In the closing seconds and leading by a point, Holiday stepped away from his own man, gambled and ripped the ball from Devin Booker’s hands.
“He’s physical, he’s strong ... he’s got quick hands,” teammate Pat Connaughton said. “It was a first-team all-defensive play.”
Holiday then charged down the court and instead of dribbling down the shot clock, he saw Giannis Antetokounmpo raise his index finger. The decision to grant his teammate’s request for the lob pass could have been risky, but aggression took over and Holiday threw the ball where only one man could reach it.
In a flash, a potential go-ahead possession for the Suns turned into a lob dunk by Bucks superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo.
“It was just an instinctive play. He’s an incredible defender, strong hands and got in there and took it. I think most times you just want to pull it out and run the clock,” Coach Mike Budenholzer said. “But Jrue and Giannis in a two-on-one, just to put to put two points on the board. I think just trusting their instincts, trusting them. Giannis getting a bucket and putting us up (three points). They’re playing, they’re competing. That’s what we need."
At times in this series, the Suns’ defense has sagged off Holiday because he hasn’t been much of a threat — much to the chagrin of his father.
“My dad thinks I’m the best player in the world,” said Holiday, relaying his father’s advice for him to take more shots.
Before Saturday, Holiday shot better than 33.3 percent just once through four games of the Finals, and though he has harassed Suns guard Chris Paul, he missed 16 of his 20 shot attempts in Game 4. On Saturday, Holiday broke out of his funk and scored 27 points. His timely production showed how deep the Bucks’ offensive attack can be.
Khris Middleton finished with 29 points and Antetokounmpo scored 32 to go along with nine rebounds and six assists, although after the game he abruptly left the interview room with reporters after wincing and clutching his stomach. Antetokounmpo eventually returned to the room and answered questions.
While Booker scored a game-high 40, treating newly named Footprint Center like his personal playground, the Suns’ offense often relied too heavily on the all-star guard. Booker’s ball dominance was especially present during stretches of the second half as Phoenix tried to recover from double-digit deficits.
In a season defined by isolation, nasal swabs and the constant worry about receiving a positive test, it was fitting that the coronavirus impacted Game 5. The Bucks ruled out Thanasis Antetokounmpo, a role player and Giannis’s older brother, because of health and safety protocols.
In addition, the league replaced official Sean Wright, who could not work Game 5 because he also had entered health and safety protocols. And Budenholzer revealed the team would not have a full coaching staff, which seemed to confirm an ESPN report about assistant Josh Oppenheimer being away from the team because of protocols.
But any concern about the coronavirus went away shortly after tip-off, as Milwaukee wilted under a deluge of Phoenix jumpers.
During a wildly efficient start, the Suns channeled the energy from their boisterous home crowd into a dominant first quarter. Booker scored effortlessly while Paul ran his veteran point guard game to perfection — driving and finding the open teammate for four assists — and four different players connected from beyond the arc. The Suns made 11 straight field goal attempts, shot 73.7 percent from the field for the quarter and opened their biggest lead of the game at 16 points.
This torrid play, however, ended at the buzzer. The Bucks responded with a run of their own in the second quarter by tying a Finals record with the most points in a quarter by a road team (43).
It helped that Holiday reintroduced himself to the offense. In the opening frame, he took a seat earlier than usual after Paul drew him into foul trouble. Holiday’s shooting touch did not suffer from the downtime; he scored 14 in the second quarter and guided the Bucks to a 64-61 halftime advantage.
Early in the fourth quarter, a jumper by Holiday extended the lead to 14 points. However the Suns bounced back, cutting their deficit to 120-119 with 56.6 seconds remaining. Milwaukee, not to be denied, won the game with defense.
Throughout their playoff run, the Bucks knocked out the Eastern Conference champions in the first round. They overcame a hastily-made superteam in the semifinals, and withstood a surprisingly competitive upstart from the South. Now, they have their signature road win in the NBA Finals. And just like that, the Suns are learning what the Miami Heat, the Brooklyn Nets and Atlanta Hawks already know.
“When we’re all playing well,” Middleton said, “we’re one of the best teams.”
— Candace Buckner
Read highlights from Game 5 below.
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