Bucks Big 3 outplays Suns Big 3 in grit and offense

Photo: Ross Franklin/AP

The Phoenix Suns worst nightmare has become a reality. They hoped Jrue Holiday and Khris Middleton would not pick up where they left off when the series went back to Phoenix in Game 5. They figured those two would step up when the series shifted to Milwaukee in Games 3 and 4, which they combined to score 92 points in the Bucks’ two wins there that even the series at 2.

But Holiday and Middleton continued to perform in Game 5. The Bucks point guard scored 27 points, and the Milwaukee Bucks forward scored 29 points in the Bucks’ 123-119 victory over the Suns Saturday night at Footprint Center.

If anyone wants to know why the Bucks have a 3-2 series lead over the Suns in the NBA Finals, it’s because the Bucks’ Big three outplayed the Suns’ Big three. The Bucks are getting production from Giannis Antetokounmpo, Holiday and Middleton while the Suns are getting production from Devin Booker only. Chris Paul played much better in Game 5 by scoring 21 points, but he has been ineffective in Games 3 and 4 and Holiday continues to defend him better. Deandre Ayton has been a non-factor on defense and offense.

Oh, and Holiday and Middleton made plays defensively in the last three games.

With 31 seconds to go and the Bucks holding on to a 120-119 lead over the Suns, Devin Booker grabbed the rebound on a miss. Booker tries to find a spot where he can shoot his shot, but then Holiday swipes the ball with 18 seconds to go and he throws it to Antetokounmpo with 14 seconds to go. Antetokounmpo catches it and dunks it to give the Bucks a 123-119 lead.

It meant game over for all intents and purposes. It demoralized the Suns for sure. Not only that play turned out to be the story of the game, but it was the story of the series so far. It could be the symbolizing moment of the series if the Suns don’t respond in Games 6 and 7 if it comes down to that.

Everyone anticipated Booker to at least shoot. After all, he displays a flair for the moment in hitting big shots in situations like this. For him to not get an opportunity to shoot based on that play by Holiday makes this the play of the series. More so than Antetokounmpo’s block of Ayton in Game 4 that denied the Suns a chance to tie the game at 101.

For someone to get denied at his home court as Booker did, it says what Holiday did was impressive since it can be hard to do from an opposing player’s perspective. It took poise and intelligence to do this.

For a point of emphasis, Holiday denied Booker and Paul a chance to make a shot in the Suns last possession of the game.

The Suns not only need to get better offensive production from their stars, but they need to get their stars to make plays on defense like Holiday did in Game 5 for them to keep their season going and win the series.

They showed they can get it done during the course of the season. Now, they have to really do it in a tough venue in the Fiserv Forum.

The Suns could not come up with stops whenever the Bucks had their run in these last three games. More so than in the second quarter of Game 5. The Bucks outscore the Suns 43-24 in the second quarter by shooting 17-of-24. The Bucks hit eight 3-pointers in the first half overall, and they hit five of their eight 3s in the second quarter.

It would have been nice if the Suns would mix in putting in a body on Holiday, Middleton, P.J. Tucker and Pat Connaughton once in a while.

The Bucks outrebounded the Suns 48-40, and they outrebounded the Suns offensively 17-5.

The bottom line is the Bucks stars have more toughness than the Suns stars right now.

Booker could put in more of an effort on defense. Paul has done that, but he looks like his age right now. Ayton has been decent on defense, but he can be better than what he showed. He needs to be more physical with Antetokounmpo.

Yes, the Suns could be more meaner and tougher.

It’s more than just the scoreboard and offensive stats that the Bucks stars are owning the Suns stars right now. It’s the intangibles.

The Bucks answered the challenge after being down 2-0. We saw what they are made of.

Now, the Suns have to do the same starting Tuesday.

Their season depends on it.

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