May 24, 2022

It is now undeniably the Bucks’ Big 3, and they are one victory in Milwaukee away from the franchise’s first NBA championship since 1971.

Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jrue Holiday and Khris Middleton were brilliant in Phoenix on Saturday night in Game 5 of the NBA Finals. The Bucks held off a crazed Suns comeback in the final minute and posted their third straight victory, 123-119, in a thriller at the newly renamed Footprint Center to take a 3-2 lead in the series.

Milwaukee’s star trio combined for 88 points, but needed a key defensive play by Holiday to seal it.

“One more to go,’’ Antetokounmpo said on c ourt before stepping away from the postgame podium to get treated for cramping.

In Game 4, the Bucks got “The Block.” In Game 5, it was “The Strip.’’

Holiday, who shot just 4-for-20 in Game 4 despite stellar defense, was spectacular on both ends Saturday, striking for 27 points, 13 assists and three steals. Holiday had his finest hour of his first season in Milwaukee, and it couldn’t have come at a more gargantuan time.Giannis Antetokounmpo dunks the ball to help seal the Bucks’ win in Game 5 on Saturday night.AP

With the Suns down two late in the fourth quarter, superstar Devin Booker was stopped on a drive and Holiday ripped the ball from him. Instead of eating clock, Holiday then sent an alley-oop pass to Antetokounmpo for the slam, and the foul, with 20 seconds left.

“We knew ‘Book’ wanted to take the last shot,’’ Holiday said. “I was in the right spot at the right time. I thought he was going to shoot it and I was going to contest it. But he turned.’’

The Suns had almost rallied back from a 14-point fourth-quarter deficit, getting within one point, at 120-119, on a Chris Paul layup with 56.6 seconds remaining after Antetokounmpo missed two free throws with 1:09 left. But Holiday saved the night with his steal.

“An instinctive play,’’ Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said of Holiday’s heist. “He’s an incredible defender and strong hands. He made everybody uncomfortable. That’s why he’s such a good fit for us.’’

Antetokounmpo delivered clutch passes all night and scored just enough late, finishing with 32 points, six assists and nine rebounds. Middleton, after a 1-for-7 start, heated up and finished with 29 points, including a conventional three-point play and a 3-point make in the final two minutes.

Save for the late turnover, Booker did all he could, pumping in 40 points. He has scored a combined 82 in the last two losses and had a little to add about the late turnover.

“I was just trying to score the ball, he was behind me,’’ Booker said. “I turned and he was right there.’’Jrue Holiday and the Bucks beat the Suns in Game 5 of the NBA Finals.AP

Meanwhile, Paul, Phoenix’s point guard, had a solid, bounce-back outing of 21 points, 11 assists and one turnover. Still, he’s four quarters away from another year without that elusive championship ring.

“We knew this wasn’t going to be easy,’’ Paul said. “We’ve got to regroup, learn from this game. We’ve got to win a game in Milwaukee.’’

The Bucks, who rallied from a 16-point, first-quarter deficit, can win the NBA championship Tuesday night in Milwaukee’s Fiserv Forum.

The Bucks could become just the fifth team to rally from an 0-2 hole to win the Finals. They came back from the same deficit against the Nets, winning Game 7 of their second-round series in overtime.

“We’re going home to our fans, to Milwaukee, it’s a great opportunity for us,” Budenholzer said. “But you have to play. Fiserv has been rocking. We’re excited for our opportunity in Game 6.’’

Said Holiday: “we came into Phoenix and got a win. Which is really hard. It’s a tough place to play. The crowd is insane.’’

Milwaukee also got another bench boost from Pat Connaughton. The Notre Dame product, who has blown up in the last few games, went 4-for-6 on 3-pointers and finished with 14 points, while grabbing a couple of key offensive rebounds.

The Bucks took a punch, falling behind 37-21 after one quarter before getting off the mat and taking a 64-61 lead at halftime. The tale of two quarters saw the Bucks overwhelm the Suns 43-24 in the second period as both squads displayed offensive brilliance in the first half.

“It was tough,’’ said Booker, who tallied 11 first-quarter points. “We came out and did what we intended to do, get off to a great start and we let it go.’’

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