Nuggets’ Jokic wins NBA MVP for second consecutive season

For the second straight season, Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokić has been named the 2021-22 NBA Most Valuable Player, the league announced Wednesday.

He becomes the 13th player to win the award in consecutive seasons. The last player to win back-to-back MVP awards was Giannis Antetokounmpo(2019-2020).

Jokić received 875 points (65 first-place votes); Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid finished in second place with 706 points (26 first-place votes), and Antetokounmpo finished in third place with 595 points (nine first-place votes).

According to StatMuse, Jokic’s 65 first-place votes are the fewest for an MVP since Steve Nash in 2005-06.

The 27-year-old Jokić averaged 27.1 points, 13.8 rebounds, 7.9 assists, 1.47 steals, and 0.85 blocks per game, setting career highs in each category except assists (second highest). The seven-year veteran, who played 74 games and averaged 33.5 minutes, ranked sixth in the NBA in points, second in rebounds, eighth in assists, 12th steals, and 33rd in blocks per game.  

He became the first player in NBA history to record at least 2,000 points, 1,000 rebounds, and 500 assists in a season and the first player to average at least 25.0 points, 13.0 rebounds, and 6.0 assists in a season. He led the NBA in triple-doubles with 19 and double-doubles with 66(both single-season team records).

This is the first time that both the top three and four of the top five finishers in voting for the NBA Most Valuable Player Award are international players, with Jokić (Serbia), Embiid (Cameroon), and Antetokounmpo (Greece) comprising the top three and Dončić (Slovenia) joining them in the top five. Jokić is the second European player to win the award more than once, joining Antetokounmpo, the MVP in the 2018-19 and 2019-20 seasons.

You could make a case for Embiid, Antetokounmpo, or Jokić as the league MVP, but in the end, Jokić gets the nod. 

The voting results for the 2021-22 Kia NBA Most Valuable Player Award are below:

Kevin Love leads Cleveland to eighth seed

The Cleveland Cavaliers came into Sunday’s action against the Milwaukee Bucks looking to get at least the eighth seed in the East or, if the Nets stumble versus the Pacers, the seventh seed.  

Fortunately, the Bucks decided to rest their whole starting lineup, and the Cavs took full advantage. Cleveland led by as many as 40 points and routed the Bucks 133-115 at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse.

Unfortunately, the Nets defeated the Pacers, so they will be the seventh seed, while the Cavs will be the eighth seed in the East, so Cleveland will to travel to Brooklyn Tuesday night in the Play-In Tournament. 

Cleveland finished the season 44-38, and the Bucks ended the year 51-31.

Here’s the Great, Not So Great, and the Bottom Line of the Cavs’ win over the Bucks.

The Great for the Cavs:

-Kevin Love, who played only 15 minutes, scored 23 of his 32 points in the first half off the bench. The five-time All-Star made a career-high tying eight threes. He finished 10/16 from the field, including 8/11 from deep. He also added 10 rebounds. Love had 18 points, including five threes in the first quarter. Here’s the crazy part, according to Elias Sports, Love is the first player in the shot-clock era (since 1954) to record 30-plus points and 10-plus rebounds in under 16 minutes of action.

-Evan Mobley had a double-double with 18 points and 10 rebounds, and he also added four blocks. Mobley finished the regular season with 21 double-doubles, the fourth-most for a rookie in Cavs’ history. 

-Lauri Markkanen had 23 points(4/7 3-PT FG) and seven rebounds. 

First Half: The Cavs jumped on the Pacers early and did not let up. Cleveland tied a season-high with 46 points in the first quarter, which tied a franchise record for most points in any quarter in team history. Cleveland shot 60% from the floor, including 10/15(67%) from downtown. They led by 26(46-20) after one.

Ultimately, the Cavs scored 79 points in the first half and led by 33 points(79-46) at the break.

The Not So Great for the Cavs:

Not today!!!

Bottom Line:

The Cavs caught a break as the Bucks were clearly not looking to win this game. Now, it’s time to prepare to head to Brooklyn to face the seventh-seeded Nets.

Brooklyn will be tough to beat, but it’s one game, so anything is possible.

On Friday, the Cavs were down 17 points in the first quarter against the Nets and were swimming upstream the rest of the way; they took the lead in the third but fell short in the fourth, so Cleveland must get off to a better start.

