Khris Middleton wants the Milwaukee Bucks to "own it and learn from it" after another painful defeat again highlighted their struggles without Jrue Holiday.

Going down 121-114 to the Atlanta Hawks on Monday meant the Bucks have lost four of their last five games.

Middleton's 34 points, and 27 points from Giannis Antetokounmpo, could not propel Milwaukee to victory as they conceded 38 points in the fourth quarter.

The team's ball handling in Holiday's six-game absence has often not been clever, and the sooner the starting point guard returns, the better for the Bucks.

The Bucks have a 4-9 record when Holiday has been absent from the team this season, and his latest absence has been them slide to 27-19 for fifth place in the Eastern Conference.

Sidelined by ankle soreness and COVID-19 protocols, Holiday also missed the win over the Brooklyn Nets that preceded the slide. Before that, he was showing exemplary form, averaging 23.9 points and 7.9 assists in his most recent 10 games, way above his season averages which now stand at 18.4 points and 6.7 assists.

"I've been playing with Giannis for years, so I know his spots where he wants the ball, how to get it to him, but Jrue adds another layer of that, where he's able to attack and get other guys going, including Giannis," Middleton said.

"I don't think it's on me to get Giannis going. I feel like Giannis gets himself going for the most part. Every now and then, I feel like I'm able to get him an easy one, but same thing with Jrue.

"We're just missing an extra playmaker, extra scorer, extra defender, an extra player out there."

Antetokounmpo had eight-of-20 shooting from the field in Monday's setback, and managed just six rebounds. Only once this season has he had fewer rebounds.

The Greek superstar leads the team with averages of 28.5 points, 11.2 rebounds and a field-goal percentage of 53.5 per cent, but there are nights when he cannot make a match-winning difference.

Middleton said the Hawks game "was a tough one to drop", and now the Bucks must regroup for a tussle with the 31-15 Memphis Grizzlies on Wednesday.

"We need to find a way to be smarter, be better," Middleton said. "Just gotta own it, learn from it, try to be better."

Coach Mike Budenholzer struck a similar tone, saying the reigning NBA champions have "a lot of areas where we need to be significantly better", adding: "We need more from everybody."

Clear your schedule. There's some appointment viewing in the NBA this week as the Milwaukee Bucks visit the Brooklyn Nets.

The defending NBA champion Bucks renew acquaintances at Barclays Center on Friday with the team they edged in an engrossing Eastern Conference semi-final series last year.

Both Milwaukee and Brooklyn are looking up at the Chicago Bulls, with the Eastern Conference's surprise package continuing to lead the way.

Yet the Bucks and the Nets remain favourites to contest the Conference Finals this season, and their second meeting of the campaign will provide another measuring stick as to who has the edge.

The Nets will not have the unvaccinated Kyrie Irving, who made his season debut against the Indiana Pacers but cannot play in home games due to New York's vaccine mandate.

However, in Kevin Durant they have the NBA's leader in points per game (30.0), and his tussle with Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo - himself averaging 27.9 - promises to be unmissable.

Durant, team-mate James Harden and Antetokounmpo will be the star attractions in Brooklyn, yet some supposed lesser lights could have a decisive say in this marquee matchup.

 

PIVOTAL PERFORMERS

Milwaukee Bucks - Jrue Holiday

Holiday has been key to the Bucks' recent surge, scoring at least 20 points in five of their last eight games, registering three double-doubles in that span.

Excelling as both a scorer and facilitator, the Bucks will likely need Holiday firing on all cylinders for the offense to perform at its best against the Nets.

Brooklyn Nets - LaMarcus Aldridge

Veteran big Aldridge recently revealed he is still suffering from coronavirus symptoms despite clearing the NBA's protocols.

The Nets could certainly use Aldridge at full strength given what he has offered on the defensive end this season. His 4.3 defensive rebounds per game trail only Durant and Harden among Nets players, and he is second on the team in blocked shots with an average of 1.11.

KEY BATTLE - Can Nets bridge three-point gap?

The Bucks were among the most prolific teams in the NBA from the three-point line last month, attempting the second most (603) shots from beyond the arc and converting the third most (217).

