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2021 NBA Playoff Journal (Tuesday, July 20)

The Suns opened the 2021 Finals by scoring 118 points in each of the first two games, winning by margins of 13 and 10 points. The Suns left Phoenix with the sounds of its fans cheering "Suns in Four!" As ESPN's college football 'bozo' Lee Corso loves to say, "Not so fast." Milwaukee won Game 3 by 20 points and followed with a comeback 109-103 win in Game 4 to even the series at two-all. Game 5 was back in Phoenix and the Suns were hoping that like in the first four games of the NBA Finals, the home team would once again prevail. 
 
It seemed like the same old, same old at the start of Game 5, as Phoenix made 14 of its 19 FG attempts in the first quarter (including 11 in a row in one span) to take a 37-21 lead. However, the Bucks began the second quarter on a 21-5 run and entered halftime with a three-point lead (64-61), after scoring 43 second-quarter points. Milwaukee continued its surge in the third quarter, extending its lead to 10 points (100-90) heading into the fourth quarter. Recapping for a second, the Bucks made 32 of 45 FG attempts (71.1%) in the second and third quarters combined, outscoring the Suns 79-53! Phoenix was still down 10 points with just under 3 1/2 minutes remaining but the Suns got a three-pointer from Booker and a basket by Paul to cut it to 120-119 with 56 seconds to play. Holiday missed a jumper at the other end and down one with 16 seconds left, Booker drove into the middle but Holiday wrestled the ball out of his hands. Antetokounmpo sprinted down the court and Holiday fired a perfect lob pass that Giannis slammed down while Chris Paul fouled him to put the Bucks up three points. Final score: Milwaukee 123, Phoenix 119!
 
Milwaukee's "Big 3" really came through, as Giannis had 32-9-6, Middleton 29-7-5 and Holiday 27-4-13. Reserve guard Connaughton followed his 11-point, nine-rebound effort in Game 4 with 14 points and six rebounds in Game 5. After averaging 6.1 & 3.9 through Milwaukee's first three series, Connaughton is averaging 11.0 & 5.4 in the NBA Finals. The Bucks shot 57.5% for the game, including 14 of 28 on threes. The Suns shot 55.2% for the game, including 68.4% on threes, but lost! All five Phoenix starters scored in double figures, led by Booker's 40 points. It was his FOURTH 40-point game of the postseason. Booker's 582 points are the most ever for a player in his first postseason. The previous record was held by Rick Barry, who scored 521 points in 1967 playoffs. Let me pause here to 'defend' Rick. Barry was in just his second NBA season (he was just 22 years-old) and his 521 points came in 17 games, giving him an average of 34.7 PPG. Booker's point total has been accumulated over 21 games (27.7 PPG). Chris Paul had 21 points and 11 assists and center Ayton added another double-double with 20 & 10. Like Booker, Ayton is a playoff 'rookie' and he has 14 double-doubles in the Suns' 21 games (16.6 & 12.1 for the series), while shooting 67.6% from the floor.
 
Milwaukee's win was first for a road team this series, as home teams are now 4-1 SU and ATS in the NBA Finals. The final score easily went over the total, the first "over" of the series (one over, three unders and one push). Those following the "Zig-Zag Theory" this series lost with Milwaukee in Game 2, won with Milwaukee in Game 3, lost with Phoenix in Game 4 and have now lost again with Phoenix in Game 5. Checking in on the playoff numbers to-date, home teams are 47-37 (.560) SU but just 42-41-1 ATS. Over/under bettors have seen 42 overs, 39 unders and three pushes. As for those following the "Zig-Zag Theory," the Game 5 loss on Phoenix makes them 31-38 ATS or minus-10.8 net games. Game 6 is set for Tuesday at Fiserv Arena in Milwaukee, where the Bucks have gone 9-1 SU (7-3 ATS) this postseason. Phoenix was the NBA's best road team during the regular season (24-12) and will need to win here to extend this series to a Game 7 back in Phoenix on Thursday. Game 6 tips off at 9:05 ET with Milwaukee favored by five-points and an over/under of 222.
 
Game 6 Preview: Elimination games are all about handling the pressure. The Phoenix Suns were up 2-0 and all the talk centered around a storyline that this season's NBA Finals would serve as a 'career coronation" for PG Chris Paul's Hall of Fame career. However, after THREE straight Milwaukee wins, the Suns are attempting to embrace the underdog role. If the Suns lose Game 6 of the Finals, Paul will become the first player to lose FOUR best-of-7 series in which his team led 2-0 (note: Phoenix would also need to win a Game 7 or Paul would still suffer the same fate/indignation). Paul is currently tied with former teammate Blake Griffin, as they have both lost three best-of-7 series losses in which their teams had this lead. I'll go into greater detail if the Suns lose the series. As for the Bucks, after posting the NBA's best regular season record in each of the two previous seasons, they entered this year's playoffs as the East's No. 3 seed and as owners of just the NBA's seventh-best record. Now, Milwaukee is just ONE win away from winning a second series this postseason after trailing 2-0. A win in Game 6 (or Game 7) would give the Bucks' organization just its second NBA title in franchise history (first came in 1971). Milwaukee has closed out each of its three series in this postseason on the road but now has the chance to close out the Suns at Fiserv Arena (9-1 SU and 7-3 ATS this postseason). Is "Tonight the Night," as Rod Stewart sang or will it be a Game 7 "decider" Thursday in Phoenix.

Either way, my next journal will be available Wednesday afternoon by 1:00 ET.

Good luck...Larry

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