We officially have ourselves a series! Game 5 is on Saturday in Phoenix.

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We officially have ourselves a series! Game 5 is on Saturday in Phoenix.

The Freak Block

Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

If the Bucks win the series, Giannis Antetokounmpo’s block on Deandre Ayton will be remembered as one of the all-time classic Finals moments. But before we get into that: None of it matters without Khris Middleton’s 40 points — 10 straight in the last 2:07.

The block that shook the NBA world: The Suns were a bucket away from tying the game with 1:15 left. 

They ran a pick-and-roll with Devin Booker as the primary ball-handler and Ayton as the roll man. Poised, Book waited for Giannis to help P.J. Tucker at the elbow, then threw a beautiful lob.

Surely, it would be a tie game against anyone else, but this is Giannis we’re talking about. 

The Greek Freak pivoted, leaped off his left foot — the same leg where he hyperextended his knee two weeks ago — and came up with a game-saving block on the Suns big man. Phoenix didn’t score for another full minute.

“I thought I was going to get dunked on,” Giannis said with a smile. “But you know, going down the stretch, just do whatever it takes to win the game.”

Ultimately, Giannis’ block probably doesn’t matter if Middleton doesn’t go off the way he did, and Middleton’s performance doesn’t matter if Giannis doesn’t reject the shot.

“Khris is the heart of this team, and Giannis is the soul,” said Bucks guard Jrue Holiday. “Together, they form perhaps the most unlikely superstar tandem in sports.”

The CP Turnover

Mark J. Rebillas-USA TODAY Sports

Not long after Giannis’ block — with 32 seconds remaining, to be exact — the Suns had one more chance to tie the game. This time, the ball was in Chris Paul’s hands.

Paul has dominated in the pick-and-roll the entire postseason. Instead, he tried splitting two defenders (Holiday and Giannis), lost the ball, and fell to the ground as Middleton hit the dagger layup in transition.

The Giannis block was a freak play (pun intended), but CP’s turnover could have been avoided: He attempted to blow by two All-Defensive First Team players.

“It was me,” Paul said about Phoenix’s 17 turnovers. “I had five of them. It was bad decision-making.”

The turnover underscores Milwaukee’s defensive adjustments for CP following Game 1 (when he had 32 points and only two turnovers) and how he has folded under more pressure — specifically a face-guard type of defense from Holiday and a variety of different looks covering the pick-and-roll.

He has 15 turnovers in Games 2, 3, and 4, his most in a three-game postseason stretch since 2012. Compare that to the rest of the postseason — he had nine turnovers against the Lakers (6 games), five against the Nuggets (4 games), and eight against the Clippers (4 games). 

“The turnovers just crushed us tonight,” Suns coach Monty Williams said.

The Booker No-Call

Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Devin Booker’s 42 points last night went to waste. He outscored the rest of Phoenix’s starters (38 points) and tied Wilt Chamberlain for the second-most 40-point games in a player’s first career playoff appearance.

Alas, the story isn’t about Book’s incredible night. It’s about the referees and their inconsistency… again.

The Suns had a three-point lead with 3:43 remaining in the fourth quarter. CP committed his fourth turnover, and Book was on the wrong side of a 3-on-1 transition opportunity. Playing with five fouls, one would assume he’d simply get out of the way.

Instead, Book blatantly fouled Jrue Holiday on a layup attempt, which should have been his sixth foul of the night. The refs decided to look the other way. 

“During live play, I saw a clean sweep of the ball and thought it was a no call,” crew chief James Capers told a pool reporter. 

“However, after seeing the replay, I now realize that I missed Booker’s right arm around the waist of Holiday, and it should have been a defensive foul on the play.”

Given the outcome, the no-call is somewhat moot, but it’s simply unacceptable and bad for the game when the referees pick and choose when it’s appropriate to make a call. Imagine it was Scott Foster?

Around The Association: Candace, OTD, Beal

2K

  • Chicago Sky star Candace Parker made history by becoming the first woman to be featured on the cover of an “NBA 2K” game. “I think it’s a benchmark of women’s basketball for sure,” she told the Associated Press.” The game will be released on Sept. 10. 
  • While we’re on the topic… on this day in 1991, Sandhi Ortiz-Del Valle became the first woman to officiate a men’s professional basketball game — working a game in the United States Basketball League featuring the New Haven Skyhawks and the Philadelphia Spirit.
  • Per ESPN, Wizards guard Bradley Beal will enter Team USA’s health and safety protocols. No timetable has been provided, but there’s a possibility that he’ll miss the Tokyo Olympics. Watch this space.

Shoutout to Dan Okray, who came closest to predicting how many points Giannis would score in Game 4. Dan guessed 27; Giannis scored 26.

*Odds/lines subject to change. T&Cs apply. See draftkings.com/sportsbook for details.

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