The Phoenix Suns are on the wrong end of elimination from the playoffs for the first time in this year’s postseason — and it couldn’t have come at a worse time.
Squandering a 16-point, first-half lead, the Suns dropped a third straight game to the Milwaukee Bucks in the NBA Finals with Saturday’s 123-119 Game 5 loss before a sellout crowd of 16,562 at Footprint Center in what may be Phoenix’s last game of the season in its renamed home arena.
“We knew this wasn’t going to be easy,” Suns All-Star point guard Chris Paul said. “We didn’t expect it to be. It’s hard. Coach said it all year long, everything we want is on the other side of hard and it don’t get no harder than this. So, we got to regroup, learn from this game, but it’s over, we got to get ready for Game 6.”
The Suns had only lost three consecutive games once this season back in January when losing to the Denver Nuggets twice in a back-to-back and to the Oklahoma City Thunder. Devin Booker didn’t play in the latter two games with a hamstring injury.
Now that rare history has repeated itself at the wrong times as Phoenix will travel to Milwaukee for Tuesday’s Game 6 down 3-2 in this best-of-seven finals series.
“We got to win one game to put them back on the plane,” Suns coach Monty Williams said. “That’s it.”
Game 7, if necessary will be Thursday in Phoenix.
“Yeah, I like it,” said Suns center Deandre Ayton as he finished Game 5 with a double-double of 20 points and 10 rebounds.
“Tables are turned now. Now we’re the desperate team. We had our chances of being up and trying to finish the job. Now we’re in the same position that they were in. They’re up and now we got to go get it. That’s why it’s a little bit more fun.”
The Bucks used a 43-point second quarter to erase a 16-point deficit and then fended off a fourth-quarter Phoenix charge to take Game 5 after winning Games 3 and 4 at Fiserv Forum.
With LeBron James sitting courtside, Phoenix cut Milwaukee’s 14-point, fourth-quarter lead to one, but Devin Booker turned the ball over as Jrue Holiday got the steal and found Giannis Antetokounmpo for the transition lob dunk with 13.8 seconds left.
“I was just trying to score the ball, he was behind me,” Booker said as had just two turnovers in 41 minutes. “I turned and he was right there.”
Fouled by Paul, Antetokounmpo missed the ensuing free throw, but tipped the ball back out to Khris Middleton, who was fouled by Booker.
Middleton hit the second free throw after missing the first to give Milwaukee a four-point lead with 9.8 second left. Booker and Paul both took shots at game’s end.
Booker finished with a game-high 40 points while Chris Paul bounced back from a disappointing Game 4 performance with 21 points, 11 assists and just one turnover.
His final bucket pulled the Suns to within one, 120-119, with 56.6 seconds left, but Phoenix came up short in losing homecourt advantage. Now they must win in Milwaukee where they lost Game 3 and 4 to force a Game 7 back in Phoenix.
“We’re ready, man, we’re ready for next game,” said Bridges, who scored six of his 13 points in the fourth on 2-of-2 shooting from 3.
“If you sulk about it, it’s, the blink of an eye the season is going to be over. So, we’ll learn from it, coach is going to show clips and what we have to do better, but we know what we have to do. But we’re ready, man, just do or die. We lose it’s over. So, we got to go out there and play our way and go get Game 6.”
Antetokounmpo led the Bucks with 32 points while Middleton and Holiday went for 29 and 27 points, respectively, as the Bucks shot 57.5% from the field for the game, going 14-of-28 on 3s.
“I think they have been in a lot of close games,” Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said. “It’s a very mature group. There’s a lot of confidence. I think there’s a natural poise with the group. We don’t necessarily talk about it, but you can feel it in the huddles.”
Phoenix trailed, 64-61, at the half after building a 16-point lead in the first quarter.
The Suns were outscored 43-24, in the second quarter as the Bucks shot 70.8% from the field, hitting 6-of-9 from 3.
“It was tough,” Booker 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.”
The Bucks kept rolling in the third as they shot 71.4% in the third quarter, hitting 4-of-8 shots from 3 in building a 100-90 lead entering the fourth.
“I think we got to impose our will,” Paul said. “I think in that third quarter, I remember there was a timeout and guys said they hadn’t missed a shot that whole quarter.”
The Bucks scored a total of 79 points in the second and third quarter.
“I got to look at the film to see it, but we just didn’t have the same energy that we had in the first and fourth,” Williams said. “So, whether it’s schematics or just outright grit and toughness during those moments, to just get a stop, we couldn’t get any consecutive stops in the second and the third. That ended up being the, not the difference, but it just put us in a hole and we felt, I felt like we were playing from behind for a long, long time.”
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