Their three-point field goal percentage of 36 was only good enough for 14th. However, with the Nets shooting 32 per cent from deep in December, there is something of a disparity for the home side to make up.

Steve Nash's team are not short of the talent to bridge the gap, though, with Durant, Harden and Co. more than capable of going blow for blow with the Bucks should they get hot from deep.

HEAD-TO-HEAD

Having lost to the Bucks back in October, the Nets will be hoping to avoid a fourth straight regular-season defeat in games against Milwaukee.

Jrue Holiday and Khris Middleton rose in the absence of Giannis Antetokounmpo as the Milwaukee Bucks defeated the Houston Rockets 126-106 on Wednesday.

The reigning champions were without Antetokounmpo for the fourth straight game after he entered the NBA's health and safety protocols last week.

The Bucks had lost their last two without their Greek star but Holiday finished with 24 points, 10 assists and four rebounds, while Middleton added 23 points and six assists on his return from a knee injury.

Young small forward Jordan Nwora hit four triples in his 18-point haul, while center Christian Wood had a double-double for the Rockets with 20 points and 11 rebounds.

The win improves the Bucks to a 20-13 record and third spot in the Eastern Conference.

 

Brown shines for Celtics

Jaylen Brown scored 16 first-quarter points to finish with 34 for the game including five three-pointers as the Boston Celtics got past the Cleveland Cavaliers 111-101. Darius Garland had 28 points and six assists for the Cavs.

Paul George recorded five steals along with 17 points and six assists as the Los Angeles Clippers finished strong to beat the Sacramento Kings 105-89.

The depleted Atlanta Hawks went down 104-98 to the Orlando Magic, despite Cam Reddish's season-high 34 points.

 

Jokic silenced by the Thunder

Reigning MVP Nikola Jokic had a rare quiet night with only 13 points, seven rebounds and three assists as well as three turnovers as the Denver Nuggets went down 108-94 to the Oklahoma City Thunder. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (27 points, 11 rebounds, 12 assists) had a second career triple-double for OKC.

Mike Budenholzer explained he was just managing the minutes of absent duo Jrue Holiday and Grayson Allen as the short-handed Milwaukee Bucks went down to the in-form Cleveland Cavaliers.

Milwaukee were without regular starters Giannis Antetokounmpo, Donte DiVincenzo, Wesley Matthews and Bobby Portis as they have entered the NBA's Health and Safety protocols, while Khris Middleton is still out with a hyperextended left knee.

Both Holiday and Allen were available for selection but were not included as the defending NBA champions were routed 119-90.

However, head coach Budenholzer said that decision was simply because of the amount of minutes the duo played against the New Orleans Pelicans on Friday.

"I mean it's just those guys have played a lot," he said

"Those guys have given us so much including last night, they really, really laid it out – the whole group did. 

"I was just trying to be big picture, Grayson's a little under the weather. I'm really proud of the guys who played, they really competed."

Jordan Nwora impressed for the Bucks, leading the team's scoring with 28 points. Budenholzer says the task now is to improve other areas of his game.

"He's got that unique kind of scorers mentality, he can make or take tough shots, gets just enough separation, he's getting to the basket a little more, attacking a little more," he said.

"He's a very good scorer so it's just kind of trying to work on other parts of the game too. He's making progress there too so it's invaluable opportunities for him."

Defeat for the Bucks (19-13) leaves them fifth in the East, while a sixth straight win sees the Cavaliers up to third with a 19-12 record.

Two seasons ago, the Cavs only won 19 games in total while it took until April 8 to reach that point in 2020-21 – a campaign in which they finished 22-50.

Commenting on the Cavs' position, Darius Garland –  who had 22 points – said: "It's early. We don't get too far ahead of ourselves.

"It's been super fun. It's not just hero ball, everybody is contributing."

The Los Angeles Lakers claimed a remarkable 107-104 overtime win over the Dallas Mavericks with rookie Austin Reaves clinching the game with a late three-pointer.

