With 40 points from Khris Middleton, the Milwaukee Bucks achieved their second consecutive victory over the Phoenix Suns on Wednesday, 109-103, and placed a 2-2 tie in the NBA Finals.
In a last quarter of infarction, Middleton made the decisive baskets and Giannis Antetokounmpo (26 points and 14 rebounds) a dazzling stopper to neutralize the display of the Suns star, Devin Booker, who finished with 42 points.
With both teams winning their home games, the Finals will now return to Phoenix for Game 5 on Saturday.
The Bucks gritted their teeth to win the most even game of the tie so far, which featured controversial refereeing and an exhibition by Devin Booker with which he placed his name in NBA history.
At 24, the guard became the player with the most points scored in the first playoffs of his career (542), surpassing the leaders Rick Barry (521 points) and Julius Erving (518).
Booker has achieved this mark in the 20 games of this fabulous postseason for the Suns, a team that had not been in the playoffs for a decade and that in the first round eliminated the reigning champions, Los Angeles Lakers.
The Bucks, the best home team in the playoffs (8 wins by 1 loss), came out determined to equalize the tie with the presence at the Fiserv Forum of the legendary Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Oscar Robertson, protagonists of the only Milwaukee ring in 1971.
Without aim from the outside (7/29 in triples in the game), the Bucks tried to impose their physical dominance in the zone with Antetokounmpo as the spearhead.
The two-time MVP award winner was less dominant in attack than in the previous two games, in which he surpassed 40 points, but was vital in defense with 3 steals and 2 blocks.
«He has been doing it all year. It has been incredible. It was not the performance we normally see but he did other things tonight that helped us win, “Middleton acknowledged.
In defense, Jrue Holiday was once again a heavy shadow for veteran Chris Paul, who played his worst game of his first Finals with just 10 points and an unusual 4 turnovers, one of them key in the final stretch of the match.
After a tight first quarter, the game turned into a duel between Booker and Middleton, which has awakened in these Finals after the first two games very off.
The Bucks guard had 9 points in the second period to 12 for Booker who, after his disappointing game Sunday, regained his old-school scoring manual.
In the style of his mentor Kobe Bryant, the young Suns figure demoralized all his markers with his precise movements and his inspired wrist from the middle distance.
Nailing several spectacular backsliding shots, Booker left the Milwaukee crowd cold and went into halftime with 20 points to his score, double all he scored on Sunday.
– Controversial arbitration –
The guard maintained his streak after the break with 10 more points in six minutes until he had to go to the bench after adding his fourth staff.
Booker sat for just a couple of minutes and coach Monty Williams quickly reintroduced him to regain control of the game.
With Chris Paul and DeAndre Ayton combining for just 12 points, a heroic Booker held Phoenix in the lead with 38 points in the first three quarters.
In the last quarter of a century, only Stephen Curry (2019) achieved a higher score in three quarters of a Finals, with 40 points.
With Phoenix up six points (85-79), Booker saw a highly protested personal fifth and had to return to the bench with 10 minutes to go.
The Bucks only managed to get within three points when Booker returned to the court and the umpires forgave him the sixth foul, which carries an expulsion, when he stopped a counterattack by Jrue Holiday.
In a fast-paced finale, Middleton scored two decisive baskets, Booker missed the other side of the court and Antetokounmpo put a spectacular block on Ayton that, along with a loss to Chris Paul, ended the game.
In this way, the Bucks have once again tied a tie after a 2-0 deficit, as they did in the conference semifinals against the Brooklyn Nets. (AFP)