Giannis Antetokounmpo, Bucks Take Series Lead with Game 5 Win vs. Chris Paul, Suns

Paul KasabianFeatured Columnist IIJuly 18, 2021

Milwaukee Bucks guard Jrue Holiday (21) shoots against the Phoenix Suns during the second half of Game 5 of basketball's NBA Finals, Saturday, July 17, 2021, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin

The Milwaukee Bucks are one win away from their first NBA championship in 50 years after beating the host Phoenix Suns 123-119 in Game 5 of the NBA Finals on Saturday night.

Bucks guard Jrue Holiday's 27 points, 13 assists and three steals helped Milwaukee overcome a 37-21 first-quarter deficit. Milwaukee forward Giannis Antetokounmpo's 32 points led the team.

The Bucks caught fire offensively and later took a 14-point lead, but Phoenix slashed that edge down to one after Suns point guard Chris Paul's layup with 56.6 seconds left.

Holiday missed a floater on the other end, but he soon authored the play of the game after stealing the ball from Suns guard Devin Booker and finding a streaking Antetokounmpo for an alley-oop and a 122-119 lead.

Milwaukee Bucks @Bucks

JRUE STEAL. GIANNIS DUNK!!! <a href="https://t.co/O0KhiXILBV">pic.twitter.com/O0KhiXILBV</a>

Antetokounmpo was fouled on the play but missed the free throw. However, a loose ball on the rebound attempt found its way back to Antetokounmpo, who tapped it back to Khris Middleton.


This hustle &amp; back-tap from Giannis helps seal the <a href="https://twitter.com/Bucks?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@Bucks</a> Game 5 win! <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/ThatsGame?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#ThatsGame</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/NBAFinals?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#NBAFinals</a> presented by YouTube TV continues Tuesday at 9pm/et on ABC. <a href="https://t.co/eZ4deOq6cc">pic.twitter.com/eZ4deOq6cc</a>

The Bucks wing was fouled and hit 1-of-2 free throws for a four-point edge. The Suns came up empty on their next possession, effectively ending the game.

Booker led all scorers with 40 points.

Milwaukee, which took a 3-2 lead in the best-of-seven series, swept the Baltimore Bullets in the 1971 Finals for its only championship.


Notable Performances

Bucks F Giannis Antetokounmpo: 32 points, 9 rebounds, 6 assists

Bucks F Khris Middleton: 29 points, 7 rebounds, 5 assists

Bucks G Jrue Holiday: 27 points, 13 assists, 3 steals

Suns SG Devin Booker: 40 points

Suns PG Chris Paul: 21 points, 11 assists

Suns C Deandre Ayton: 20 points, 10 rebounds


Holiday's 2nd-Quarter Performance Flips the Script

The lasting memory of this game will always be Holiday's steal and Antetokounmpo's dunk, which will be etched in NBA lore forever if the Bucks end up winning this series.

But the turning point of this game happened in the second quarter, a period that started with after the Bucks took a massive uppercut following 12 minutes of play.

The Suns seemingly couldn't miss, routinely nailing shots and firing up a hot home crowd. Phoenix was in position to make the game's result a formality by halftime.

Holiday had other ideas.

Milwaukee scored 43 second-quarter points. Holiday was responsible for 14 of them in addition to five assists.

To their credit, the Bucks came out aggressive, with Holiday leading the charge. He stormed the paint for this early second-quarter layup:

Milwaukee Bucks @Bucks

Jrue attacks the paint. <a href="https://t.co/ROneKM13O8">pic.twitter.com/ROneKM13O8</a>

Holiday was on fire, nailing 6-of-7 shots in the frame. The only exception ended in a block.