LeBron James finished with 24 points, three rebounds and five assists but missed a last-gasp three-point attempt in normal time, but the Mavs fumbled the rebound and Wayne Ellington swooped to hit a triple to send the game overtime.

Russell Westbrook (23 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists) came up with a clutch three-pointer in overtime - his only of the game - while Anthony Davis had 20 points and 12 rebounds to lift the Lakers to a 16-13 record with their third straight win.

Both sides had traded triples in overtime but 23-year-old shooting guard Reaves stepped up with scores locked at 104-104 after being found by Westbrook wide open, draining his three-point attempt with 0.9 seconds on the clock.

The Lakers surrendered a good start with a poor second quarter, where the Mavs outscored them 27-14, but defensively were excellent keeping Dallas, who were without Luka Doncic, to 27.3 percent shooting from beyond the arc.

 

Good Holiday with others out

Jrue Holiday stepped up in the absence of Khris Middleton (knee) and Giannis Antetokounmpo (COVID protocols) with 26 points and 14 assists to lead the Milwaukee Bucks past the Indiana Pacers 114-99. Tyrese Maxey had a game-high 27 points for the 76ers.

Reigning MVP Nikola Jokic continued his hot run with another triple-double (27 points, 10 rebounds and 11 assists) but the Denver Nuggets lost 124-107 to the Minnesota Timberwolves, as Anthony Edwards scored 10 triples in his 38 points.

The Utah Jazz stretched their winning streak to eight games, beating the Los Angeles Clippers 124-103 with Rudy Gobert (20 points and 17 rebounds) and Donovan Mitchell (27 points and six assists) starring.

Devonte' Graham drained a 65-foot game-winning buzzer beater as the New Orleans Pelicans defeated the Oklahoma City Thunder 113-110, while Gordon Hayward scored 41 points from 29 minutes on court as the Charlotte Hornets beat the San Antonio Spurs 131-115.

 

Embiid loses his touch

Joel Embiid missed a late three-point chance to tie the game and shot five of 13 from the field for his 17 points as the Philadelphia 76ers lost 101-96 to the weakened Miami Heat, who were without Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo and Tyler Herro. Gabe Vincent landed seven three-pointers in his career-high 26-point haul for the Heat.

Less than five months have passed since the Milwaukee Bucks faced the Atlanta Hawks in the Eastern Conference Finals.

The Bucks advanced in six games and went on to win the NBA title, but the Hawks' surprise run meant the 2020-21 season was one both teams could reflect fondly on.

However, the early indications are 2021-22 will not be counted in the same category.

While there is a long way left to go in this campaign, the two teams enter Sunday's first regular-season meeting both below the playoff line. The Bucks are 6-7, while the Hawks have regressed significantly to 4-9.

Milwaukee can at least point to personnel issues. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday – their three main men – have so far shared just 21 minutes on the court.

Antetokounmpo is on course for an unprecedented fourth straight season averaging 25.0 points, 10.0 rebounds and 5.0 assists per game but sat out of Friday's defeat to the Boston Celtics after spraining his ankle.

"He's kind of tested it a little bit twice today and he's just not able to go," coach Mike Budenholzer said before that game. "I know he'll get treatment, he'll probably get a lift, he'll do everything he can to get back as soon as possible."

Those words do not indicate an immediate return, even if he was originally listed as "probable" to play. Middleton has been out due to coronavirus but may return against the Hawks.

These mitigating factors are not available to Atlanta. They have named the five-man lineup that started their playoff run – prior to De'Andre Hunter's knee injury – on 11 occasions.

The Hawks should look to make the most of playing the short-handed champions and get their season back on track.

PIVOTAL PERFORMERS

Atlanta Hawks – Trae Young

Young will not be short of motivation for this one. He scored 48 points in Game 1 against the Bucks, almost single-handedly winning the series opener as he attempted 34 field goals – the third-most by any player in a single game in the 2020-21 postseason – as well as contributing 11 assists.

But a combination of form and fitness then deserted the breakout star of the playoffs. He had just 15 points in Game 2, before rebounding with 35 in Game 3, only to suffer a foot injury that kept him out of the next two. Young returned with 23.5 per cent field goal shooting in Game 6 as Milwaukee sealed the series.