Playing Brooklyn again could be to the Cavs’ benefit.  For example, last season, the Memphis Grizzlies lost to the Golden State Warriors on the road in the season finale. A week later, Memphis went back on the road and beat the Warriors in the Play-In Tournament, so again, anything is possible. 

Fortunately, as the eighth seed, Cleveland will have two games to win one, so if they fall short against the Nets, they will have a home game against the winner of the Hornets(10) and Hawks(9).

Quotes:

“I like our chances when it comes down to a dog fight,” Love said after the win. “That’s what it’s going to be come Tuesday night.”

What’s Next:

The Cavs travel to Brooklyn to battle the Nets Tuesday night in the Play-In Tournament.

Best of the Rest:

-Mobley finished the season with 1,034 points, 570 rebounds(MOST among rookies), 174 assists, 115 blocks(MOST among rookies), 56 steals, and 21 double-doubles(MOST among rookies). 

-Love finished with 187 threes this season, which is the fourth most in team history.

-The Cavs finished the season 25-16 at home.

-Rajon Rondo had six points and a season-high 13 assists against the Bucks.

-Sandro Mamukelashvili led the Bucks with a career-high 28 points; Thanasis Antetkuonmpko had a career-high 27 points.

-Before the game, the Cavs announced that they had converted the contract of center Moses Brown to a standard NBA contract and signed guard RJ Nembhard to a two-way contract.

Brown, who would not have been eligible for the playoffs with a two-contract, signed his first 10-day contract with Cleveland on March 10, his second 10-day contract on March 21, and a two-way contract on March 31.  

Nembhard, prior to being waived on April 7, was signed to a standard NBA contract with Cleveland on March 31 and was originally signed to a two-way contract on October 16. Nembhard has appeared in 13 games this season for the Cavaliers and 13 games (12 starts) with the Cleveland Charge.

Listen below as Love and Mobley react to win over Bucks:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cavs’ Bickerstaff: ‘We take on all challenges’

On Wednesday night, the Cleveland Cavaliers ended their three-game homestand in style against the Milwaukee Bucks. 

Cleveland routed the Buck 115-99 at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse.

With the win, the Cavs(30-19) have won three straight and eight of their last nine, while Milwaukee’s(30-20) three-game winning streak was snapped.

Here is the Great, Not So Great, and the Bottom Line of the Cavs’ big win over the Bucks.

The Great for the Cavaliers:

Kevin Love and Cedi Osman: The difference makers off the Cavs’ bench against the Bucks. Love led the team with 25 points, including five threes and nine rebounds. It was Love’s second straight 20-plus point game. 

Osman scored 18 of 23 points in the first half, including a career-high-tying six threes. The five-year veteran also had a milestone as he grabbed his 1,000th career rebound.

Osman gave the Cavs a significant lift in the second quarter as he scored 15 points(most points he’s had in a quarter in his career), including four threes. Osman had a combined 21 points in the previous four games, but he busted out Wednesday night.

Because of the contributions of Love and Osman, Cleveland’s bench outscored Milwaukee’s bench 57-15.

-Darius Garland continues to play at an All-Star level. He had 19 points and eight assists. Garland battled a back injury throughout the contest, but he gutted it through and led the team. 

-Evan Mobley was in double figures for the 16th straight game as he had 16 points, seven rebounds, and two blocks.

-Jarrett Allen returned after missing Monday’s win over the Knicks with an illness. He had a double-double with 10 points and 10 rebounds. It was Allen’s fifth double-double in his last six appearances. 

Second and Third Quarters: The Bucks shot 73.7% from the floor and led 35-26 after one quarter. Then, Osman and Love happened in the second quarter, and the Cavs woke up.

Cleveland shot 50% from the field and made seven threes(7/12) in the second. Love and Osman combined for 21 of Cleveland’s 39 points in the quarter. Milwaukee led the Cavs 37-26 at the 11:41 mark of the second quarter. Cleveland would outscore the Bucks 36-14 to take their largest lead in the quarter of 11 points(62-51).

Cleveland outscored the Bucks 39-22 in the second quarter and took a 65-57 lead at halftime.

