It’s only been nine days; not nine months, even if it seems like it. On July 8, the NBA Finals traveled from Arizona to Wisconsin with a 2-0 that left the road to the first ring of its history perfectly downhill for the Suns. In Milwaukee, the public sang “Bucks In Six” (the Bucks will win in six games) and listening to it almost produced tenderness, as if it was just that reality did not ruin a good party, the first Finals in the city since 1974, a loss to the Celtics three years after the only franchise title.
Only nine days have passed and the revolution is complete: 2-3, three wins in a row for a team that never gives up, never dies. Perhaps because he has been shaken too much in the last two years, because he has died so many times that it is ultimately impossible to kill. It is a paradox, but it happens. The Bucks escaped 2-0 against the Nets and have now won three games in a row. to some Suns who had only lost four in their entire tour of the West. And they don’t know what it’s like to be within a championship game. In their previous two Finals (1976 and 1993) they lost 4-2. Now they have run aground again in those two victories and they need their particular miracle so that the solar eclipse is not complete. They need two wins in 48 hours (Tuesday-Thursday). And they need, above all else, to believe. They have two days to hang out on the psychoanalyst’s couch because he expects, on Tuesday, a pack at the thunderous Fiserv Forum, where the Bucks are 9-1 in these playoffs.
The math adds to the sensations: at 2-2, whoever wins the fifth game is champion 72% of the time. But If the Suns can’t hold onto that 28%, they don’t deserve this ring. The 2-0 has come back four times and, be careful, in two of them it went directly to 2-4 with four consecutive victories from the one who came from behind. The Hunted Hunter: Bill Walton’s Blazers did it to the Sixers in 1977 and Dwyane Wade’s Heat to the Mavericks in 2006. It’s weird, but it happened. And it is one game away from happening again. Delivering the final blow will be, for the Bucks, extremely tough. The last step is always the hardest. With the pressure of avoiding a seventh at home, against a rival freed from the anguish of victory, trying to escape from the same grave in which the Bucks have made a luxury apartment. It is a team of dungeons and agony, that heals after each shot, that He walks like a zombie when he should be dead and strikes like a mallet when he shouldn’t have the strength. It is resilience and punishment, the exact reserve of a Suns full of talent but unable, until now, to escape from those same embers in which the Bucks organize barbecues. Now they no longer have a choice: to rebel or give up, in Comanche territory and, suddenly, with everything against them. They can do it, but they need to search inside for something that goes beyond basketball. and that they have not had in the last two games of these Finals 2021. That they started in a low profile and are proving beautiful.
Jrue Holiday, the spirit of resistance
Nobody had won out in these Finals and the Bucks did it (119-123) on the day that the victory also leaves their rival without wild cards. The Suns were stunned, with a crooked grin and a head full of noise, all that his rival had sucked from some stands that went from delight to agony on the fast track, without knowing how. Until this game, the Suns had not failed in the playoffs (13-0) as their advantage exceeded +10. This time it was 37-21 after an extraordinary first quarter by Monty Williams., revitalized by the return home. Very aggressive on defense (6 losses for the Bucks in the first quarter after five totals in the fourth game) and collective in attack, with Devin Booker leading the charge and Jae Crowder and Mikal Bridges punishing (15 points between the two) to about Bucks disoriented, shaken. In 9 minutes the game had gone 32-16, the Suns made 78% of their shots in the first quarter (14/18) and their display basically implied the assurance of victory: only the Celtics in 2008 (in their case, 21 points to the Lakers) had come back in a Finals more than 16 points from the first quarter.
Then came the eclipse, the silence, the umpteenth resurrection of the Bucks. That they were not buried and that they began to play as if nothing had happened in the previous minutes. As if a whirlwind had not just swept them away. With Giannis Antetokounmpo on the bench and in an amazing way against a rival made of patent leather, the Bucks returned to the game in four and a half minutes (5-21 for 42-42) and were ahead in six and a half (49-50). From there, they were always better. They maintained concentration and toughness, they were more stable, harder, more constant. They stuck to their plan, when it worked wonders and when they had a hard time, and they had unwavering faith and much more character. Finally also more basketball: things got ugly in the third quarter (75-85, 81-94) for some Suns from which the rival defense was removing arms until turning them into a succession of individual actions of Devin Booker. It worked, again. The guard has scored 42 and 40 points in the last two games and his team has lost both. Without the collective connections, without the choral attacks and highlight extra passes, the Suns are vulnerable no matter how good Booker is. What if it is. And they lost even though they made 55% of their shots and 60% of their 3s. Never seen in a Finals.
The miracle appeared: a 102-113 in the middle of the fourth quarter was compressed to a frantic 119-120 on the ball for the Suns. There came the play of the game, another of those (like Antetokounmpo’s stopper in the fourth) that will be Finals history if the Bucks are champions. With 16 seconds to go, Jrue Holiday wrenched the ball out of Booker’s hands (literally) and assisted in transition for a dazzling alley oop from Giannis: 119-122 and an additional free throw for a (foul) foul by Chris Paul. The Greek missed, but tapped a rebound that went from hand to hand and fell to Khris Middleton’s, who scored another free throw: 119-123, a KO sealed by Booker’s final misses and a Chris Paul who played better this time. and he had a heroic moment in the fourth quarter: 10 of his 21 points, a total of 11 assists for, this time, only one loss. The point guard and Bridges’ 3-pointers held the Suns up, and Booker led the failed final charge. The Suns forgot to play as they know and usually do. Or, simply, they were absolutely held back by the defensive and mental wall of an infernal, tireless rival. If these Finals are a matter of blind faith, the Bucks are going to win.
It was the great night of the big three, the three over 25 points and 50% in shots, something that in a Final only Magic Johnson, James Worthy and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar had done with the Lakers 1985. Antetokounmpo returned to carry everything, to work all over the track and to perfectly modulate his moments, when to strike and when to put himself in the hands of his teammates. He finished with 32 points (12 in the fourth quarter), 9 rebounds and 6 assists, and did not let a bad day in the free throw (4/11) dictate the rules of his night. Your head is a wall. Middleton chose his moments, started a miss, and scored two decisive baskets to stop the Suns’ final assault. And 20 of his 29 points in the second half. But this time, without a doubt, the night of Jrue Holiday: 27 points, 13 assists. Again an impeccable and brutal defense, of legend, on Chris Paul, and finally an excellent night in attack after his problems in the previous games. Never cowering, always ready to shoot and unable to hide, the point guard came to the Bucks this season for precisely this: to give the ultimate boost. His exceptional defense from the second game deserved the prize of the spotlights in attack, he deserved a sequence like that final, the steal and the assistance to Giannis. A piece of the ring? We will see, but with this game still fresh it costs, at least, not to imagine it.
The Bucks squeezed the Suns, rallied them 16 points, took them with their tongues out for more than half a game and set the alarm clock when they dreamed of the miracle. Seen like this, it was torture for some absolutely badly injured Suns, unable to match the energy that their rival maintains when things go wrong, when the shots do not enter or the opponent releases claws. The Finals are 2-3 and the Bucks in Six has stopped looking like a boutade and now sounds like a premonition. It would be the first in fifty years and it would be, if it’s Tuesday, at a Fiserv Forum in Milwaukee that it will be the center of the universe. The NBA holds its breath, the Final reaches its critical moment and the Bucks revolution seems right now impossible to stop. The Suns have two days to come up with a plan. All or nothing, glory or hell: it goes no more.