The daily preview muscles into the paint with NBA Playoffs tips for Game 5 of the NBA Finals between Phoenix Suns and Milwaukee Bucks.
11:00 (AEST), Sun 18th Jul @ Phoenix Suns Arena
History: Played 152: Suns 77 V Bucks 75
Last meeting: July 15, 2021 (Game 4): Bucks 120 d Suns 100 at Fiserv Forum
Final Thoughts: Seemingly on the brink after two games, Milwaukee Bucks have drawn level with Phoenix Suns at 2-all in the NBA Finals. The history-chasing teams – with the Bucks without a Championship in half a century and the Suns striving for their maiden title – return to Phoenix for a massive Game 5 showdown.
Home court is huge, but the Suns are sweating on linchpin Chris Paul turning around a terrible Game 4 performance. Meanwhile, Bucks spearhead Giannis Antetokoumpo is in devastating form and is getting solid support from the likes of Khris Middleton.
The Suns initially took the ascendancy with a 118-105 win in the series opener. Chris Paul put up 32 pts (12-for 19 shooting) and 9 assists. Devin Booker had 27 points, while big man Deandre Ayton (22 pts, 19 reb) was superb at both ends. Giannis Antetokoumpo managed 20 points, 17 rebounds and 4 assists in 34 minutes of game-time, defying a knee injury that kept him out of the last two games of the Eastern Conference Finals. Khris Middleton (29 pts, 7 reb, 4 ast) attempted to pick up some slack and hit five three-pointers.
The Suns reached the halfway mark of what they need for a maiden Championship by taking out Game 2 by 118-108. Antetokoumpo (42 pts, 12 reb) was back to somewhere near his blockbusting best, but support was lacking. Middleton and Jrue Holiday managed just 12-for-37 from the field between them. The Bucks shot better from three-point range in Game 1 but struggled from behind the arc in Game 2, hitting just 9 of 31. The Suns nailed half of their 40 three-point attempts in arguably the key difference. Devin Booker (31 pts, 6 ast) went 7-for-12 from three, while Mikal Bridges (27 pts, 7 reb) and Paul (23 pts, 8 ast) also starred. Ayton and Jae Crowder both had double-doubles.
Nevertheless, the Bucks were $1.52 favourites to get on the board at home – and they justified that faith with a comprehensive 120-100 victory in Game 3. Behind by three after the first quarter, they rallied to lead by 14 at halftime.
Giannis emphatically announced his knee injury was in the rearview mirror with 41 points, 13 rebounds and 6 assists. Middleton and Holiday rediscovered their range – nailing eight of 17 three-point attempts between them. This time it was the Suns who struggled from three (9-for-31). Booker scored just 10 points. Paul (19 pts, 9 reb), Crowder (18 pts, 6 reb) and Ayton (18 pts, 9 reb) were decent.
A large surge secured a series-levelling 109-103 victory for the Bucks. Giannis (26 pts, 14 reb, 8 ast, 3 stl) dominated – and sent the NBA world wild with a bombastic block – while Khris Middleton dropped 40 points. Devin Booker’s 42 points was to no avail but the big talking point was Chris Paul’s horror night, committing five turnovers and scoring just 10 points.
The Bucks’ size advantage has been telling in the past two games, dominating the boards and the second-chance points count.
Phoenix revert to $1.55 favourites back at home. They are 35-11 at home this season, including 8-2 in the playoffs. Paul finding his best is the obvious key for the Suns, while the Bucks will be relying on Middleton and Holiday (just 4-for-20 shooting in Game 4) making their shots to become the first road winners in this series.
Milwaukee started slow against the Nets and Hawks before advancing with four wins in the last five games of both series. They appear to be on course to do the same in the Finals. But the Suns have shown tremendous composure to bounce back from a couple of hairy situations in the playoffs and I’ll back them to regain the ascendancy in Phoenix.