In the third quarter, the Cavs continued to dominate the world champions. Cleveland outscored the Bucks 30-20 in the quarter and held Milwaukee to 26.3% from the field, including 1/7 from deep. 

The Cavaliers outscored the Bucks 69-42 in the second and third quarters. Cleveland led Milwaukee 95-77 after three quarters. The Cavs had their largest lead of 21 points in the third. 

The Not So Great for the Cavaliers:

You beat the world champions by 16 points; it’s all good in the Land.

Bottom Line:

Cavs head coach J.B. Bickerstaff said the team’s victory over the Nets on MLK Day was a signature win. Well, this win was probably better. Here’s why: First, the Bucks are 18-3 this season when Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton, and Jrue Holiday are in the lineup. Next, Milwaukee was on a three-game winning streak, and finally, the Cavs not only beat the Bucks, but they blew them out, so yes, this is the Cavs’ signature win of the season. 

Cleveland is the third seed in the East and is now 1.5 games behind the Heat for the top spot in the conference. The Cavs are for real, and if they keep winning, maybe they can grab the top spot in the East.

“We take on all challenges,” Bickerstaff said of the Cavs. “We don’t run from anybody. We don’t back down. We give everybody our best shot.”

What’s Next:

Cleveland will have a few days off before they travel to Detroit to battle the Pistons Sunday night.

Best of the Rest:

-Antetokounmpo led the Bucks with a game-high 26 points. He also added nine rebounds and three assists. Bobby Portis had 22 points, and Middleton added 21. 

-Cleveland had six players in double figures against the Bucks. The Cavs recorded 19 threes in this one.

-In their last 12 games at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse, the Cavs are 10-2.

Watch below as Love, Osman, and Allen react to the big win over the Bucks:

Cavs’ Garland: ‘It’s not just hero ball, everybody is contributing’

The Cleveland Cavaliers went into Milwaukee to battle the world champion Bucks. However, what they got wasn’t the team that won a championship a year ago. Due to health and safety protocols, Milwaukee was without many of its key players, including Giannis Antetokounmpo, Bobby Portis, and Dante DiVincenzo. 

Cleveland was impacted by health and safety protocols as they were without Evan Mobley and Isaac Okoro.

However, the Cavs had more available talent, and it showed. Cleveland led 62-51 at halftime. The Cavaliers went on a 19-2 run in the third to take their largest lead of 30 and ultimately defeated the Bucks 119-90.

The Cavaliers(19-12) have won six straight and 10 of 12, while the Bucks(19-13) have dropped two straight and three out of their last four. 

With the win, Cleveland is the third seed in the East.

The six-game winning streak for the Cavs is the longest current win streak in the NBA.

Here is the Great, the Not So Great, and the Bottom Line Cavs’ win over Milwaukee.

The Great for the Cavaliers:

Darius Garland was en Fuego Saturday night. He scored 12 of his 22 points in the first quarter. The third-year guard started the game 6/6 and finished 10/13 from the floor, including 2/4 from downtown. Garland also added six assists and four rebounds.

Cavs’ Bench: Cedi Osman had a team-high 23 points, including 5/9 from three-point range. Kevin Love had 15 points, seven rebounds, and four assists, and he made a little history as he passed Campy Russell for 10th place on Cleveland’s all-time scoring list; Ricky Rubio had a double-double with 15 points, 10 assists, and five rebounds. This was Rubio’s fourth double-double of the season, and he was a team-best plus-33. In total, the Cavs had 53 points off their bench. 

First and Third Quarter:  Cleveland outscored the Bucks by 27 points in those quarters. Cleveland shot 58% from the floor in the first quarter, including 6/13(46%) from downtown. The Cavaliers led 34-20 after one. In the third, the Cavaliers shot 50% from the field and used a 19-2 run to take complete control of the game. Cleveland outscored Milwaukee 31-18 in the quarter.

Defense: The Cavaliers held Milwaukee to 39% shooting and forced 17 turnovers, which led to 18 Cleveland points. 

The Not So Great for the Cavaliers:

Nothing here to see today…

Bottom Line:

This would have been a bad loss for Cleveland. Milwaukee and the rest of the league are dealing with a severe COVID outbreak, and at this point, it appears the team with the least amount of players in health and protocols is the team that will win the game. Actually, it seems to be that way in all major sports leagues right now. However, give Cleveland credit. They handled their business Saturday night.

