But then, out of nowhere, Jrue Holiday appeared.
“I was just trying to score the ball,” Booker said. ” [Holiday] was behind me. I turned around and he was there. “
And, as Booker returned to midfield, Holiday got a hold of the ball, popped it into the air and grabbed it.
“I guess I was just in the right place at the right time,” Holiday said.
Then, after completing four dribbles and moving into the frontcourt, he made a perfect alley-oop pass to Giannis Antetokounmpo on the edge for an emphatic dunk plus a foul.
“The pass was a matter of trust,” Antetokounmpo said. “Obviously he could have pulled the ball out, let the clock run and get a good shot. But he trusted me, threw the ball over there and we were able to get a bucket. “
And just like that, the Bucks went from the noose to controlling the NBA Finals in under four seconds. Moments later, Milwaukee emerged with a 123-119 victory over Phoenix, pushing the Bucks to a win of their first NBA title in half a century.
Game 6 will take place on Tuesday evening at the Fiserv Forum.
“Coming back to our fans, coming home to Milwaukee is a great opportunity for us,” said Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer. “But you have to go out and play. It’s at this point, you can feel it tonight, the top basketball on both sides.
“It will be the same in Game 6. Both teams are going to come out, expect a very, very good basketball. We’re going to have to fight defensively and we’re going to have to make plays, play together. It’s more about that. But to return to our fans, Fiserv has rocked. It was huge for us, and we are very excited about our opportunity in Game 6. ”
When the Milwaukee Bucks sent a bushel of draft picks to the New Orleans Pelicans for the offseason vacation, he was seen as the missing piece that would finally allow Milwaukee to find the playoff breakthrough he expected. .
Saturday night was exactly what Holiday turned out to be. He rebounded from a terrible offensive start to the streak with 27 points and 13 assists and continued to be a defensive terror, choosing Booker’s pocket not only on this play at the end of the fourth quarter, but also in the midway through the third, when he buried a 3-pointer on the left wing as part of a Milwaukee run that opened the game.
It was a full, two-way performance from Holiday, long considered one of the NBA’s best two-way guards, and a validation of Milwaukee’s decision to move him all-in after his predecessor, Eric Bledsoe, failed in these situations. as the Bucks have been eliminated in the playoffs as the Eastern seed each of the past two seasons.
“I saw him in Portland when he was in New Orleans and we got swept up in the first round,” Bucks guard Pat Connaughton said. “Just the way he defends himself every night and the way he’s able to do it in different ways. He’s physical, he’s fast, he’s strong. He has a lot going for him. And he has quick hands.
“First team All-Defense play. He was defensive player of the year [play]. It kind of shows that we are built on defense. The last two games we had a big defensive save to kind of push us over the hump, and they were done by a guy who is First Team All-Defense. “
At the start of Game 5, however, a holiday offensive explosion didn’t seem to be in the cards. His shooting has been a topic of discussion throughout the series, thanks to him shooting 34.8% in the first four games, including a 4-for-20 performance in Game 4.
Still, Holiday said it’s not something he’ll take with him into the next game.
“It doesn’t really occur to me,” he said. “I feel like at the end of the day whatever I can do to help my team is the most important. I was 4 for 20 the game before and we won anyway, and I know I can do other things to affect the game I know when my shot is going and I try to make plays for others, that is is definitely a plus.
After Milwaukee managed to pull out Game 4, thanks to the incredible exploits of Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton, Antetokounmpo said he believed in Holiday and trusted him to make the right plays in the future to lead the Bucks to victory.
Holiday paid off that confidence – and then some – with his performance on Saturday night.
He opened the game with a midrange jumper who only touched the net, a good sign of his confidence. But after some quick baskets, Holiday ended the game with two fouls with 6:42 left in the first quarter.
At this point, with the Bucks trailing by 5, Jeff Teague signed up for the game. The Suns targeted him multiple times and went on a 21-10 streak to take a 16-point lead after one.
But then, with Antetokounmpo on the bench after playing the entire first quarter, Holiday took over. As Milwaukee stormed back into the game, beating Phoenix 43-24 to take the lead before halftime, it was Holiday who brought the Bucks back. He scored 14 points while passing 6 for 7 on the field in the second quarter only.
“I thought there were a few stops and he was able to get to some good places,” Budenholzer said. “Stream [Lopez] et Bobby [Portis] screening for him in transition. It starts with our defense. I thought this group was playing really well defensively. [Pat] Connaughton hit some big 3s in this stretch.
“They made all the shots in the first quarter. We felt it could balance out. “
He did it – and then some – in the second and third trimesters. The Bucks shot 32 for 45 overall and 10 for 17 in a 3-point range to beat the Suns 79-53, completely turning the game in their favor, even as Booker did his best to tie Milwaukee’s scoreline. by himself.
As good as Holiday was, he was not alone. After the home team won each of the first four games in this series, the Bucks came to life on the road in Game 5 to break that trend. Middleton had 32 points, nine rebounds and six assists in 41 minutes. Antetokounmpo had another consistently dominant performance, finishing with 32 points, nine rebounds and six assists. And Bobby Portis and Pat Connaughton scored a total of 23 points and six 3 points off the bench.
“It makes everything more balanced and makes life easier for everyone,” Middleton said of the team-wide attacking offense. “Knowing that we are playing together and that everyone clicks on all the reels, we are difficult to protect.
“Obviously in defense we can click. We can change and we know how to support each other. But when we all play well we’re one of the best teams for sure. “
Even with all of that, however, the Suns didn’t go to bed without a fight. The Bucks led by 10 with 3:25 remaining and eight with 2:23 left, only for the Suns to then have seven straight points, while Middleton missed a pair of jumpers, Holiday missed another and Antetokounmpo did so. a pair of free throws.
All of this gave the Suns a shot at winning the game when Booker brought him to the half court with 30 seconds left. Instead, it became the moment when Holiday proved he was worth whatever the Bucks gave up to go and get him.
Now he and the Bucks have to do it one more time to win the title.
“I feel like now you have to give it your all,” Holiday said. “We’re literally coming to the last game, game or two.
“At this point, there are no excuses. ”