returns home for Game 6 on Tuesday.
Jrue Holiday collected 27 points and 13 assists to bounce back from a dismal 4-for-20 performance from the floor in Game 4. He also had a key steal against Devin Booker in the waning moments of the fourth quarter to thwart a late Phoenix comeback bid.
“It makes everything more balanced,” Middleton said of the three-pronged attack. “It makes life easier on everybody knowing that when we play together and when we’re playing on all cylinders, we’re tough to guard.”
“When we’re all playing well, we’re one of the best teams for sure.”
The Bucks overcame an early 16-point deficit by erupting for 43 points in the second quarter.
Milwaukee became the second team in NBA Finals history to lead at halftime after trailing by as many as 15 points after the first quarter. The Boston Celtics previously accomplished the feat in the 1957 Finals against the St Louis Hawks.
“We kept our composure, we kept fighting,” Antetokounmpo said in an ESPN post-game interview. “This is the NBA Finals, so you got to give everything you got. And that’s what the team did tonight.”
Booker scored 40 points in a losing effort. It marked the fourth time he reached the 40-point plateau in this postseason.
Chris Paul finished with 21 points and 11 assists, while Deandre Ayton had 20 points and 10 rebounds for Phoenix.
“We knew this wasn’t going to be easy. We didn’t expect it to be,” Paul said. “It’s hard. Coach said it all year long, ‘Everything you want is on the other side of hard,’ and it don’t get no harder than this.”
The Suns trimmed a 10-point deficit to begin the fourth quarter down to 3 points after Booker drained a three-pointer. Antetokounmpo missed both free throw attempts on the next possession and Paul made a driving layup to trim Milwaukee’s lead to 120-119 with 56.6 seconds remaining.
But Holiday stole the ball from Booker and set up Antetokounmpo for an emphatic alley-oop dunk with 13.5 seconds to play.
Antetokounmpo missed the ensuing free throw, but Milwaukee regained possession and Phoenix promptly fouled Middleton. He made one of two attempts to make it a two-possession game.
The Suns were scorching hot right out of the gate, making 14 of 19 shots from the floor and 5 of 6 from three-point range to seize a 37-21 lead after the first quarter.
The Bucks countered with a 29-12 run to start the second quarter. Bobby Portis capped the surge with a three-pointer to give Milwaukee a 50-49 lead. – Rappler.com