Bucks one win away from NBA title

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Historically speaking, the team that wins the fifth game of a series that’s tied at 2-all enjoys a great deal of success, especially if that triumph came on the road. That’s the position that Milwaukee finds itself in after coming back Saturday night, with the franchise one win away from its first NBA championship in 50 years. Below is a look back at Game 5, and some other noteworthy happenings in the NBA.

Bucks 123, Suns 119: Milwaukee takes 3-2 lead

With the NBA Finals tied at two games apiece, it didn’t take a genius to understand the importance of Saturday’s Game 5 between the Bucks and Suns. Phoenix jumped out to a big lead early, but their inability to maintain that advantage during the second quarter proved costly. Ultimately Milwaukee won by four, with its three stars doing much of the heavy lifting. Giannis Antetokounmpo (32/9/6), Khris Middleton (29/7/5 with three 3-pointers) and Jrue Holiday (27/4/13/3/1 with three 3-pointers) all took at least 20 field goals on the night, with each shooting better than 50 percent from the field.

Antetokounmpo shot 14-of-23 from the field, with Middleton going 12-of-23 and Holiday 12-of-20. Holiday’s night was the most welcome, as he was just 4-of-20 from the field in Milwaukee’s Game 4 victory Wednesday night. That being said, while his offense has been a bit inconsistent in this series, Holiday has been a constant defensively. And with the help of his teammates, who collapsed on a driving Devin Booker in the final seconds, the veteran guard made the game’s biggest play. Holiday’s steal led to a 2-on-1 break, and he would combine with Antetokounmpo for an alley-oop that gave the Bucks a three-point lead. Antetokounmpo was fouled on the dunk by Chris Paul, which was a truly bad decision on the veteran point guard’s part.

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Let Antetokounmpo finish, and Phoenix is guaranteed to get the ball back down by three. And with a timeout in their back pocket, the Suns would have been able to advance the ball. Yet even with Giannis’ struggles from the foul line (he was 4-of-11 Saturday night), the foul decreased the Suns’ chances of getting the ball back significantly. Sure enough, Phoenix couldn’t control the ball, which was tipped back to Middleton. He hit one of two from the line, sealing the outcome in the process.

Milwaukee also received valuable contributions from reserves Pat Connaughton (14 points, six rebounds and four 3-pointers) and Bobby Portis (9/3/0/2 with two 3-pointers), who played 33 and 19 minutes, respectively. Look for similar splits Tuesday night as the Bucks look to win their first title since 1971.

The aforementioned Booker (40/4/3/2/1 with two 3-pointers) had another big offensive night, but Monty Williams likely waited too long to reinsert his star guard during the second quarter. With the Suns leading by 16 at the start of the frame (37-21), that margin was down to three by the time Booker returned with 6:14 remaining. It would not be a surprise if Booker approached 45 minutes in Game 6, as Phoenix needs a win in order to extend the series.

Paul (21/2/11/0/1 with three 3-pointers) shot 9-of-15 from the field and had just one turnover, bouncing back from a poor Game 4. But that game-deciding sequence described above is likely what many will take away from Game 5 as far as CP3 is concerned. Deandre Ayton (20/10/1/1/2) once again won his matchup in the middle, while Mikal Bridges (13/4/1/2/1 with three 3-pointers) and Jae Crowder (10/5/3/2 with two 3-pointers) also posted solid stat lines.

Ayton, who had a Yahoo 9-cat ADP of 21 before the season began, finished just outside of the top-30. I expect, due to his stellar play for much of the postseason, that he once again won’t get out of the second round in most leagues. Being the third option (if Paul either opts into the final year of his deal or re-signs with the Suns) likely keeps Ayton from threatening first-round status.

Cameron Johnson (six points, four rebounds and two 3-pointers) and Cam Payne (six points, four rebounds, four assists and two steals) played 22 and 15 minutes, respectively, but Johnson had a team-worst minus-19. That can’t happen Tuesday night if the Suns are to extend the series.

Johnson, McGee added to Team USA: With Bradley Beal ruled out due to health and safety protocols and Kevin Love deciding to remove himself from the roster, USA Basketball suddenly had two vacancies on its men’s basketball roster for the Tokyo Olympics. While there were many who clamored for Trae Young and Julius Randle to be the additions, USA Basketball went in a different direction. Keldon Johnson, who has been working out with the Select Team (and getting minutes in official scrimmages) and JaVale McGee were added to the roster on Saturday. Both will give Team USA additional defense, as the roster has more than enough scoring.

McGee’s minutes will likely depend upon the matchup; if the US runs into a team with a more traditional big man (France and Spain being two), that’s a game in which he could be of some use. Johnson can be used at either forward spot, and he played quite well in Sunday’s exhibition finale win over Spain. That positional versatility, and his ability to defend, may be what ensures Johnson of some rotation minutes in Tokyo. Also of note is that Jerami Grant, who was away from the team for a couple days due to health and safety protocols, made his return and did play Sunday night.

Lillard denies report regarding trade request: The big news on Friday was the report that Damian Lillard, who will play in the Olympics, planned to request a trade out of Portland. The All-NBA guard denied that rumor, but did say that he wants to see more urgency from the Blazers when it comes to putting together a roster that can contend for a title.

In addition to Portland deciding that it will not pick up Zach Collins’ option, Norman Powell will be a free agent, and Derrick Jones Jr. has a player option worth more than $9.7 million. Carmelo Anthony and Enes Kanter are two other noteworthy free agents on this roster, and the pressure is on Neil Olshey to get the job done. While Portland does have some leverage as far as Lillard is concerned, as his new deal kicks in next season, time is of the essence.

Nuggets’ Barton declines player option: In a move that surprised few, it was reported on Saturday that Will Barton will decline his player option. With the veteran guard deciding to forego nearly $14.7 million, he will be an unrestricted free agent. It has been reported that re-signing Barton, who missed time down the stretch with a hamstring injury, is a top priority for the Nuggets. Due to injuries and the emergence of Michael Porter Jr., his fantasy value dipped considerably this season.

Wizards hire Unseld Jr. as head coach: Washington became the most recent team to fill its head coaching vacancy, with Nuggets assistant Wes Unseld Jr. being the team’s choice. Having spent his last six seasons in Denver, Unseld Jr. has more than 20 years of experience in the NBA, either as an assistant coach or as a scout. He also has a strong connection to the Wizards franchise, as his father remains the greatest player in team history. Unseld Jr. will be taking over a team headlined by Russell Westbrook and Bradley Beal, with the latter heading into the final season of his current contract.


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