If there ever was a time for Monty Williams to come up with one of the adages he has been heralded for, it was after his Phoenix Suns’ 123-119 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks in Game 5 of the NBA Finals on Saturday.
The loss was Phoenix’s third in a row on the Finals stage after it had dropped three in a row just once all season, back in January. And it came in excruciating fashion: The Suns squandered an early 16-point cushion and fell down 14 in the fourth, only to have their opportunity to take the lead back in the final minute go awry.
So Williams kept his message matter-of-fact, looking ahead to Tuesday’s Game 6 in Milwaukee, with the Bucks up 3-2 in the series.
“We got to win one game to put them back on the plane,” he said. “That’s it. And you have to have that determination that you’re willing to do whatever it takes to put them back on the plane.”
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Devin Booker followed up his 42-point performance in Game 4 with 40 points in Game 5, becoming the first player in Finals history to lose back-to-back games in which he went for 40-plus points.
He needed one more play to go his way.
Booker grabbed the rebound off a Jrue Holiday miss with 29.2 seconds left in the fourth and pushed it up the floor, with the Suns trailing 120-119 after a 12-3 run in the previous three minutes.
Booker advanced all the way to the heart of the paint before picking up his dribble. After his pump fake to get P.J. Tucker off his feet didn’t provide Booker enough space to get off a close-range shot because Giannis Antetokounmpo hustled over to help on defense, the Suns shooting guard tried to recalibrate.
But right as Booker tried to pivot to create some room and swung his left shoulder, Holiday was waiting on his hip, out of Booker’s peripheral vision, and lunged at the ball, stripping it away from Phoenix’s young star.
“I was just trying to score the ball. He was behind me,” Booker said afterward. “I turned and he was right there.”
The Suns had been 7-of-10 from the field with zero turnovers on possessions when Booker drove to the basket in Game 5 prior to the Holiday steal. Trailing for the first time all series — and for just the second time all postseason, after the Los Angeles Lakers had the Suns down 2-1 in the first round before Phoenix then won nine consecutive playoff games — Game 6 is as much of a must-win game as it gets for the Suns.
Phoenix can either force a Game 7 and give itself a chance at the first title in the 53-year history of the franchise or deal with the disappointment of what could have been as the Bucks celebrate a championship on their home court.
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