This attempt did not, as Holiday nailed a three-pointer to keep chipping away at the lead:

Milwaukee Bucks @Bucks

Jrueski heating up. <a href="https://t.co/qO49Q7lIwJ">pic.twitter.com/qO49Q7lIwJ</a>

Holiday showcased some excellent court vision in finding Brook Lopez for a fast-break slam:

Milwaukee Bucks @Bucks

Smash Mountain caps off an 11-3 Bucks run!! <a href="https://t.co/IbJ5sjM9w9">pic.twitter.com/IbJ5sjM9w9</a>

He was simply a tremendous quarterback, drawing in the defense here and finding Bobby Portis for a corner three-pointer:

Milwaukee Bucks @Bucks

Bobby Buckets!! <a href="https://t.co/e9UY3Ev4jK">pic.twitter.com/e9UY3Ev4jK</a>

Holiday soon found P.J. Tucker in that same spot after launching a jump pass at the veteran for the big bucket:

Milwaukee Bucks @Bucks

What a pass from Jrue.<br><br>P.J. corner trey!! <a href="https://t.co/erh7hEEMpr">pic.twitter.com/erh7hEEMpr</a>

The Bucks ultimately outscored the Suns by 19 in the second quarter to take a three-point halftime lead. They poured it on in the second half before the Suns clawed their way back in the game late. Holiday had other plans, though, and changed this series on a dime with his steal and assist.

Holiday entered Game 5 shooting just 33 percent from the field (23-of-69 shooting). It has not been a great offensive series for him, although his defense on Paul in Games 3 and 4 certainly helped Milwaukee tie the matchup up after falling behind two games to none.

But Holiday's emergence has changed this series' narrative. Now Milwaukee heads home in search of its first championship in five decades, when Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was dominating the NBA for the Bucks.


Suns Fight Hard But Can't Keep Pace With Bucks Sans Booker

The Suns outscored the Bucks by 12 points when Devin Booker was on the floor. They were outscored by 16 points with him on the bench.

From Phoenix's end, the storyline is fairly simple: The team couldn't muster enough offense outside Booker to keep pace with the suddenly scorching-hot Bucks for most of the final 36 minutes.

It's not that the rest of Booker's supporting cast was bad by any means. Phoenix shot 55.2 percent from the field and nailed 13-of-19 three-pointers. The Suns also committed just eight turnovers and hit 10-of-11 free throws.

The problem was that Phoenix's margin for error was fairly small in the face of the Bucks' torrid pace, specifically in the second quarter, when Booker sat for 5:46 to start the frame. By the time he got back in the ballgame, the Bucks had trimmed a 37-21 deficit to 49-47.

Booker did all he could Saturday, scoring his 40 points on 17-of-33 shooting. He put on a mid-range clinic against Milwaukee, routinely nailing shots and going blow for blow with the Bucks in the third quarter.

Over a series of six third-quarter possessions, Booker either ended the Suns' trip down the court with points or an assist. He finished that 2:56 stretch with 10 points and one dime.

This pull-up jumper dropped the Milwaukee lead to 72-69:


Devin Booker tough pull-up.. got it.<br><br>He's 5-5 in the 3Q 😳<a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/NBAFinals?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#NBAFinals</a> on ABC <a href="https://t.co/s0YqgNNXSR">pic.twitter.com/s0YqgNNXSR</a>

This driving layup cut the Bucks' edge to 76-73:

Phoenix Suns @Suns

All the wayyyyyy <a href="https://t.co/kGk2HIX0GU">pic.twitter.com/kGk2HIX0GU</a>

Unfortunately, the relentless Bucks kept up the pressure and scored in response to Booker's efforts all six times.

Booker was able to keep Phoenix in this game, though, scoring 11 points in the fourth quarter capped by this three-pointer to pull the Suns within 120-117:


"Booker comes to the ball, fires a 3.. BANG!"<br><br>He's got 40 for the 2nd-straight game.. <a href="https://twitter.com/Suns?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@Suns</a> down 3 with 1:09 left!<a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/NBAFinals?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#NBAFinals</a> on ABC <a href="https://t.co/XxuxbiuwTK">pic.twitter.com/XxuxbiuwTK</a>

However, the Suns fell just short in an instant classic where both teams played excellent offensive basketball.

Phoenix may be going to Milwaukee needing a win to keep its season alive, but it can take solace in the fact that Booker is cooking right now after dropping 42 points in Game 4 and 40 more on Saturday. He very well could Phoenix on his back and bring this series home.


What's Next?

Milwaukee will host Game 6 at Fiserv Forum at 9 p.m. ET Tuesday. The Bucks can clinch the title with a victory, while a Suns win will push the series back to Phoenix for a championship-deciding Game 7 at 9 p.m. Thursday.