The only thing that could stop Phoenix Suns goalie Devin Booker was a foul issue.
Well, that and Milwaukee Bucks wing Khris Middleton.
The unannounced Milwaukee All-Star scored 14 of his 40 points in the fourth quarter of Game 4 of the NBA Finals, including 10 consecutive in the 2:07 Finals, to overcome Booker’s remarkable performance in a wild victory of 109-103 Bucks which tied the series, 2-2. Game 5 is scheduled for Saturday in Phoenix at 9 p.m. ET on ABC.
“He’s the guy I want to build a legacy with,” Bucks superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo said of Middleton.
Booker scored 38 of his 42 points in the three quarters and committed his fifth foul at 1:10 of the fourth quarter. It was on fire, and the Suns were in the driver’s seat to take control of the series. Cameron Johnson’s 3-point less than a minute earlier had given Phoenix an 85-76 advantage that ended the Fiserv Forum, but coach Monty Williams opted to sideline his rising star at risk to lose him for the home stretch.
“He could have been aiming for over 50 tonight,” Williams said of Booker. “I wanted to bring him in maybe a minute earlier than I did. You just hang in there trying to get as many saves and solid possessions as you can.”
By the time Booker returned to the game with 5:55 remaining, a layup from Middleton had narrowed the deficit to 93-90, and his home arena was in the process of being turned upside down. Two minutes into his return, Booker should have fouled Bucks guard Jrue Holiday’s capricious escape attempt, but officials swallowed their whistles and Antetokounmpo’s recoil drew Milwaukee to a single point, setting the stage. for a thrilling finish.
Wednesday’s game was filled with crushing mistakes from its most notable players, including Chris Paul, who finished with an equal number of turnovers and scored field goals on a brutal night, but for every game that took the lead, there was a highlight. None was more impressive than Antetokounmpo’s block of Booker’s alley-oop attempt against Deandre Ayton who retained a 101-99 Bucks lead with 1:14 remaining.
“Giannis just made a spectacular block, a spectacular play,” said Milwaukee coach Mike Budenholzer. “His ability to cover the pitch and get to that point, that’s a special moment of the NBA Finals there, and we’re going to need more of that. His impact on play on both ends of the pitch – that’s a big block. “
“I kind of said, in my opinion, this is the best block ever,” added Bucks goaltender Pat Connaughton (11 points, nine rebounds). “Obviously we are a bit biased and you can talk about the LeBron [James] block as well as. But as far as a block where he was covering the pick-and-roll, he had to judge where the pass was, where Ayton was catching it and trying to dunk it, over the box, that’s about as impressive as it gets. “
Between Booker’s sixth foul and Ayton’s, there were three lead changes and two draws.
Connaughton, an unlikely hero, entered the last of his three 3-pointers to give the Bucks a 97-95 lead – their first since a short-lived one-point advantage in the third quarter. Booker responded with a bunny, and Jae Crowder, who hosted a second-half flop clinic, added a pair of free throws to put Phoenix back in front. Middleton’s back-to-back jumpers tipped the score again in Milwaukee’s favor, 101-99.
The last two of Paul’s five turnovers shattered the Suns. With possession of the ball and a 95-92 advantage as the fourth quarter approached the four-minute mark, Paul’s reckless pass triggered a break in Antetokounmpo – easy money for the two-time MVP. The worst was Paul’s fifth and final turnover. With a chance to tie in the last minute, he fell and spat the ball out at Holiday, who found Middleton transitioning to a 103-99 advantage with 27.2 seconds on the clock. Phoenix never shot in a possession again. Game over.
“It was bad decision making,” said Paul.
Paul entered Game 4 as the main contender for the Final MVP and walked away with another playoff-scoring memory reminiscent of his late-game collapse in Game 5 of the Western Conference Semifinals. The stakes are higher now. He has at least two more chances to erase the sting of that outing (10 points on 13 shots, 0 of 2 from range and a worse team score -10) or add one more ghost to the full closet. who haunted him.
Misery loves company, and the Suns wouldn’t let Paul wallow alone. Ayton dominated defensively, grabbing 17 rebounds, blocking three shots and altering countless others, but he only scored six points on nine shots, the last of which was a five-foot miss that would have given Phoenix a lead. five points. He punched the candlestick with cursing frustration. It was that kind of night for a Suns team that made 17 turnovers and allowed 17 offensive rebounds, resulting in a total of 43 Milwaukee points.
Somehow, the Suns still had a chance, thanks to Booker’s big exit. His 42 points on a 17-for-28 shot gave him 542 for the playoffs – the record for most playoff starts by a player – and they came without a single 3-point pointer on Wednesday. The other Phoenix starters scored 38 points on 14 of 36 shots.
“It doesn’t matter at all,” Booker said. “I said that also after the last game, when I struggled to shoot him. The main objective is to win the game, so everything that happens throughout the game, it doesn’t of importance. “
Holiday (4-20 FG, 0-5 3P) was once again the Bucks’ weak offensive link, but 66 points from Middleton and Antetokounmpo masked Milwaukee’s woes in the half court. Collectively, their defense made Game 4 difficult for everyone except Booker, whose 42 points were wasted. The Suns can’t ask for more of him in Game 5, and they have to hope Phoenix on Saturday provides a respite from this waning streak.
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Ben Rohrbach is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Do you have any advice? Email him at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @brohrbach
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