Phoenix, AZ—The Milwaukee Bucks played sixty minutes and closing in on a NBA Championship Title. There last championship was in 1971, Lew Alcindor led the Bucks to their NBA Championship before changing his name to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
At the end of the first quarter of Game 5, Milwaukee were down by 16-point points. Then, Milwaukee’s “Big Three” stepped it up.
The Bucks bounced back from an sluggish start and then withstand a tight finish against the Phoenix Suns to earn a 123-119 victory in Game 5 on Saturday night at Talkingstick Resort Arena.
Milwaukee will have a opportunity to claim its first NBA championship in 50 years in Game 6 of the best-of-seven series at Fiserv Forum at 8 p.m. Tuesday.
“I can’t get too carried away,” Bucks Giannis Antetokounmpo said. “I have to stay in the present. I can’t worry about the outcome.
Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton, and Jrue Holiday combined for 88 points, 24 assists, and 20 boards on Saturday night. The Bucks outscored the Suns 79-53 in the second and third quarters and was able to hold off a late Phoenix run, closing out the victory with a nice steal and alley-oop pass between Holiday and Antetokounmpo.
Suns Devin Booker had a game-high 40 points in the loss, becoming the first player in NBA Finals history to lose back-to-back games despite scoring 40 or more points in both games. Phoenix will now head home to Milwaukee looking to avoid elimination.
Early it looked like the game would get out of control for Milwaukee. Phoenix came out smoking hot, making 12 of their first 15 shots. Holiday got into quick foul trouble.
Booker, who has been a problem to the Bucks all series, had it going early and had 10 points in the first as the Sun took a 37-21 lead.
Milwaukee kept chipping away at the lead, sprinting out to a 9-0 run early in the second quarter to trim the deficit to 40-37. The Bucks finally tied the game at 42 when Pat Connaughton drained a three.
Connaughton has been big for the Bucks as they’ve won three straight in the series. He had 11 points on Saturday, giving him 33 over the three games. He’s shot 8 for 17 on threes over that time span.
“He doesn’t need much,” Holiday said of Connaughton. “He doesn’t need the ball all the time. He knocks down open shots. He’s gritty. He gets there into the paint and offensive rebounds, big defensive rebounds, and he’s one of those role players that honestly is reliable, one of the most reliable that we have on our team. Pat has been huge for us all year, and he’ll continue to do that.”
The Bucks then took the lead at 50-49 after Bobby Portis converted a three-point play and then drain a trey in the corner at the 5:46 mark.
“Makes everything more balanced and makes life easier for everybody, Middleton said. “Knowing that we play together and we have everybody clicking on all cylinders, we’re tough to guard.”
Milwaukee went into the break with a 64-61 lead. The Bucks’ 43 points in the second quarter are the most in a quarter of the Finals since the Cleveland Cavaliers scored 49 against the Warriors in 2017. The Bucks’ total is also tied for the most in a Finals quarter for a road team.
Holiday shook off a dismal 4-for-20 shooting in Game 4. Despite the early foul trouble, he shot 8 for 11 in the first half and scored 17 points while dishing out eight assists.
Much like Game 4, Middleton and Booker put on quite a mid-range shooting clinic, especially in the third quarter. Middleton had 11 points in the first five minutes of the quarter and Booker had 12.
Milwaukee tried to pull away, going up, 108-94, in the fourth when Holiday scored with 9:08 left in the game.
But the Suns would not go away quietly, Mikal Bridges and Chris Paul knocked down back-to-back three-pointers to make it 108-100 at the 7:48 mark.
A three by Bridges and a fallaway jumper from Paul put Phoenix back to within 113-107 with just over five minutes to play. Middleton squash the run with a three-point play for a 117-110 lead.
The Suns still wouldn’t go away, getting a long three from Paul and two free throws from Deandre Ayton.
A triple from Booker trimmed the Bucks’ lead to 120-117 with 1:24 left to play. Antetokounmpo then missed two free throws and Paul knocked down a shot to close the gap to 120-119.
Middleton made 1 of 2 free throws for the final margin after Booker and Paul missed shots in the closing seconds.
“We don’t really care if it’s Bucks in whatever, we just want it to be Bucks, right?” Connaughton said. “I think it’s been great to rally the fan base. I think they have actually had it for a few years, so it’s been a cool thing to hear and see. But at the end of the day, we go out there every single night trying to win, trying to represent the city of Milwaukee to the best of our ability.”
Teams that win Game 5 of a 2-2 NBA Finals go on to win the series 72% of the time (21-8), according to USA TODAY NBA writer Jeff Zillgitt.
To win the first NBA championship in Suns’ franchise history, Phoenix will need to find hope in the reality that eight teams didn’t care that they had to win two in a row to take the title, they did it anyway.
“Everything we want is on the other side of hard,” Paul said, quoting his coach, Monty Williams. “It doesn’t get any harder than this.”