BOSTON — The connection between Giannis Antetokounmpo and teammate Khris Middleton, now 9 years in, is well-known for its depth and belief.
However about that Jrue Vacation relationship …
“It is blooming, it is blooming!” Antetokounmpo mentioned after the Milwaukee Bucks completed off a jaw-dropping show of clutch play in stealing a 110-107 Recreation 5 victory over the Boston Celtics Wednesday night time.
“I like him.”
Antetokounmpo, the area over his proper eye caked in pores and skin glue after quite a few makes an attempt to shut an oozing laceration that plagued him all through the dramatic fourth quarter, had wrapped Vacation up in a hug moments after the ultimate buzzer — and rightly so.
The Bucks traded three first-round picks for Vacation in 2020 — a deal for a then 30-year-old guard that was questioned on the time — and finally signed him to a $135 million extension final yr. These felt like bargains after he delivered one other in what has develop into an extended checklist of defensive gems. On this case, one a diamond, the opposite a ruby.
The nuanced greatness of the play he made with eight seconds left and the Bucks up by one level — after a dramatic putback by Bobby Portis that deserves its personal novella — is tough to speak even if you happen to noticed it after which replayed it.
Vacation was defending Jaylen Brown, who scored 16 of his 26 factors within the third quarter. However the Celtics had spent the fourth attacking the better mark, Pat Connaughton, and that is the place Marcus Good went for a possible game-winning shot. It had labored, form of, as a result of Good was within the technique of getting a clear look when Vacation broke off from Brown.
What occurred subsequent is all will, instincts and fortune favoring the ready. Vacation mentioned within the second he believed Good would not be capable to see if Brown was open. Vacation was proper, in truth, Good by no means even noticed the blur carrying No. 21 that cleanly ripped the shot out of his arms earlier than it might enter Celtics lore as a game-winner.
However as an alternative of swatting it and risking knocking the ball out of bounds solely to stick with Boston and one other likelihood to win, Vacation grabbed the ball in midair to attempt to hold possession. As he landed from his leap, he was near the baseline and needed to dance to manage the ball and keep in bounds. However he gathered it and managed to throw it off of Good to retain possession and end off one of the crucial sleek thefts you will ever see.
Good, the just-named Defensive Participant of the 12 months, was speechless.
“It isn’t like I deliberate it out or something,” Vacation mentioned. “I simply went after it, it was instinctual.”
The Celtics nonetheless had an opportunity to tie the sport with 5.9 seconds left, down three factors after Vacation’s compelled turnover created two free throws for very important separation for Connaughton. However Vacation iced Good once more, selecting his pocket as he raced up the ground searching for a technique to get the Celtics a 3-pointer. Inside seconds he was in Antetokounmpo’s arms and the Bucks had been one win from taking this super collection.
“He is a winner. Jrue Vacation is a winner,” Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer mentioned. “Ask any participant on this league, any coach on this league, he is a winner.”
All of this overlooks that he scored eight of his 24 factors within the fourth, together with a 3-pointer with 42 seconds left that tied the sport to complete a 14-point Bucks comeback. With Middleton sidelined by a sprained knee, the Bucks have wanted Vacation’s offense in addition to his defence.
Antetokounmpo was the sport’s dominant power as he scored 40 factors with 11 rebounds. The Bucks had been on the ropes a handful of occasions and Antetokounmpo’s basket assaults stored them within the sport. Portis was the difference-maker together with his putback, which got here after Brown and Good misplaced the rebound when each went for it in a pleasant fireplace catastrophe that might find yourself being one of the crucial fateful moments in the whole NBA playoffs.
Final season, the defining second of the Bucks’ run to the title got here when Kevin Durant’s basket on the finish of the fourth quarter in Recreation 7 solely compelled time beyond regulation for Brooklyn as a result of his toe was on the 3-point line. This season, it may very well be that Portis ended up with that unlikely offensive rebound and was in a position to put it again.
However even with Portis’ late bucket and Antetokounmpo’s brilliance, Vacation was the hero.
“We’re in Boston, we’re down 14 within the fourth quarter and folks would say that every thing’s towards us,” Vacation mentioned. “However we come collectively. I really feel like we have executed that a number of occasions and we stay and die by that. Having one another’s backs, simply wrapping arms and going up there combating, actually simply leaving it on the road.”