 “It’s not just hero ball, everybody is contributing,” Garland said.

What’s Next:

Cleveland was expected to battle the Hawks in Atlanta on Sunday, but according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, the game is expected to be postponed as the Cavs have five players in health and safety protocols.

Best of the Rest:

Jarrett Allen added 14 points and five rebounds as Cleveland had five players in double figures. 

Jordan Nwora led the Bucks with a game-high 28 points. 

 

Most wins by 10 points this season in NBA:

1. Golden State – 17

2. Utah – 15

3. CLEVELAND 14

Watch below as Garland and Osman react to win over Milwaukee:

 

Cavs’ Allen: ‘We’re going to fight till the end’

Coming off a tough loss to the Jazz at home Sunday night, the Cavaliers went into Milwaukee to face the world champion Bucks.

Cleveland trailed Milwaukee by 10 entering the fourth quarter and would cut the lead to 98-96 with just over seven minutes to go. However, the Bucks would go on a 9-1 run to put the game away and win 112-104 at Fiserv Forum Monday night.

After winning four straight, the Cavaliers(13-12) have dropped two consecutive games, while the Bucks(16-9) have won two straight and 10 of 11. 

Here is the Great, Not So Great, and Bottom Line of the Cavs’ loss to the Bucks.

The Great for the Cavaliers:

-Jarrett Allen’s double-double streak ended at seven games, but he had a very good performance Monday night. He led the way for Cleveland with 25 points(10/12 FG), nine rebounds and two blocks. Allen is getting it done and is second in the NBA in field goal percentage(71%).

-Lauri Markkanen had a solid performance. He scored 20 points, including four threes, and had seven rebounds.

-Kevin Love gave the Cavs great minutes off the bench. Love scored 15 points, including a game-high five threes in 19 minutes. The 13-year veteran has been in double figures in four out of the last five games.

The Not So Great for the Cavaliers:

After two straight 30-point games, Darius Garland struggled with his shot. He was 3/12 from the floor and finished with only 10 points. Garland did add nine assists. However, he led the team in turnovers(four).

-Isaac Okoro was 0/6 from the floor, including 0/3 from downtown. He had a team-worst -20 rating.

-Playing the second game of a back-to-back can be taxing, and the Cavs played like a tired team Monday. They shot 39% from the field and 15/46 from three-point range. At times, it appeared Cleveland fell too much in love with the three-point shot as they launched more threes than two-point shots.

Bottom Line:

Beating the Jazz(16-7) and Bucks(16-9) on back-to-back nights would be tough for any team in the NBA. To the Cavs’ credit, they were a Garland three away from beating the Jazz, and they competed and battled against the Bucks. However, they fell short, which is not the end of the world when you consider where the Cavs are right now.

“We’re going to fight till the end,” Allen said. “That’s the main thing I learned about this team, about the guys. No matter how we start the game, no matter who’s in front of us, big or small, we’re going to go out there and fight till the end.”

What’s Next:

Cleveland returns home to play another tough team when they battle the Chicago Bulls Wednesday night.

Best of the Rest:

Giannis Antetokounmpo led the way for Milwaukee as he scored 15 of his game-high 27 points in the fourth and grabbed 12 rebounds on his 27th birthday. Khris Middleton had 21 points and eight assists, Jrue Holiday scored 20 points and dished out eight assists, and Bobby Portis had a double-double with 10 points and a game-high 16 rebounds.

-Evan Mobley had 12 points and six rebounds for Cleveland. However, Mobley’s streak of 13 games with a block was snapped against Milwaukee.

Watch below as Markkanen and Allen react to the loss against the Bucks:

76ers’ Rivers: ‘Tyrese [Maxey] was sensational’

On Tuesday night, the Philadelphia 76ers(8-4) hosted the world champion, Milwaukee Bucks(5-6). 

However, Philadelphia was without their top three scorers in Joel Embiid(Health and Safety Protocols), Tobias Harris(Health and Safety Protocols), and Seth Curry(Foot contusion). Also, they were missing Matisse Thybulle(Health and Safety Protocols), and of course, Ben Simmons.

