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Defense, rebounding, big alley-oop earn Bucks Game 5 win, puts them on cusp of title

All playoffs long, while his offense has come and gone, Jrue Holiday’s defense has worn down Chris Paul, Devin Booker, and the Phoenix Suns.

So when Booker got in the lane with the chance to give the Suns a come-from-behind lead in the final :20 seconds of Game 5, no surprise it was Holiday coming off his man, stripping the ball out of Booker’s hands, then dribbling it up and finding Giannis Antetokounmpo for the alley-oop that sealed the Bucks win on the road — and maybe their first title in 51 years.

“Giannis took off and he was calling for the ball. At that point, I threw it as high as I could,” Holiday said.

That capped off a come-from-behind win for Milwaukee, which was almost blown out of the arena in the first quarter but settled itself in the second, held a double-digit lead through the end of the third and much of the fourth, then held on at the end.

Milwaukee’s 123-119 win has the Bucks up 3-2, one game away from their first title since 1971, and heading home for Game 6 on Tuesday night.

“One more to go. One more to go,” Antetokounmpo said. “We’ve got to keep playing good basketball.”

Milwaukee’s big three carried the day with a combined 88 points: Antetokounmpo finished with 32 points on 14-of-23 shooting, Middleton added 29 points including some clutch buckets late, and Holiday scored 27 on 12-of-20 from the floor, plus he had 13 assists. It was the kind of game the Bucks needed on the road.

It didn’t look like this was going to be a Bucks win early on.

Back home in front of a raucous crowd — with some fans just throwing money around — the Phoenix Suns started Game 5 with the desperate energy of a team that knew they needed a win.

Everything broke the Suns way early: Jae Crowder had two quick threes (and a dunk), Chris Paul was driving and kicking, the Bucks had four early turnovers (they had five in all of Game 4) and Phoenix shot 11-of-13 from the floor to open the game. The Suns doubled up the Bucks early — 32-16 — and kept finding mismatches they could exploit (especially when Jeff Teague was on the court, in because Holiday got two early fouls).

“The first quarter, they threw a big punch,” Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said. “A little bit of foul trouble for Jrue, so I think our substitutions got just a little bit kind of off. Giving Jrue a little bit of a break with a second foul. Giannis played the whole first quarter.”

As quickly as the Suns’ lead was built, it evaporated.

“We just started playing a little faster,” Middleton said.

With Antetokounmpo on the bench the Bucks went on an 11-3 run to start the second quarter, the Suns started missing open shots and, most importantly, Holiday and Middleton found their rhythm. The Bucks stars were making shots, Pat Connaughton was hitting corner threes, and Milwaukee was getting stops that let them push the pace. The Bucks took a 50-49 lead midway through the second quarter, pushed that to a three at the half (64-61), and by the third quarter that run extended out to 71-44. Milwaukee was on fire offensively in the third, with an 81.4 eFG%.

The Suns kept putting up numbers, too. Devin Booker had another 40-point game, shooting 17-of-33, however he dominated the ball so much for stretches of the third it took the rest of the team out of their rhythm (the same thing happened in Game 4). Chris Paul ended up with 21 points and 11 assists, and although Holiday’s defense gave him issues for parts of the night, Paul came up big late.

What the Suns could not do late was secure a rebound — they gave up 11 offensive rebounds to the Bucks in this game, none more critical than on the Antetokounmpo free throw after the late alley-oop. Secure that and it’s a three-point game and the Suns have a chance to tie, but the Bucks used their length advantage, tipped it back out, Middleton got the ball and the Suns had to foul. That was the ballgame.

Now Phoenix is going to have to win two in a row, starting with one on the road Tuesday night. That is not going to be easy after this gut-punch loss.