Atlanta's reliance on Young to both score and create became a real issue when he was faced with elite defense, forcing nine turnovers in Game 2 alone. He has a point to prove now.

Milwaukee Bucks – Jrue Holiday

The source of that elite defense was Holiday, who had scored 33 points in Game 1 but allowed Young too much space on the other side of the ball. The Bucks point guard quickly addressed that issue.

Holiday teamed up with Brook Lopez to effectively shut down Young, striking the right balance between aggressive defense and keeping a dangerous opponent away from the foul line; he attempted 12 free throws in Game 1 alone but only returned to the line 16 more times in the whole series.

An excellent display in Game 6 saw Holiday contribute 27 points, nine assists, nine rebounds, four steals and two blocks, offset only slightly by six turnovers. It is this sort of performance that will be required on Sunday. With Antetokounmpo and Middleton doubts, Holiday will have to drive Milwaukee on offense while being careful not to give Young free rein at the other end.

KEY BATTLE – Could Capela dominate?

It is not only the big names that have been missing for the Bucks, but also the big men. Lopez has not featured since the opening night of the season due to a back issue, while the absence of Antetokounmpo, who can play the five, deals a further blow to Milwaukee's depth.

Bobby Portis is set to line up against Clint Capela, who will expect to dominate his opponent on the boards, with 11.2 rebounds per game this year – a mark only Antetokounmpo on the Bucks' roster can top.

Capela has already been key for Atlanta in limiting the damage during their poor run. The Hawks's 110.1 defensive rating is the third-worst in the league, but that improves to 108.7 with Capela on the floor, by far the best rating of the team's regular starters.

HEAD TO HEAD

The Hawks might have taken the Bucks to six games in the playoffs, but this has been a series Milwaukee have dominated. Including that 4-2 Eastern Conference Finals victory, they are 16-4 in the teams' past 20 meetings. Atlanta won the opening playoff game by three but then lost four of the following five by double digits.

The Bucks have a 114-112 edge all-time in the regular season.

Two-time NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo says the Milwaukee Bucks will reap the benefits of rotating their roster amid injuries later in the championship race.

The reigning champions overcame the under-manned Eastern Conference leaders the Philadelphia 76ers 118-109 on Tuesday, snapping a run of five losses in six games.

Antetokounmpo starred with 31 points, 16 rebounds, four assists and two blocks, but unheralded Grayson Allen and Bobby Portis impressed in the absence of small forward Khris Middleton (COVID-19) and center Brook Lopez (back).

Allen hit five three-pointers to finish with 25 points, while starting center Portis had 19 points and 10 rebounds across 35 minutes on court. Semi Ojeleye added 11 points and eight rebounds off the bench.

"Obviously you always want to win, you play to win," Antetokounmpo said during his post-game news conference. "Grayson and Semi today were really good.

"Semi was shooting his open shots, he was being aggressive, diving for the ball. That's good. We're going to need that.

"We need these guys feeling comfortable playing with me and Jrue [Holiday]. We're going to need everybody to win a championship and play down the stretch in May and June."

Allen, who joined the Bucks from the Memphis Grizzlies in the off-season, went eight-for-13 from the field, including shooting at 56 per cent from beyond the arc.

"Grayson did a good job getting to the right spots," Antetokounmpo said.

The Bucks finished strong with a 27-16 fourth quarter to get over the 76ers, who were without Joel Embiid. The win improves Milwaukee's record to 5-6 on the season.

"It's always good to get a win," the Greek forward said. "Sometimes it's pretty, sometimes it's ugly, but a win is a win. We're trying to build some momentum here.

"With a stop or a block or a play or a pass, just do whatever it takes to get a win. That's what my team needs me to do. That's why I showed a bit of emotion... I just wanted us to get a win."

Holiday missed his three attempts from three-point range and shot four-for-14 from the field to finish with eight points in his third game back from an ankle injury.