Philly battled for the whole game but did not have enough as they were outscored 27-16 in the fourth and fell to Milwaukee 118-109.

Here is the Great, Not so Great, and Bottom Line of Philly’s loss to Milwaukee:

The Great for the 76ers:

-Tyrese Maxey did everything in his power to lead the Sixers to victory. The second-year guard led Philadelphia with a game-high-tying and season-high 31 points (12-24 FG), including a career-best four made threes, along with five boards and four assists. Maxey set a new single-quarter career-high with 17 points in the first period (7-9 FG, 3-4 3FG).

-Georges Niang scored 12 of his season-high 21 points against the Bucks off the bench, including five threes. According to Stathead, this is the 22nd time of Niang’s career where he has scored at least 10 points in a half.

-Andre Drummond has been great this season. He had another double-double with 17 points, a game-high 20 rebounds, and two blocks. This is Drummond’s second straight game of at least 20 rebounds(25 rebounds against Knicks on Monday night), leaving him tied for the fifth-most double-digit rebounding games in the league this year. Through 12 games, Drummond is the second player with consecutive games of at least 10 points and 20 rebounds.

-Shake Milton started for the injured Seth Curry and had a solid performance with 20 points, six assists, and four rebounds.

Not so Great for the 76ers:

Philadelphia did not shoot the ball all that great on Tuesday night, which is understandable. The 76ers shot 41% from the field.

Bottom Line:

Look, it would have been amazing if the 76ers had won this game, and while there are no moral victories in this league, Philadelphia might have earned a moral victory. Without Embiid and Harris, it’s going to be tough, but maybe they can find a way to steal a few games without their top players.

“I don’t know if anything surprises me with these guys,” 76ers head coach Doc Rivers said postgame. “They play hard; they try to figure it out… Tyrese [Maxey] was sensational tonight, kept attacking, Georges [Niang] gave us everything he had, I thought [Drummond] offensively on the glass was really good.”

What’s Next:

Philadelphia finishes their three-game homestand on Thursday night against the Raptors.

Best of the Rest:

Giannis Antetokounmpo led Milwaukee with 31 points and 16 rebounds. Antetokounmpo has now scored at least 30 points in four games this season; Grayson Allen set a season-high with 25 points in the game, and Bobby Portis added 19 points and 10 rebounds.

Suns’ Paul: ‘Everybody in that locker room knows we had enough, but it wasn’t enough’

Chris Paul finally made it to the NBA Finals in Year 16 of his career, but unfortunately for him and the Suns, the season ended without winning an NBA title.

Phoenix fell to the Bucks in Game 6 of the NBA Finals 105-98 at Fiserv Forum on Tuesday and would lose the series 4-2 after having a 2-0 series lead. 

No one expected the Suns to get to this point. They missed the playoffs last season but added Chris Paul and Jae Crowder to the mix, and they were able to have the second-best record in the NBA, and ultimately, they made it to the Finals.

Paul, who had 26 points and five assists on Tuesday night, knows this loss will hurt for some time. 

“It’s tough,” he said. “Great group of guys, hell of a season, but this one is going to hurt for a while.”

Even though the Suns got to the Finals, which is good, Paul is not satisfied.

“For me, it just means back to work. Back to work. Nothing more, nothing less,”  he said. “Ain’t no moral victories or whatnot. We sort of saw what it takes to get there, and hopefully, we see what it takes to get past that…

“Everybody in that locker room knows we had enough, but it wasn’t enough. So, we got to figure it out. I think for me, I just look at myself and figure out how can I get better, what I could have done more, and make sure I come back next season ready to do it again.”

The 11-time All-Star can opt-out of his contract. Paul is scheduled to make $44.2 million next season if he decides to opt-in. No matter what he decides, the 36-year-old point guard says he will play next season.

“I mean, it will take a while to process this or whatnot, but it’s same mentality, get back to work,” he said. “I ain’t retiring… That’s out. So, back to work.”

Phoenix could have a hard time getting back to the Finals. The Lakers, Jazz, Warriors, Clippers(if they re-sign Kawhi Leonard), and Nuggets will be formidable in the Western Conference.

However, the Suns have a star in Devin Booker and a budding star in Deandre Ayton, but Paul was the difference. If he does come back, Phoenix can still contend. If he doesn’t, that’s a big blow for this team. We’ll see what happens in the offseason, but Suns have built a winning culture, and we shall see if they can build on the success they had this season.

