Milwaukee’s Best: Bucks Take Game 5

(AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

The newly named Footprint Center had its usual pre-game buzz and excitement, but with a slight hint of nervousness.

Game 5 of the NBA Finals will do that.

When the dust settled Saturday night in downtown Phoenix, the Milwaukee Bucks found themselves one win away from an NBA Championship with a 123-119 win behind a well-executed offensive attack to take a 3-2 series lead.

The Bucks have now won three-straight in the series.

“Tough loss for us,” Devin Booker explained after the game. “I say we hang our hat on our defense and that’s where we need to get better.”

The Suns came out the aggressor behind the continued hot shooting of forward Jae Crowder who found openings on the perimeter off Chris Paul’s penetration.

Phoenix took a 32-16 with under three minutes to play in the quarter as Booker caught fire (11 first quarter points) and Deandre Ayton tallied eight early points. The Bucks played much of the first quarter without star defender Jrue Holiday who was saddled with two early fouls.

The Suns held a 37-21 lead after 12 minutes before Milwaukee woke up offensively ripping off an offensive explosion and eventually tying the game at 42 on Pat Connaughton’s third three-pointer of the first half.

As Phoenix’s sizzling offensive start cooled, the Bucks found their shooting eye, and confidence, silencing the once deafening sold out crowd.

A 43-point second quarter sent the visitors to the locker room with a 64-61 lead and loads of confidence having completely changed the game script after taking Phoenix’s best punch to in the opening stanza. 

The third quarter started the way the second one ended, with Milwaukee continuing to make shots.

The Eastern Conference Champions forced a Phoenix timeout midway through the quarter after taking an 85-75 lead.

It wasn’t like Phoenix wasn’t shooting well, but the Bucks simply weren’t missing.

Giannis Antetokounmpo became less of a distributor and more of a scorer, while Holiday was simply outstanding connecting on 11 of 15 attempts through the first three quarters.

“He was knocking down shots and we have to make an adjustment,” Williams said of Holiday. “That’s on me.”

After a three-pointer by Paul, Milwaukee called timeout with 7:48 to play and the Bucks holding a 108-100 lead. 

The Suns would make a late push and have the ball and a chance tie in the closing minutes but a Holiday steal led to an Antetokounmpo break away dunk and foul which eventually proved too much for Phoenix to overcome.

Milwaukee outscored Phoenix 79-53 in the second and third quarters in pushing the Western Conference Champions to the brink of elimination.

“You give up 79 points…we just didn’t have the same energy we had in the first and the fourth [quarter],” Williams explained. “We could get any consecutive stops in the second and the third. I felt like we were playing from behind for a long, long time.”

The Bucks three-headed monster of Antetokounmpo, Middleton, and Holiday combined for 88 points (32, 29, and 27 respectively), as well as 24 assists and 22 rebounds.

Both teams shot extremely well – Milwaukee 57.5%, Phoenix 55.2% (including 13-19 from behind the three-point arc) but the Suns’ disastrous second quarter proved to be too much to overcome.

Booker was simply outstanding, pouring in a game-high 40 points. Paul finished with 21 and 11 assists. Ayton registered another solid outing with 20 points and 10 rebounds. 

“We knew this wasn’t going to be easy…it don’t get no harder than this,” a dejected Paul said after the game. “We have to re-group…we have to get ready for Game 6. We got to win a game in Milwaukee. That’s all that matters right now. We got to impose our will.”

Said Game 6 is Tuesday. Tip-off is set for 6:10 Phoenix time.