The most spectacular moments during the NBA Finals have a way of becoming immortalized forever. Magic’s hook shot, Michael’s shrug, Ray Allen’s corner three, and LeBron’s chasedown block (just to name a few) are going to replayed for long as NBA basketball is around. The Milwaukee Bucks had that sort of play in their Game 4 victory over the Phoenix Suns when Giannis Antetokounmpo made a remarkable block on Deandre Ayton’s alley-oop attempt in the final minute of a series-tying Bucks win.
Giannis’ block is the sort of play we should be seeing on montages of great NBA Finals moments for the rest of our lives — which is why it’s wild the Bucks produced an even better play in Game 5.
With the Bucks’ clinging to a one-point lead with just over 20 seconds left on the clock, Suns star Devin Booker had the ball ripped away from him by Milwaukee’s Jrue Holiday. Holiday pushed it up the court, and tossed an alley-oop to Antetokounmpo for the and-one to extend Milwaukee’s lead. The Bucks went on to win the game and take a 3-2 series lead ahead of Game 6 in Milwaukee on Tuesday.
Here’s the play in full:
The series is far from over, but this will go down as an all-time moment if the Bucks can get one more win to capture their first NBA championship since 1971.
Here are nine reasons why this was such a great play.
1. The Bucks had just botched their offensive possession at the other end
The Suns were on a big run late the fourth quarter as they tried to steal the win. Phoenix trailed by 10 points with just over three minutes remaining in the game when it started its run and cut the deficit to one-point on a driving layup from Chris Paul.
Devin Booker knocked the ball out of Khris Middleton’s hands out of bounds on the ensuing possession with five seconds left on the shot clock. The Bucks took a timeout to draw something up, but got a terrible look when Holiday bricked a floater from about 15-feet away. Booker grabbed the rebound to set up the dramatic next possession.
2. Holiday left Chris Paul open on the perimeter to go for the dig
Booker never passed the ball. The 24-year-old star had scored 40 points for the second straight game, and was going to try to win it for his team. Booker sized up Milwaukee’s P.J. Tucker and drove left without a screen. Tucker and Antetokounmpo stopped him just outside of the restricted area. As Booker turned to either pass or go into a fadeaway, he was met face-to-face by Holiday who cheated off Paul on the perimeter.
It was a perfectly timed ‘dig’ by Holiday. If he didn’t time it just right, Booker could have spun for a shot attempt or pass to a wide open Paul on the perimeter. It’s a huge risk to leave a player like CP3 open from three-point range when two defenders already had Booker corralled, but the gamble paid off.
3. Holiday ripped the ball free without fouling
Booker and Suns fans might have a different opinion on this one, but it looked like a clean rip in real time and the refs decided no call was the best call. The refs rarely call fouls when a defender grabs the ball with both hands. The well-timed dig wouldn’t have meant anything if Holiday wasn’t able to snatch the ball away quickly and cleanly.
4. Giannis booked it down the court and called for the pass
Antetokounmpo has looked gassed throughout the playoffs as he’s carried a huge load for his team, and has even needed to ask for an early sub a couple different times in these Finals. Despite playing more than 40 minutes for the second straight game, Giannis still found enough juice to sprint the floor and make himself available for the pass.
Antetokounmpo isn’t just super talented — he plays as hard as anyone in the league, too. This play was a premium example of his non-stop motor.
5. Holiday had the guile to throw the alley-oop
It would have been easy for Holiday to pull the ball back, burn a few more seconds off the clock, and make the Suns foul him. Holiday has been about a 78 percent free throw shooter throughout his career, and he’s probably the best option for the Bucks on the foul line at that point in the game.
Throwing an alley-oop pass with 15 seconds left in Game 5 of the NBA Finals during a tied series is just incredibly daring. There are plenty of NBA players who would never even attempt that pass, but Holiday went for it.
6. Holiday delivered a perfect pass to Giannis
The pass had to be perfect. A little too long and it’s sailing out of bounds. A little too short and Paul could have made a better contest on Antetokounmpo’s dunk.
Holiday put it right on the money where only Giannis to catch it.
7. Giannis flushed it despite a shove from Chris Paul
Yes, Antetokounmpo is one of the most hulking players in the NBA. Yes, CP3 is one of the tiniest. Still, Paul ran at Giannis and gave him a two-handed shove to try to prevent the dunk.
Was it a dirty play? It could certainly be argued as such. Paul also had no other way of defending it because it’s not like he’s going to meet Giannis in the air. Antetokounmpo wisely grabbed the rim on his way down to soften his landing. It could have been a dangerous or ugly play with a lesser athlete on the receiving end of the dunk, but Giannis is graceful enough to complete the play and land without a problem.
8. Giannis suffered a scary leg injury only three weeks ago
We didn’t even know if Antetokounmpo was going to play in the NBA Finals coming into the series after his frightening leg injury in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals. To sprint down the court and soar to finish that lob in that moment is a ridiculously athletic play from a guy who is coming off a serious injury when his team needed it most.
9. The Bucks got the offensive rebound to seal the win after Giannis missed the free throw
The dunk put the Bucks’ ahead three, and Antetokounmpo had a chance to make it a two-possession game at the foul line. He missed the free throw to continue the trend of his poor foul shooting through the playoffs, but the ball was tipped out and Giannis was able to grab it. He passed it off to Middleton, who split a pair of free throws to ice the game.
This play is an instant classic. With one more Milwaukee win, it deserves to join the pantheon of the greatest Finals plays ever.