Giannis: ‘I made my free throws tonight, and I’m a freaking champion’

The Milwaukee Bucks are NBA champions, and the main reason is their star Giannis Antetokounmpo. The two-time MVP had 50 points(17-19 FT), 14 rebounds, and five blocks shots as the Bucks defeated the Suns 105-98 in Game 6 of the NBA Finals at Fiserv Forum on Tuesday night.

After losing the first two games of this series, Milwaukee, who got their first NBA title since 1971, won four straight to win the series 4-2.

Antetokounmpo, named Finals MVP, scored 33 points in the second half of Game 6, which marked the second time he scored 30-plus points in the second half of a game in this series. According to Elias Sports, Antetokounmpo is the first player to record multiple 30-point halves in a single NBA Finals over the last 40 years. Additionally, he’s the seventh player in the history of the NBA to score 50 points in the Finals.

When Antetokounmpo hyperextended his left knee against the Hawks in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference finals, many thought he would not be able to get back on the court again this season, but he got back on the court and averaged 35.5 points on 62% shooting from the field, 13.5 rebounds, and 5.0 assists per game in the Finals. 

It’s been a long journey for the “Greek Freak” to an NBA title, and according to him, he was not sure it would happen.

“I started playing basketball just to help my family,” he said after the game. “Tried to get them out of the struggle, the challenges we were facing when we were kids. But I never thought I’m going to be 26 years old, with my team playing the NBA Finals. Just playing — like, I was just happy just being like not even winning, just being a part of this, of this journey. But I never thought I would be sitting here with this right here and this right here (the championship and MVP trophies.) We’ve come a long way.”

Antetokounmpo has had his struggles from the free-throw line throughout his career, but he quieted a lot of people by going 17-19 from the line on Tuesday night, which he discussed postgame.

“People told me I cannot make free throws,” he said. “I made my free throws tonight, and I’m a freaking champion. I made them when I’m supposed to make them. I’m joking — actually, I’m not (laughter).”

Before the start of the season, the five-time All-Star signed a five-year, $228 million extension, the largest contract in league history. After some playoffs failures, including losing to the Heat in the second round of the playoffs last season, some thought Antetokounmpo would go elsewhere, but he stayed in Milwaukee, and now he’s a champion.

“But coming back, I was like, this is my city,” he said. “They trust me. They believe in me. They believe in us. Even when we lost, the city was still — went outside, and you know, obviously, I wanted to get the job done. But that’s my stubborn side. It’s easy to go somewhere and go win a championship with somebody else. It’s easy. I could go — I don’t put — I could go to a super team and just do my part and win a championship, but this is the hard way to do it, and this is the way to do it, and we did it. (Expletive) did it. We did it, man.”

Antetokounmpo was remarkable in this series, and with the help of Khris Middleton, Jrue Holiday, and others, he’s finally a champion.

 

 

Holiday on steal on Booker: ‘I guess I was just in the right place at the right time’

After one quarter in Game 5 of the NBA Finals, it appeared the Phoenix Suns would blow out the Milwaukee Bucks. Phoenix led 37-21 after the first quarter and were rolling. However, the Bucks dominated the second and third quarters. Milwaukee outscored the Suns 79-56 in those two quarters, and shot a combined 71.1 percent (32-of-45) while knocking down 10 of their 14 threes.

Phoenix battled back in the fourth quarter, but Milwaukee held on to win Game 5 123-119 at Footprint Center.

The Bucks took a 10-point lead into the fourth quarter, but the Suns cut the lead to 120-119. With 16.9 seconds left in the contest and a chance for Phoenix to take the lead, Jrue Holiday would make the play of the game when he stripped Devin Booker, threw an alley-oop pass to Giannis Antetokounmpo, who dunked the ball and was fouled by Chris Paul. Antetokounmpo would miss the free throw, but Khris Middleton would secure the offensive rebound and make one of two free throws to put the game away.

Holiday, who shot 12-of-20 from the floor and scored 14 of his 27 points in the second quarter and added a game-high 13 assists, was remarkable for Milwaukee on both ends of the court on Saturday night. He is a big reason why Milwaukee is one game away from winning their first NBA title in 50 years. 