Bucks head coach Mike Budenholzer said: "I thought he had some big plays defensively. His effort on the boards, he can put a body on a guy like Drummond, so Giannis and Bobby can clean stuff up. Jrue is working his way and really getting better."

Milwaukee Bucks head coach Mike Budenholzer is hopeful of getting key players Jrue Holiday and Khris Middleton back soon after the NBA champions slumped to their third successive defeat.

The Bucks went down 107-95 to the Utah Jazz on Sunday, with two-time All-Star Middleton absent due to illness, which Budenholzer clarified after the game was not COVID-related.

The loss condemned Milwaukee to yet another loss, leaving the Bucks 3-4 in their title defence as they struggle without All-Star Holiday (ankle), Brook Lopez (back) and Rodney Hood (hand).

Milwaukee – who had averaged 91.5 points on Halloween since the 2000-01 season, second lowest in the NBA heading into the matchup – were again forced to come from behind against the Jazz, trailing by 17 points at the final change, with a late rally not enough.

"The group kept fighting tonight," Budenholzer said in a news conference. "The fight was good. We couldn't quite get there but the guys were working."

Giannis Antetokounmpo top-scored with 25 points, along with seven rebounds and six assists, but he lacked support with Holiday, Lopez and Middleton out.

Holiday has not played since injuring his ankle in the Bucks' opening night win against Eastern Conference rivals the Brooklyn Nets.

"Jrue, I think we'll see how he feels in the morning," Budenholzer said. "He actually got some basketball work in today and I think he's trending in a good direction."

On Lopez, he added: "There's not a new update and there never really has been a timeline. But he's doing good stuff in the weight room, doing good stuff to get better and he'll continue that."

Budenholzer also clarified the status of shooting guard Hood, who previously had a foot injury before undergoing scans on his hand.

"The X-rays the other day were inconclusive," Budenholzer said. "On examination we decided he couldn't play. We'll get another X-ray and look at it tomorrow and hope for the best."

The Bucks return to action on Tuesday against the lowly Detroit Pistons who are 1-5.

The Milwaukee Bucks will raise their 2021 title banner and receive their championship rings on Tuesday, just before a season opener against a Brooklyn Nets team missing a star player they hoped would deliver silverware to their franchise.

Milwaukee defeated Brooklyn in a seven-game Eastern Conference semi-finals series en route to their first NBA title in 50 years last term.

It was an engrossing series in which Milwaukee prevailed largely due to their superior health, the Nets' cause hindered by injury struggles for James Harden and Kyrie Irving.

And they will again be minus Irving for the season opener in Wisconsin, though for a markedly different reason.

Irving's refusal to receive a coronavirus vaccine, and the fluctuations in his ability that would cause with mandates in major cities preventing unvaccinated individuals from entering public spaces, led the Nets to decide he will not play for the team until the issue is resolved.

As a result, much of the burden will again fall on Kevin Durant, though he will at least have the assistance of Harden, as the Nets aim to get a measure of revenge on Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks.

Even with Irving out of the picture, the Nets look set to contend with the Bucks for superiority in the East, and this encounter may provide an early indication of which team has the upper hand in 2021-22.

PIVOTAL PERFORMERS

Milwaukee Bucks – Jrue Holiday 

While Antetokounmpo is the man around whom everything revolves for the Bucks, he receives substantial support from Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday.

It is the latter who is the chief facilitator for Milwaukee. Holiday's 10.5 assists per 48 minutes last postseason ranked fifth among players to play in at least 10 playoff games.

The Bucks will look for him to have a similar influence on their title defence, starting with the visit of the Nets.

Brooklyn Nets – James Harden

Harden was in the MVP conversation last season until a hamstring issue derailed his campaign.

His one full regular-season appearance against the Bucks saw him post a double-double with 34 points and 12 assists.

With Irving unavailable, getting that kind of performance from Harden would be critical to the Nets' hopes of opening the season on a high.

 

KEY BATTLE – Giannis vs. KD

Though both teams have plenty of depth at their disposal, the unquestioned headline act of the season opener will be the heavyweight matchup between Antetokounmpo and Durant.

Last season, the All-Star duo definitely brought out the best in each other.

