Giannis Antetokounmpo stepped into the spotlight of a make-or-break scenario, leading the Milwaukee Bucks to a 123-119 victory over the Phoenix Suns in Game 5 on Saturday night.
The “Greek Freak” finished with 32 points, nine rebounds and six assists. Khris Middleton added 29 points and Jrue Holiday chipped in a double-double with 27 points and 13 assists. The trio put Milwaukee one win away from their first NBA championship in 50 years.
The Bucks stormed back with a third straight win after dropping the first two games of the series. It didn’t come easy after falling into a 16-point hole to the Suns early, but Antetokounmpo’s defense effort was unmatched for a second straight game. Especially after the spectacular block of Deandre Ayton’s dunk to preserve Game 4, which served as the momentum swing for the Bucks.
Milwaukee was just as good on the offensive end, shooting 57.5% (50-of-87) from the field and a blazing 68.4% from beyond the arc. The first finals appearance since 1974 hasn’t been a disappointment to say the least.
A much different story on the other side. With their backs against the wall, the Suns know there’s no room for error, if they can push the series to a Game 7.
“We’ve got to win one game to put them back on the plane. That’s it,” Suns coach Monty Williams said. “And you have to have that determination that you’re willing to do whatever it takes to put them back on the plane.”
But it will take more than a return trip to Phoenix for Milwaukee to feel the heat. They battled back after falling behind 0-2 in the series against Brooklyn and overcame a deficit against Atlanta to waltz into the NBA Finals.
“It’s hard because you work so hard to be in that moment, which is tomorrow,” Antetokounmpo said in practice Monday. “It’s hard not to get ahead of yourself. But this is the time that you have to be the most disciplined. That’s what I’m going to try to do. I’m going to try to be as disciplined as possible. Don’t get too excited”
If history says anything, the Bucks should be satisfied with the odds of taking home a championship.
Game 5 winners of a tied series in NBA Finals history have gone on to win a title 21-of-29 times. However, if Milwaukee can deliver the city’s second major professional sports title on Tuesday night, they’ll become the tenth NBA franchise with multiple championships in the past 50 years.