“Big-time steal,” Antetokounmpo, who had 32 points and nine rebounds in Game 5, said postgame about Holiday’s play on Booker. “Showing a crowd, they didn’t get to the spot, and he came from behind and ripped the ball out. He can go down to the other end and just, you know, go for like a full play, run the clock down. But he trusted me and made an incredible pass, also, for the lob. It was big time. It was a big-time play. It was the winning play of the game.”

Holiday added on the steal on Booker: “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.”

As the Suns examine Game 5, they will look at the second quarter. Phoenix was outscored 43-24 in that quarter. Booker, who scored a game-high 40 points on Saturday night after scoring 42 in Game 4, talked about the second quarter.

“It was tough,” he said. “We came out and did what we intended to do, get off to a great start, and we let it go. They stayed resilient, and they kept playing through. So, tough loss for us.”

After being up 2-0, the Suns have lost three straight, something they have not done since January. Phoenix has not faced elimination at any point in these playoffs until now. As Suns head coach Monty Williams says, “Everything you want is on the other side of hard.” 

So, Phoenix has to find a way in Game 6 in Milwaukee on Tuesday night if they want to keep their season alive.

Notes:

-With his 40 points on Saturday night, Booker has now scored 582 points this postseason. He joins Dwyane Wade as the only two players in NBA history to score 580-plus points in one postseason while under the age of 25.

-Game 5 marked just the second time in NBA Finals history of consecutive quarters with a scoring margin of at least 15 points (Suns outscored the Bucks 37-21 in the 1st quarter, while Milwaukee outscored Phoenix 43-24).

-The Suns outscored Milwaukee 66-44 in the first and fourth quarters combined. 

-Chris Paul turned in his first double-double performance of the Finals, and his fourth of this postseason tonight, scoring 21 points to go along with a team-high 11 assists. Paul knocked down all three of his three-point attempts on the evening.

-Middleton scored 20 of his 29 points in the second half tonight while adding 7 rebounds and 5 assists. Middleton shot 12-of-23 on the night and knocked down 3 of his 8 three-point attempts.

Suns’ Ayton expects Booker to bounce back in Game 4

Phoenix Suns All-Star guard Devin Booker struggled in Game 3 of the NBA Finals. Booker shot 3/14 from the field and finished with 10 points. Ultimately, the Suns fell to the Bucks 120-100 on Sunday night.

Phoenix leads the series 2-1. Game 4 is on Wednesday night in Milwaukee.

In the postseason, when Booker struggles in a game, he usually comes back more potent in the next contest. After shooting 6/14 and scoring 17 points against the Lakers in Game 4 of their first-round series, Booker had a 30-point game in Game 5 and a 47-point explosion in the closeout game. In Game 2 against Denver in the Western Conference semifinals, Booker shot 6/14 and finished with 18 points. In the next two games in that series, Booker had a combined 62 points.

“Short memory,” Booker said during Finals media availability on Tuesday. “Just move on. Been there before. So just understanding that understanding the game, understanding situations that you’ve been through, and just trusting the work that you’ve put in, as simple as that. But my main objective out there is to win the basketball game.”

Deandre Ayton, who had 18 points and nine rebounds in Game 3, but was saddled with foul trouble, believes Booker will bounce back in Game 4.

“Yeah, he gets pretty scary after that,” Ayton said. “Just knowing his mentality and knowing that games like that don’t really slow him down. We know it was just one of those games, but I know he’ll step up, and as a team, we’ll step up, as well.”

According to Chris Paul, it’s just not on Booker; everybody has to play better.

“I think it’s more like what’s our team like,” Paul said. “This ain’t golf. It’s not tennis. You know what I mean? We’re all in this together. So everybody on our team took the loss hard, as we should. We never go into a game expecting to lose. If you showed me, somebody who expects to lose, I’ll show you a loser. So everybody on our team felt a way. We felt like we could be better. That’s why we used yesterday, we’ll use today to prepare, and we’ll all come out ready to play tomorrow.”

Booker has to be better for the Suns to win in Milwaukee, and history tells us he will bounce back. If he struggles in Game 4, this series will probably be tied at two, heading back to Phoenix for Game 5.