Three storylines heading into Game 6 of the NBA Finals

Published July 20, 2021, 9:00 AMMiguel Flores

Can Giannis and the Bucks close out the series for their first title in five decades? Or will the Suns roar back and force a Game 7?

 After a crazy finale that brought what could be this series’ most iconic moment in Game 4, we got a crazier ending and another signature moment in Game 5 of the NBA Finals.

The Milwaukee Bucks became the first road team to win a game this series. If we were to follow the old adage, the series has only just begun now. But that road victory put the Bucks one win away from bringing home their first title since 1971.

Do the Phoenix Suns still have a shot in this or have they, as Devin Booker said after Game 5, let it go?

Giannis: Memories guaranteed

“Oh! A spectacular move by Michael Jordan.”

“Back to Iguodala, up for the lay-up. Oh! Blocked by James!”

There are moments so iconic that you don’t need to see the video to have them instantly play in your head. You can just read off the play-by-play call, like with the ones above, or see a still image for others, like Allen Iverson stepping over Tyronn Lue.

The classic Finals series – the ones that would come to define not just the season, but an era of basketball – usually have one of these moments. The 2021 Finals already has two and could have another come Game 6.

At this point, who knows what's possible with Giannis Antetokounmpo? The two-time MVP, more than any other superstar in the league, has had the upper and lower limits of his greatness constantly challenged – his skill poked and prodded by pundits and peers alike. 

If this Finals has shown anything, it’s that Giannis is unique – actually unique, like there's a chance we see something we’ve never seen before every time he steps on the court.

The great thing about 2021: you can choose how to remember this moment. If you were watching live, nothing encapsulates the sheer improbability of this moment more than Mike Breen’s voice building up from Jrue Holiday's steal then reaching crescendo by stuttering on Antetokounmpo's name. If you were following the game on Twitter, the number of photos from all sorts of angles should have been a treat.

You have Chris Paul fouling, but from this angle it looks more like he was lifting Giannis and helping him reach the rim. As an extra treat, you've got Adele and Rich Paul coming out as a couple in the corner of the photo.

The moment was so great that we, as a collective basketball community – one that agonizes over the most minute details on Twitter or Reddit – have chosen to forget that Giannis missed two free throws that could have sealed the game with a little over a minute to go.

This series is far from over. The Suns are a pesky bunch and the Bucks haven’t been unbeatable in Milwaukee these playoffs. Still, it’s hard to imagine remembering this series without Giannis’ freakiness.

Booker vs Holiday: Prey meets predator

That Giannis alley-oop would not have been possible without Jrue Holiday's steal. Devin Booker was brilliant again this game, dropping 40 points with a myriad of moves. Booker had scored 42 the game prior, and Holiday had been defending him for big stretches in this series.

For that fateful possession, Booker drew PJ Tucker as his primary defender. Tucker, as much as he wants you and the referees to believe that he's a great defender who never fouls, is only an adequate perimeter defender. He is valuable because he can defend five positions, but he's been very shaky against Booker.

Which is probably why the Suns didn’t call timeout when they saw Booker dribbling up the court against Tucker with 25 seconds to go. Booker sizes him up and easily gets Tucker on his hip. At this point, Booker could have had a shot at the game with his patented two-dribble midrange pull-up, but he got a bit greedy. 

All series, Booker has easily gotten to the paint, thanks to a hesitation move into a hop step he’s been using to bully smaller defenders like Holiday. He uses it against Tucker, but as he hops in the paint, he realizes he didn’t account for the help defense Giannis was going to bring.

Luckily, Booker has a counter. For times that he dribbles into trouble or gets denied the paint, Booker has added a Kobe Bryant move – a single step-back, turnaround jumper. Unluckily for him, Holiday has been a victim before. 

Like Kobe, there was no chance Booker was passing up that shot to win the game. Holiday may or may not have considered this, but he helped off of Chris Paul – someone who. just moments ago, hit a big shot to trim the lead to one. As Booker turned to take a shot, Holiday was right there to pry the ball from his hands.

That sequence happened in a span of eight seconds. Often we don’t consider just how much of this game comes down to the millisecond decisions these players make. 

No matter how great of a player he was, Booker couldn’t have made all the calculations enumerated in the above paragraphs in eight short seconds. He was moving on instinct. And that was enough for Holiday to pounce and make the biggest steal of his life.

The Suns vs history

At this point, down 2-3 after a 2-2 series tie, the Suns are in major trouble.

In the Finals, 72 percent (21-8) of teams that take Game 5 after a 2-2 tie go on to win the title. Eighty-two percent (38-9) of teams that get a hold of a 3-2 lead in the Finals win the series.

Depending on how you look at it, the Suns either have a 28 or 18 percent chance of still winning this series. Not the best odds.

The Suns also seem to have extracted all the breaks they could get. They already had Booker get back-to-back 40 point games. Jae Crowder is shooting an absurd 47 percent from deep in the Finals. Chris Paul had both his best and worst moments already.

It's hard to look at this team and pinpoint exactly what else they need to pull off this comeback. With their backs against the wall, it needs to be something extraordinary.