In 10 games against the Nets across the regular season and postseason, Antetokounmpo only once scored fewer than 30 points. He averaged 61.5 points/assists/rebounds per 48 minutes and had an effective field goal percentage of 57.9.

In three of those games, Durant went over 40 points, with the two-time Finals MVP averaging 58.5 points/assists/rebounds per 48 minutes and posting an effective field goal percentage of 55.6.

However, Durant's plus-minus across all meetings with the Bucks was minus 18 compared to plus 26 for Antetokounmpo, perhaps speaking to his lack of support in the postseason.

With Harden in his corner for this contest, Durant will hope to flip the script in that regard and spoil the Bucks' celebration.

HEAD TO HEAD

The Bucks will be confident they have the edge after their postseason defeat of the Nets and also won each of their home games against Brooklyn last season. A momentous night of celebration for Milwaukee is not the time to let their advantage slip.

Kevin Durant admitted Team USA were caught with "a nice haymaker" from Australia before clambering to their feet and reaching another Olympic final.

The Americans scored a 97-78 victory at the Saitama Super Arena, putting a fourth successive gold medal at the Games within reach.

But at one stage in the second quarter Durant and co trailed 41-26, with the Australian Boomers making a fast and purposeful start to the semi-final that they could not maintain.

It was at the point the USA side fell 15 points behind that they took a timeout, and from that stage onwards they dominated, Durant leading the team with 23 points and nine rebounds.

Australia shot just 25 of 61 – 41 per cent – from the field, whereas USA managed 38 of 74 and dominated the boards 44-29 in what became a convincing victory.

"We've been down 15 in games before and came back," Durant said. "It doesn't matter what level it was at, or where it's at. A lot of guys have been in that position before. We know how to handle ourselves.

"We kept our composure and we knew that we could get back into the game pretty fast, if we got stops and got out and ran. So we've got to give credit to Australia because they came out and hit us with a nice haymaker, but we were able to get back up and get that lead back."

 

It came as no surprise to Durant that Australia began as they did.

"We knew Australia would come out fast and hit us with a nice punch. We know that teams want to get us down early, see how we respond," said the Brooklyn Nets star.

"A lot of these guys got continuity for years and years, so they know how to play with each other. I feel like a lot of teams are expecting us to fold early.

"We stuck with it, stuck with our principles, made a couple of switches on defence, and we were able to get some momentum going into the half. Guys came out with that intensity, making shots as well."

The 32-year-old Durant is chasing a third gold medal of his Olympic career, having played on the London 2012 and Rio 2016 teams.

For Jrue Holiday, who is coming off an NBA championship-winning season with the Milwaukee Bucks, this is a first Olympic experience.

Like Durant, he saw no need for panic after Australia began Thursday's semi-final so strongly.

By half-time, Australia's lead had been cut to just 45-42, and a 32-10 third quarter for the USA showed their firepower.

"I think we played the game long enough to know that there's always a chance," Holiday said. "So we took that six minutes in the second quarter and kind of ramped it up, and went into half-time in the position that we liked."

Australia have finished fourth in Olympic men's basketball four times, never going further and claiming a medal.

They will have a bronze-medal game to come in Tokyo and must pick themselves up to go again.

Jock Landale scored 11 points against the USA, and the Melbourne United star accepted it was tough for Australia to keep up their early high level.

"It's hard. It's really hard. They're great basketball players, they're smart basketball players," Landale said.

"They figure out what you're doing and they just find ways to exploit it. I think we started turning the ball over in that third quarter and they were just living in transition, and that's tough to beat. They're the most athletic guys in the world, so I think that's probably where we lost them."

Giannis Antetokounmpo says it means everything to him to win the NBA title with the Milwaukee Bucks who drafted him in 2013.

Antetokounmpo starred with 50 points, 14 rebounds and five blocks as the Bucks won the NBA Finals in six with a 105-98 Game 6 win over the Phoenix Suns on Tuesday.

The Bucks' triumph ends their half-century wait for an NBA title and comes after losing in the Conference semi-finals in 2020 and the Conference finals in 2019 when Antetokounmpo was MVP on both occasions.

