By Arnie Leshin
The only holiday at the Phoenix Arena Saturday was wearing a Milwaukee Bucks uniform and turning in the latest big play made by his team.
Not only did Jrue Holiday toss in 27 points and hand out 13 assists, but his important defensive play as the clock wound down was what saved the day for the visitors in a wild 123-119 win that brought them within a game of claiming their first National Basketball Association championship since 1971, a span of 50 years.
Now brew city is up 3-2 with game 6 in its venue Tuesday night. From down 2-0 in this best-of-7 series, Bucks fans had been holding up signs that read “Bucks in 6” after winning game 4 at home to even the series, and now they are close to doing so.
The Suns, who have never won an NBA title, got away to an impressive start by finding open shooters and firing from the outside to gain a resounding 37-21 lead after one quarter. But Milwaukee kept coming back, which in turn brought that tense, close fourth quarter.
In fact, it got behind the shot making of Gianni Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton, and Holliday to make a third-quarter run that flipped the lead to them for the first time, and then with 9 minutes remaining in regulation, 62.1 percent shooting had brought a 108-94 advantage for the visiting team.
But the home side wasn’t giving in, cutting the lead to 120-119 on a 3-pointer from Devin Booker and a layoff by Chris Paul with 56 seconds left. Then came the Holiday play after he missed a jumper. Booker came down with the ball and down only one point when Holiday closed in to steal the ball, flip it down court with an alley-oop pass to Antetokounmpo, and the all-alone Greek Freak dunked it with joy, and now the lead was 122-119.
Holiday, known for his defensive play, actually got behind Booker at the foul line, and as Booker looked to make a play, grabbed the ball from him and made this key play.
Holiday also finished with his most important assist of the game, while Antetokounmpo had the team-high 32 points and also brought down nine rebounds and dished out six assists in yet another all-around performance. Middleton added 29 points.
But Booker had the gain-high 40 points, his second-straight in the series, but with his team rallying and down one with 16 seconds to go, he had the ball and was looking for the big shot when Holiday interrupted. Antetokounmpo was then fouled, missed both (converted only 4-of-11), but Milwaukee grabbed the rebound, Middleton was fouled, missed the first and made the second for the now 4-point lead as the final buzzer sounded and the Bucks celebrated.
Whether or not they returns to Phoenix for game 7 on Thursday night will be decided in game 6 on their court, and with a rowdy inside and outside jam of their fans to cheer them on.
Because of the usual poor foul shooting of Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee made only 9 of 17 while the Suns missed only one of 11 tries. But the Bucks brought down two more boards, the most being Antetokounmpo’s nine, and the top Suns’ re-bounder was Deandre Ayton with 10.
Paul, who had a six-turnover and poor shooting night in game 4, fared better with 21 points that included 3-for-3 from the beyond the arch, as well as handing out 11 assists. There was an announced crowd of 16,562, about 2,000 less than capacity.
The Bucks led 64-61 at halftime and increased it to 100-90 heading into the final quarter. After that, it turned into a thriller that bid well for the visiting team and dismal for the home team. Thus far, Milwaukee has outscored Phoenix, 565-556, about as close as the series has been.
Milwaukee leads 3-2.
Phoenix 118, Milwaukee 105
Phoenix 118, Milwaukee 108
Milwaukee 120, Phoenix 100
Milwaukee 109, Phoenix 103
Milwaukee 123, Phoenix 119
Phoenix at Milwaukee
July 22nd (if necessary)
Milwaukee at Phoenix