Jrue Holiday’s masterful offense, game-saving defense put Bucks on brink of NBA championship

PHOENIX — Giannis Antetokounmpo had The Block in Game 4.

Jrue Holiday kept the signature moments going in Game 5 with The Steal and then The Pass.

It’s no surprise two of the defining plays for the Milwaukee Bucks in the NBA Finals are on defense.

What perhaps was a surprise in Milwaukee’s 123-119 victory against Phoenix on Saturday was Holiday’s offensive production. Through the first four games of the Finals, Holiday shot 33.3% from the field and 27.3% on 3-pointers and had to answer questions about his offensive shortcomings.

“I feel like at the end of the day, whatever I can do to help my team is most important,” Holiday said. “I went 4-for-20 the game before and we still won and I know I can do other things to affect the game. I know when my shot is going and I’m trying to make plays for others, it is definitely an added bonus.”

Holiday constructed a masterful offensive performance and a game-winning defensive effort as the Bucks took a 3-2 series lead.

Holiday had 27 points, 13 assists, four rebounds, three steals and a block, and in a three-second span with moments left in the fourth quarter, he made the plays of the game.

With Milwaukee clinging to a one-point lead and the Suns rallying from a double-digit fourth-quarter deficit, Holiday stole the ball — ripped it — from Suns star Devin Booker with 16.7 seconds left. As he contemplated dribbling seconds off the clock, he saw Antetokounmpo calling for an alley-oop. He threw the ball and Antetokounmpo dunked it with 13.5 seconds remaining.

Defense and offense in a matter of seconds.

“He’s an incredible defender, strong hands and got in there and took it,” Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said. “I think most times you just want to pull it out and run the clock. But Jrue and Giannis in a two-on-one, just to put two points on the board. I think just trusting their instincts, trusting them. Giannis getting a bucket and putting us up (three points). They’re playing, they’re competing. That’s what we need.”

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Said Holiday: “I feel like we knew Booker wanted to take that last shot and played great defense on him and made him turn his back and he turned right into me. I guess I was just in the right place at the right time.”

Once down 2-0 in the series, the Bucks are just one victory from their first championship since 1971. Game 6 is Tuesday in Milwaukee (9 p.m. ET, ABC).

Holiday delivered the goods. He made 12-of-20 shots, including 3-of-6 on 3-pointers, and led a second-quarter rally that saved the Bucks from a 3-2 series deficit.

Jrue Holiday and the Bucks are one win away from the franchise’s first NBA title in 50 years.

Phoenix raced to a 37-21 lead in the first 12 minutes and made just about shot they took. But that 16-point lead disappeared in the first four minutes of the second quarter. Holiday scored nine of his 14 second-quarter points during a 21-5 run. By the end of the quarter, the Bucks had a 64-61 lead and never trailed again.

He scored nine points in the third and just two in the fourth but continued to make winning plays.

“It takes a lot out of his body to do what he does on a nightly basis,” Antetokounmpo said. “Pick the point guard up full court, and then bring the ball up, put the whole team in order, in position, execute, try to score, try to get downhill, try to find the open man. Like, it’s a lot, you know. But we trust him that he can do that.

“But one thing, the great thing about Jrue is that he can affect the game in a lot of ways.”

The Bucks were in a need of a point guard who could elevate them to the next level alongside Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton. General manager Jon Horst and Milwaukee’s front office had targeted Holiday for a few seasons but couldn’t find the right deal.

The Bucks spent considerable time on Holiday scouting reports and analytical data. They determined he was the player who could get them to a title.

Just before the season, the Bucks found the right deal with New Orleans and traded for Holiday. It cost Milwaukee three future first-round picks, but getting to the Finals and needing one victory to win a championship is worth it.

“I love being teammates with him,” Antetokounmpo said, “and I hope moving forward we can be teammates for a lot of years.”

Follow Jeff Zillgitt on Twitter @JeffZillgitt.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Jrue Holiday’s steal and alley-oop put Bucks on brink of NBA title


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