Giannis Antetokounmpo and teammate Khris Middleton’s friendship, now nine years old, is well-known for its depth and trust.
But what about that Jrue Holiday thing…
“It’s blossoming, blooming!” Antetokounmpo stated after the Milwaukee Bucks stole a 110-107 Game 5 victory against the Boston Celtics on Wednesday night to take a 3-2 series lead.
“I love him.”
Antetokounmpo had embraced Holiday in a hug minutes after the final buzzer. The region above his right eye was caked with skin adhesive following multiple efforts to heal an oozing cut that troubled him throughout the thrilling fourth quarter.
The Bucks traded three first-round selections for Holiday in 2020, a risky move for a then-30-year-old guard, and finally signed him to a $135 million extension last year. Those seemed like steals after he provided another in a long line of defensive gems. In this scenario, one is a diamond, while the other is a ruby.
Even if you witnessed it and then repeated it, the subtle magnificence of the play he made with eight seconds remaining and the Bucks ahead by one point — following a stunning putback by Bobby Portis that needs its novella — is difficult to express.
Jaylen Brown scored 16 of his 26 points in the third quarter, which Holiday was guarding. The Celtics, on the other hand, had spent the fourth quarter pursuing the easier mark, Pat Connaughton, where Marcus Smart went for a possible game-winning jumper. It had worked since Smart was about to have a clean appearance when Holiday separated from Brown.
What followed resulted from a will, instinct, and fortune favoring the prepared. Holiday stated that he assumed Smart would be unable to tell if Brown was open at the time. The Holiday was correct; in fact, Smart never noticed the blur wearing No. 21, who neatly pulled the shot out of his hands before it could become Celtics mythology as a game-winning shot.
Instead of swatting it and risking hitting the ball out of bounds, Holiday grabbed the ball in midair to preserve possession. He was near the baseline as he landed from his leap and had to dance to manage the ball and stay in bounds. But Holiday retrieved the ball and managed to toss it off Smart, retaining possession and completing one of the most beautiful steals you’ll ever witness.
Smart, the NBA Defensive Player of the Year, was rendered speechless.
“It’s not like I planned it,” Holiday explained. “I simply went after it instinctively.”
With 5.9 seconds remaining, the Celtics had an opportunity to tie the game, down by three points after Holiday’s forced mistake resulted in two free throws for Connaughton. But Holiday iced Smart once again, picking his pocket as he sprinted up the floor searching for a 3-pointer for the Celtics. Within seconds, Holiday was in Antetokounmpo’s arms, and the Bucks were one victory away from clinching this incredible series.
“He’s a champion. Jrue Holiday has won, “According to Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer. “Ask any player or coach in this league. He’s a winner.”
All of this ignores that Holiday scored eight of his 24 points in the fourth quarter, including a 3-pointer with 42 seconds left to tie the game and cap a 14-point Bucks rally. With Middleton out with a sprained knee, the Bucks have relied on Holiday for offense and defense.
Antetokounmpo was the dominant force, scoring 40 points and grabbing 11 rebounds. The Bucks were on the verge of losing several times, but Antetokounmpo’s basket assaults kept them in the game. Portis’ putback made the difference after Brown and Smart fumbled a rebound when both tried for it in chaos. That might be one of the most pivotal moments in the NBA playoffs.
Last season, the defining moment of the Bucks’ championship run occurred when Kevin Durant’s basket after the fourth quarter in Game 7 only forced overtime because his toe was on the 3-point line. This season, it’s possible that Portis got the impressive offensive rebound and was able to return it.
Despite Portis’ late bucket and Antetokounmpo’s brilliance, the holiday was the hero.
“We’re in Boston, we’re down 14 in the fourth quarter, and everyone would say everything is against us,” Holiday explained. “But we stick together. I feel like we’ve done it before, living and dying by it. Having each other’s backs, locking arms, and battling up there — honestly, just putting it all on the line.”