"It means a lot," Antetokounmpo, who was pick 15 in the 2013 NBA Draft, said post-game about winning the title with the Bucks.

"I want to thank Milwaukee for believing in me. I want to thank my team-mates, they played hard every single game.

"I wanted to do it in this city, I wanted to do it with these guys. I'm so happy we were able to get it done."

Antetokounmpo was full of praise for team-mate Khris Middleton who came up with some key late shots to finish with 17 points and get the Bucks home.

The pair have been team-mates at Milwaukee since Antetokounmpo was drafted by the Bucks and Middleton was traded from the Detroit Pistons in 2013.

"This guy doesn’t really know how much he pushes me," 26-year-old Antetokounmpo said about Middleton. "He pushes me every day to be great.

"I'm happy that I can step on the floor with this guy. We've been together for eight years.

"I'm happy I was able to do it with him, with these guys and as coach Bud [Mike Budenholzer] says, we've got to do it again."

Veteran guard Jrue Holiday arrived from the New Orleans Pelicans ahead of this season, seen as one of the missing pieces in the Bucks' jigsaw.

Holiday only contributed 12 points and 11 assists offensively, but he played a key role defensively, blanketed Devin Booker, who finished with 19 points.

"They embraced me," Holiday said post-game about the Bucks after being traded from the Pelicans.

"They told me what to do from the beginning. I've seen all the work they've been doing and how close they've gotten. They believed in me.

"Coming here was obviously the greatest thing in my career."

The Milwaukee Bucks can clinch a first NBA title since 1971 with victory over the Phoenix Suns in Game 6 of the Finals on Tuesday, with Giannis Antetokounmpo preaching the importance of a team-first approach and staying in the moment.

Having fallen 2-0 behind in the series with back-to-back defeats in Phoenix, the Bucks are on the cusp of glory having reeled off three successive wins.

Milwaukee clinched a dramatic Game 5 triumph in Phoenix on Saturday, Jrue Holiday combining with Antetokounmpo for the defining play late in the fourth quarter as he stole the ball from Devin Booker and then lofted a pass for the two-time MVP to send down a thunderous dunk.

That has set the stage for the Bucks to end their 50-year wait in front of their home fans, but Antetokounmpo is not focusing on the potential celebrations should the Bucks close out the series.

"It's going to be amazing. Hopefully we can focus what we got to do and be in the present, compete as much as possible, play good basketball and be the team that wins at the end," said Antetokounmpo 

"Hopefully we can enjoy it with our family and with the fans and they can enjoy it also. I feel like it's something that you can feel the excitement in the city. The last time we were in the NBA Finals was 1974.

"It's been a while. I'm happy that the fans are enjoying it. There's 20,000 people in the arena, 25,000 people outside the arena. But we got to focus. We got to do our job. Then they can do their job celebrating at the end. But we got to do our job first.

"So we got to be in the present as much as possible. I can't focus on celebrating. I can't focus on that right now because I feel like you get too ahead of yourself. We got to focus. I got to focus right now, and then when the game comes tomorrow, focus on each possession at a time, a possession at a time.

"As I said, play good basketball, compete as hard as possible and put ourselves in a position to be able to win that game. That's all can you ask for. Hopefully we win.

"If we win, great. If we don't, we have one more chance. But if we win, it would be nice to celebrate with the fans inside and outside and with our families, because this is something historical that is happening in the city right now."

While Antetokounmpo is averaging a double-double in the series with 32.2 points and 13 rebounds, Holiday and Khris Middleton have each played a pivotal role for the Bucks.

The Bucks have scored 344 points in the Finals when that trio have been on the court, with images of Antetokounmpo leaning on Holiday or Middleton a frequent feature of this series.

 

Asked if he has improved at making it a "we not me" journey, Antetokounmpo replied: "Have to. Everybody is a part of this process. I don't think there's been anybody that has gone through this process by himself and go all the way and win the NBA championship.

"We have to do it together. I need Khris to be great, I need Jrue to be great, I need Bobby [Portis], all of those guys to be great.

