Let’s save the absurdity that is NBA officiating for another article. It’s not the time.
Now is the time to appreciate the joy and pain, the ups and downs, the massive swings of emotion that is playoff basketball.
The Milwaukee Bucks and Phoenix Suns finally gave us the classic we’ve been hoping for. The two franchises — one looking for their first championship, the other searching for their first since 1971 — took it down to the wire Wednesday night, as Milwaukee tied the series at two games apiece.
The 109-103 victory for the Bucks sends the series back to Phoenix for game five Saturday night. After three games, the series appeared to be the sleeper many expected. With the NBA playoffs marred by a wild number of injuries to superstars, the small market Finals matchup didn’t have nearly the intrigue that NBA fans hoped for coming off a regular season unlike any other.
The Suns won both games at home by double digits, and the Chris Paul coronation as arguably the greatest point guard of all time was underway.
But this is the NBA Finals, and a series can turn on a dime, especially when the officials swallow their whistles.
Devin Booker bounced back from a brutal game three and poured in 42 points, but the only other Phoenix starters to score in double figures were Paul (10) and Jae Crowder (15), as the Suns stalled late in the fourth.
Booker made history Wednesday night — passing Rick Barry and Julius Erving for the most points scored in his first postseason experience — but his numbers won’t be remembered if the Suns don’t get it together soon.
“It doesn’t matter at all,” Booker said after the game when asked about his performance. “I said that after last game too when I struggled shooting it. The main objective is to win the game. So anything that goes on throughout the game, it doesn’t matter, for real.”
With 2:30 remaining in the fourth quarter Phoenix clung to a 99-97 lead, but Khris Middleton scored 10 straight points for Milwaukee from the free-throw line and with an array of mid-range jumpers. He’d finish with 40 points on 15-33 shooting, finally providing the end-of-game heroics Milwaukee so desperately needs.
“Everybody’s tired,” Middleton said. “Everybody’s banged up. You just have to give it your all and leave it all on the court.”
“We can rest and sleep and get treatment after the game. But while that game is being played, there’s no excuses of exhaustion or something is hurt. If you’re hurt, you can’t be out there. But that’s all. Give it your all.”
In between Middleton’s heroics, was the play that left everyone in awe and potentially saved Milwaukee’s hopes of bringing a second championship home to the city.
With 1:14 left on the clock, and the Bucks up two, Giannis Antetokounmpo made a hustle play reminiscent of LeBron James’ chasedown block in game seven of the 2016 NBA Finals.
Booker came off an Ayton screen, throwing a lob to Ayton that looked to be a sure dunk. Somehow, Antetokounmpo recovered, blocking the dunk attempt and preserving the Bucks’ two-point lead and potentially their championship aspirations.
CLUTCH BLOCK BY GIANNIS 😱 pic.twitter.com/jwB0b75o65
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) July 15, 2021
“The honest thought that was going through my head was, more or less, kind of like shock and awe when the block happened,” Pat Connaughton of the Bucks said.
“I kind of said, in my opinion, it’s the best block of all time. Obviously, we’re a little biased, and you can talk about the LeBron [James] block [from Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals], as well. But as far as a block where he was covering the pick-and-roll, he had to judge where the pass was, where Ayton was catching it, and trying to dunk it, above the box, it’s about as impressive as you can get.”
Connaughton made a huge play of his own, knocking down a three with 3:08 left in the fourth quarter to give Milwaukee its first lead of the fourth quarter.
Lost in the thrilling finish were the struggles of Paul. His turnover with 32.1 seconds left in the fourth put the game on ice for Milwaukee, and his health will be a major topic for the remainder of the series.
“If we take care of the ball and cut out five of those turnovers, (Booker) probably ends up with 50 tonight,” Suns coach Monty Williams said. “That’s the way I look at it. … It’s two good teams, we’re 2-2. Like, that’s the deal. That’s what I told our guys: ‘We put ourselves in this position. We got home-court advantage.’ I foresee him playing like that for the rest of the series.”
However the series plays out, the NBA Finals are finally giving us what we wanted — competition. Through the first three games, there hadn’t been a tie game or a lead change in the second half.
Game four gave us everything we wanted. It’s now a best-of-three series, and the NBA is in for a photo finish.
Joe Morgan is the Sports Reporter for The Daily Wire. Most recently, Morgan covered the Clippers, Lakers, and the NBA for Sporting News. Send your sports questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The views expressed in this piece are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Wire.
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