The Milwaukee Bucks are one win away from a championship after beating the Phoenix Suns in Game 5 of the NBA Finals. The Eastern Conference champs came back from a 16 point deficit early and survived a late run from Phoenix to hold on to the win.
NBA Finals – Game 5 Recap
The Suns got off to a great start early in the first. They began the game shooting 80% from the floor, at one point hitting 10 shots in a row. Deandre Ayton did a stellar job of guarding Giannis Antetokounmpo in the first. Phoenix’s big man forced the two-time MVP to shoot pull-up jumpers and worked hard to keep him from the rim when Antetokounmpo attempted to drive. Devin Booker carried the load for the Suns offensively. The star wingman had 11 of the team’s 37 first-quarter points. Despite continued struggles from Chris Paul, the Suns found themselves with a 16 point lead after the opening quarter.
Early foul trouble for Jrue Holiday had a major impact on the period. After two quick fouls, the Bucks brought in Jeff Teague, who failed to contribute much offensively. He committed a cheap foul and turned the ball over early in his first stint on the court. This was a drastic letdown compared to Holiday’s production. The starting guard had been putting pressure on Paul, forcing early pickups and bad passes. Holiday’s jumped shot looked good early on as well, so sending him to the bench impacted Milwaukee on both sides of the court. Antetokounmpo ran the offense for the Bucks often early on. He hit Pat Connaughton twice in the corner off of pick and rolls. Milwaukee’s key reserve brought a much-needed lift, hitting both threes to provide six points off the bench.
The Bucks bounced back at the start of the second period, going on a quick 16-3 run. This made it a one-possession game. Bobby Portis scored six straight to give the Bucks a one-point lead with five and a half minutes left in the quarter. Khris Middleton rebounded from a 1-7 start from the floor, finding his stroke in the second. Holiday was huge this quarter, adding a career playoff-high 14 points to the comeback effort.
Booker was the leading scorer for the Suns in the first half but only had four in the quarter. Ayton and Paul added 12 and nine points respectively. Jae Crowder stepped up for Phoenix, scoring 10 points and grabbing four rebounds. The Suns slipped defensively in this quarter, allowing 43 points and failing to force turnovers as they did in the previous period.
Both teams shot well from beyond the arc in the first half. The Bucks took a 64-61 lead into the locker room at halftime.
Milwaukee maintained their strong play to start the second half. Middleton, Holiday, and Antetokounmpo kept their scoring pace. Each would end the third with at least 20 points for the game. Connaughton continued to contribute points from the bench. He shot 4-6 from three through the period and entered the fourth with 14 points. Portis’s nine points feel bigger than the number suggests. His high-energy plays kept the momentum on their side.
The Suns failed to gain any ground in the third. Struggling to start the half, they quickly saw the Bucks building on their lead. Cam Johnson hit a big three late in the third that seemed to rejuvenate the Suns. It cut the lead to 10. Less than a minute later, a hustle play by Johnson helped Ayton bring the game back to a single-digit deficit. Milwaukee pressed on, taking a 100-90 lead into the final quarter.
The Bucks held their lead early in the fourth. Antetokounmpo and Middleton carried the load offensively combining for 21 points in the quarter. Holiday added a bucket while continuing to facilitate with three assists down the stretch. A big three from Paul cut Milwaukee’s lead to eight with eight minutes left in the fourth. Both teams would trade baskets for the next few minutes. Booker poured it on offensively, but Phoenix could not get the consecutive stops needed to close the gap.
The Suns finally cut the lead to six with five minutes left in the game. Booker hit a big three with 1:30 left in the game to cut the lead to three. Antetokounmpo missed two free throws with a minute left and Paul hit a clutch shot to bring it to a 120-119 game. Holiday missed a shot with 30 seconds on the clock but quickly made up for it. He stripped Booker before connecting with Antetokounmpo on an and-one alley-oop.
Antetokounmpo’s free throw woes would actually benefit the Bucks in the game’s final moments. An offensive rebound on a missed Antetokounmpo free throw led to Middleton getting his shot at the line. He made one of two, pushing the lead to four in the last seconds of the game. Booker missed a chance to cut the lead to two and the Milwaukee Bucks came away with a Game 5 victory and a 3-2 series lead.
NBA Finals Game 5 – Top Performers
Booker followed up an impressive Game 4 performance with a 40 point night in Game 5. He continues to hit tough shots while well guarded and has established himself as a clutch performer in the playoffs this year. Paul recovered from a sub-par outing in their last game. He dropped a double-double, scoring 21 points and assisting on 11 baskets. Ayton also had a double-double and continues to be the Suns’ best rebounder. All five starters scored at least 10 in this one, but Phoenix will need to make defensive adjustments if they are going to force a Game 7.
Antetokounmpo added to his Finals MVP resume with another impressive outing. He had 32 points, nine rebounds, and 6 assists in the game. On top of that, he scored the game-sealing basket and tipped an offensive board to Middleton that would ice the game. Combine this with a block that some argue is the best in Finals history and a 20-point quarter and this is beginning to look like a signature moment in Antetokounmpo’s career. Middleton and Holiday’s performances should not be overlooked. Especially Holiday, who scored 27 and had 14 assists. His defense was great and he made good decisions with the ball. Middleton has played well in the last two games. Milwaukee will need both players to keep pace with their MVP if they are going to bring a title home.
The Bucks and the Suns head back to Milwaukee for Game 6 of the NBA Finals, which begins Tuesday, July 20th at 9:00 pm EST.