"I'm tired. I look next to me, Khris is tired and Jrue is tired or whatever the case might be. It's like they're my brothers. That's when you want to hug them, put your arm around them and, like, we got this, we got this together, we got to keep doing this together until the end."

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Milwaukee Bucks – Jrue Holiday 

All the focus will be on Antetokounmpo but, as he proved in Game 5, Holiday is just as key to the Bucks' hopes.

He is averaging a series-high nine assists per game in the Finals, and his influence on Antetokounmpo is clear.

Antetokounmpo is averaging 41.1 points per 100 possessions with Holiday on the court in the Finals, compared to 38.2 when he is off the floor.

The Finals' top facilitator and top scorer must each be at their best to ensure the Bucks are celebrating come the final buzzer.

Phoenix Suns - Chris Paul

Paul had a double-double in Game 5 with 21 points and 11 assists, but there is evidence to suggest his influence has waned over the course of the series.

He had a plus/minus of -6 on Saturday, the third consecutive game he has finished in the negative column in that regard.

If the Suns are to keep their hopes of a first title alive, they may need a repeat of his 32-point showing from Game 1. 

Giannis Antetokounmpo is the centerpiece and Khris Middleton was coming off a career game, but Jrue Holiday made the biggest plays for the Milwaukee Bucks in their pivotal Game 5 win. 

Bouncing back from a brutal shooting performance in Game 4, Milwaukee's point guard led the way on both ends of the court in Saturday's 123-119 win over the Phoenix Suns that left the Bucks one win away from an NBA title. 

Holiday shook off a four-for-20 night the previous time out to serve as the catalyst in the second quarter that broke the game open for Milwaukee, and his steal and pass in the final minute sealed a pivotal win. 

The latter play was the talk of the game afterward, as team-mates marveled at Holiday's move to knock the ball away from Devin Booker and try an audacious alley-oop feed to Antetokounmpo with 13.5 seconds remaining to stretch a one-point Milwaukee lead to three. 

The Milwaukee Bucks withstood a scorching start by the Phoenix Suns before their three stars carried them to a 123-119 road victory in Game 5 of the NBA Finals, putting them one win away from their first championship in 50 years.

Giannis Antetokounmpo scored 32 points, Khris Middleton had 29 and Jrue Holiday 27 in an entertaining to overcome a 40-point effort by Suns star Devin Booker and quiet the raucous Phoenix crowd. 

Like their fans, the Suns came out hot. Booker attempted Phoenix's first two shots of the game and missed both, but the Suns made 11 in a row from the field after that and held a 16-point lead after the first quarter. 

Their hot hand was short-lived, though, as the Bucks exploded for a 25-6 run and outscored the Suns 43-24 in the second quarter to take a 64-61 lead at the break. 

Milwaukee appeared on the verge of running away with the game, extending the lead to as many as 14 early in the fourth quarter before the Suns staged a late rally. 

Phoenix trimmed the deficit to three on a Booker three-pointer with 1:24 to play and Chris Paul fouled Antetokounmpo the next time down the court, forcing him to his least comfortable spot on the court: the free-throw line, where he would make just four of 11 Saturday.

The Greek star missed both free throws and Paul answered with a driving layup to bring the Suns within one with 56.6 seconds remaining. 

Antetokounmpo redeemed himself moments later, running the floor after Holiday stole the ball from Booker to finish an alley-oop dunk that put Milwaukee's lead back at three. 

After missing yet another free throw, Antetokounmpo tipped the rebound back out to Middleton, who was fouled and broke the Bucks' free-throw drought for a four-point advantage with 9.8 seconds remaining. 

That proved to be enough as Booker missed a jumper with five seconds to play and Phoenix could not get off another shot. 

According to Stats Perform, the Bucks are just the fourth team in NBA history to win Games 3 through 5 after dropping the first two games of the NBA Finals.

The 2006 Miami Heat were the last to do it and ended up closing out the series against the Dallas Mavericks in Game 6.

Suns at Bucks

The Bucks can claim their first NBA title since 1971 with a win in Game 6 Tuesday in Milwaukee. 

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