PHOENIX – As Suns star Devin Booker drove into the field within the final 30 seconds of Game 5 of the NBA Finals Saturday night, it felt like it was becoming a history book moment. The Suns were followed by one, and Booker – who had already hit 40 points for another straight game – looked ready to push Phoenix back into the lead.
But then Jrue Holiday appeared out of nowhere.
“I was just trying to score the ball,” Booker said. “[Holiday] was behind me. I turned and he was right there. “
And when Booker spun back towards the center of the court, Holiday got his hands on the ball, popped it up in the air and caught it.
“I guess I was just in the right place at the right time,” Holiday said.
Then, after taking four dribbles and moving into the front court, he lifted a picture-perfect alley-oop pass to Giannis Antetokounmpo at the edge for an emphatic thump plus a free kick.
“The passport was only about trust,” Antetokounmpo said. “He could obviously have pulled the ball out, let the clock run and get a good shot. But he trusted me, threw the ball out there and we were able to get a bucket.”
And just like that, the Bucks went from being on the ropes to controlling the NBA Finals in less than four seconds. Moments later, Milwaukee emerged with a 123-119 victory over Phoenix, pushing the Bucks to within a victory of their first NBA title in half a century.
Game 6 is Tuesday night at Fiserv Forum.
“Going home to our fans, going home to Milwaukee is a great opportunity for us,” Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said. “But you have to go out and play. It’s at this point you could feel it tonight, high-level basketball on both sides of it.
“It’s going to be the same in game 6. Both teams come out, expect really, really good basketball. We’ll have to compete defensively and we’ll have to play, play together. It’s more about that. But to go home to our fans has Fiserv rocket. It has been huge for us and we are happy with our opportunity in Game 6. “
When the Milwaukee Bucks sent a skewed draft to the New Orleans Pelicans for vacation in the offseason, he was seen as the missing piece that would finally allow the Milwaukee to find the breakthrough that was awaited after the season.
Saturday night was exactly what Holiday turned out to be. He jumped back from a terrible start to the series offensively with 27 points and 13 assists and continued to be a terror in defense, picking Booker’s pocket not only on that game late in the fourth quarter but also midway through the third as he buried a 3-pointer on the left wing as part of a Milwaukee race that broke the game open.
It was a complete, two-way performance from Holiday, long considered one of the NBA’s best two-way guards, and a validation of Milwaukee’s decision to go all-in on him after his predecessor, Eric Bledsoe, failed in these situations as the Bucks were eliminated in the playoffs as the East’s top seed each of the last two seasons.
“I saw it in Portland when he was in New Orleans and we were swept in the first round,” Bucks guard Pat Connaughton said. “Like he defends overnight and the way he’s able to do it in different ways. He’s physical, he’s fast, he’s strong. He has a lot of things for him. And he has fast hands.
“First team All-Defense player. It was a defensive player of the year [play]. It just shows that we are built on defense. The last two games we have had a big defensive stop to push ourselves over the hump and they are made by a guy who is First Team All-Defense. “
When you got into game 5, however, it did not look like an offensive explosion during the holidays was in the cards. His inclusion had been a talk throughout the series thanks to him shooting 34.8 percent through the first four games, including a 4-to-20 performance in Game 4.
Holiday still said it is not something he will carry with him in the next game.
“I’m not really up,” he said. “I feel like at the end of the day what I can do to help my team is most important. I went the 4-on-20 game before and we still won and I know I can do other things for to influence the game I know when my shot goes and I try to play for others, it’s definitely an added bonus.
After Milwaukee managed to pull Game 4 out, thanks to some incredible heroics from Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton down the stretch, Antetokounmpo said he believed in Holiday and trusted him to make the right games forward to lead the Bucks to victory.
Holiday repaid this confidence – and then some – with his performance on Saturday night.
He opened the game with a mid-range jumper that hit nothing but the net, a good sign of his confidence. But after a couple of quick curves, Holiday went out of the game with two errors with 6:42 left in the first quarter.
At that point, with the Bucks after 5, Jeff Teague checked into the game. The Suns repeatedly targeted him and went on a 21-10 run to take a 16-point lead after one.
But then, with Antetokounmpo on the bench after playing the entire first quarter, Holiday continued to take over. When Milwaukee stormed back into the game and outscored Phoenix 43-24 to take the lead at the break, it was Holiday who wanted the Bucks back in it. He scored 14 points while going 6-for-7 from the field in the second quarter alone.
“I thought there were a few stops and he was able to get to some good places,” Budenholzer said. “Brook [Lopez] and Bobby [Portis] screening for him in transition. It starts with our defense. I thought the group played really well defensively. [Pat] Connaughton hit some big 3s in that stretch.
“They made every shot in the first quarter. We felt it could balance.”
It did – and then something – in the second and third quarters. The Bucks shot 32-for-45 overall and 10-for-17 from 3-point range on their way to surpassing the Suns 79-53, turning the game all in their favor, even though Booker did his best to match Milwaukee’s scoring by himself.
For as good as Holiday was, he was not alone. After the home team won each of the first four games in this series, the Bucks came alive on the road in Game 5 to break this trend. Middleton had 32 points, nine rebounds and six assists in 41 minutes. Antetokounmpo had another routinely dominant performance, finishing with 32 points, nine rebounds and six assists. And Bobby Portis and Pat Connaughton together flipped 23 points and six 3-pointers off the bench.
“It makes everything more balanced and makes life easier for everyone,” Middleton said of the team-wide offensive attack. “When we know that we are playing together and that we have everyone who clicks on all cylinders, we are difficult to protect.
“Of course we can click on the defense. We can switch and we know how to have each other’s backs. But when we all play well, we are definitely one of the best teams.”
Even with all this, however, the Suns did not go without a fight. The Bucks led by 10 with 3:25 left and eight with 2:23 left, only for the Suns then to rattle seven straight points out, while Middleton missed a couple of jumpers, Holiday missed another and Antetokounmpo walled a couple for free. cast.
All of this put the Suns up with a chance to win the game as Booker brought it over the half with 30 seconds left. Instead, it was to the moment Holiday proved he was worth all that the Bucks gave to pick him up.
Now he and the Bucks have to do it one more time to win the title.
“I feel like now you’ll have to give everything,” Holiday said. “We’re literally coming down to the last game, the game or two.
“At this point, there are no apologies.”