NBA Finals Game 5 reaction: “Bucks in 6! Bucks in 6!”

Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo (34) drives to the basket against the Phoenix Suns during game two of the 2021 NBA Finals at Phoenix Suns Arena.
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Ricky Dimon

NBA

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Since graduating from Davidson (The College That Stephen Curry Built), I have been writing about sports--just about any and all you can think of!--and coaching tennis in Atlanta, Ga. Beyond the four major sports, I am an avid tennis fan and cover the ATP Tour on a daily basis. If I'm not busy writing, you can generally find me on a tennis court or traveling the world wherever a sporting event takes me.

“Suns in 4” has been the phrase of the playoffs, for obvious reasons. And through two games of the NBA Finals between the Phoenix Suns and Milwaukee Bucks, that “Suns in 4” chant was alive and well.

But Phoenix could see the finish line after two games, and with the finish line in sight the Western Conference champions have come up small. They only played poorly in Game 3; in Game 4 and Game 5 they simply got outclassed by a red-hot Milwaukee squad. After holding serve with two home wins of their own, the Bucks won Game 5 in Phoenix 123-119 on Saturday night.

The Deer District has been chanting “Bucks in 6” ever since its team fell into a 2-0 hole; now that cry is becoming more enthusiastic, more voluminous, and—most importantly—more realistic. Let’s take a look at how the Bucks gave themselves a chance to close out the series and clinch the 2020-21 NBA title at home on Tuesday.

Bucks’ Big 3 is too good

Back at Talking Stick Resort Arena and energized by the home crowd, the Suns jumped out to a 16-point lead in the first quarter. Then the Bucks’ Big 3 happened. Jrue Holiday took got his team back in it in the second quarter, Khris Middleton took over in the second half, and Giannis Antetokounmpo was—other than free-throws—the best player on the court from start to finish. The Greek Freak has been better than anyone could have expected coming off his Eastern Conference Finals knee injury. Antetokounmpo finished with 32 points on 14-of-23 shooting; Middleton went 12 of 23 for 29 points; Holiday had 27 points, 13 assists, and three steals.

One of those steals by Holiday moved right alongside Antetokounmpo’s Game 4 block in Bucks franchise lore (if they go on to win the title, of course). And the sequence concluded with an alley-oop from Holiday to the two-time MVP, all but clinching the win.

Phoenix just doesn’t have the firepower to keep up with Antetokounmpo, Middleton, and Holiday. Devin Booker is a star, but Chris Paul may be running out of gas at the end of a long playoff run and/or may be less than 100 percent because of a hand injury. Denadre Ayton is no slouch as the Suns’ third best player, but he can’t take over games like Milwaukee’s top three guys—especially not when he is going up against a front line of Antetokounmpo, Brook Lopez, and Bobby Portis.

Booker was great on Saturday, while Paul and Ayton played well enough…and the Suns still lost—and lost at home.

It’s not over…but it’s close

Mentally, Phoenix can come back from this. It is true that losing three in a row to trail 3-2 after once leading 2-0 is nothing short of a brutal situation, but when Game 6 tips off on Tuesday night Milwaukee it’s not like Suns are going to be thinking to themselves, “Dangit, we once led this series 2-0!”

No, the Suns have a bigger problem on their hands than being a little bit disappointed. They are simply going up against a better team. From the start of the second quarter through the 9:00 mark of the fourth quarter on Sunday, Milwaukee outscored Phoenix by 30 points. The Bucks’ only hiccup was their start, but they won’t get off to that bad of a start at home. They endured a near-hiccup at the end, but that was only because Antetokounmpo couldn’t make a free-throw. He makes a lot more of them at home.

Suns in 4? It was never going to be that. Bucks in 6? That was always possible; now it’s looking probable.

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