‘I love him’: Jrue Holiday’s defense was the difference in Game 5

BOSTON — The relationship between Giannis Antetokounmpo and teammate Khris Middleton, now nine years old, is well known for its depth and trust.

But about this relationship with Jrue Holiday…

“It’s blooming, it’s blooming!” Antetokounmpo said after the Milwaukee Bucks completed a stunning display of clutch play by stealing a 110-107 Game 5 win over the Boston Celtics on Wednesday night to take a 3-2 series lead.

“I love it.”

Antetokounmpo, the space above his right eye covered in skin glue after numerous attempts to close a weeping laceration that plagued him throughout the dramatic fourth quarter, had wrapped Holiday in a hug moments after the final buzzer – and rightly so.

The Bucks traded three first-round picks for Holiday in 2020 — a deal for a 30-year-old guard who was questioned at the time — and eventually signed him to a $135 million extension last year. It looked like bargains after he delivered another in what has become a long list of defensive gems. In this case, one a diamond, the other a ruby.

The nuanced greatness of the play he made with eight seconds left and the Bucks up one point – after a dramatic Bobby Portis comeback that deserves its own news – is hard to convey even if you’ve seen it then replayed.

Holiday was defending Jaylen Brown, who scored 16 of 26 points in the third quarter. But the Celtics had passed fourth to tackle the easier mark, Pat Connaughton, and that’s where Marcus Smart went for a potentially game-winning shot. It had worked, in a way, because Smart was getting a makeover when Holiday parted ways with Brown.

What happened next was that all willpower, instincts and fortune favor those who are prepared. Holiday said at the time he thought Smart wouldn’t be able to see if Brown was open. Holiday was right; in fact, Smart never even saw the blur wearing the No. 21 that cleanly snatched the kick from his hands before he could enter into Celtics lore as the game-winner.

But instead of smashing it and risking the ball going out of bounds only to stay with Boston and another chance to win, Holiday caught the ball in the air to try and keep possession. When he landed after his jump he was close to the baseline and had to dance to control the ball and stay in bounds. But Holiday got the ball back and managed to throw it to Smart to retain possession and complete one of the most graceful steals you’ve ever seen.

Smart, the just named NBA Defensive Player of the Year, was speechless.

“It’s not like I planned it or anything,” Holiday said. “I just went after it, it was instinctive.”

The Celtics still had a chance to tie the game with 5.9 seconds left, down three points after Holiday’s forced turnover created two free throws for a vital split for Connaughton. But Holiday iced Smart again, picking his pocket as he ran across the floor looking for a way to get a 3-pointer for the Celtics. Within seconds, Holiday was in the arms of Antetokounmpo, and the Bucks were one win away from that formidable series.

“He’s a winner. Jrue Holiday is a winner,” Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said. “Ask any player in this league, any manager in this league, he’s a winner.”

All of that overlooks the fact that Holiday scored eight of his 24 points in the fourth quarter, including a 3-pointer with 42 seconds left that tied the score to complete a 14-point Bucks comeback. With Middleton sidelined with a sprained knee, the Bucks needed Holiday’s offense as well as his defense.

Antetokounmpo was the game’s dominant force, as he scored 40 points with 11 rebounds. The Bucks were on the ropes a handful of times and Antetokounmpo’s basket attacks kept them in the game. Portis made the difference with his comeback, which came after Brown and Smart lost a rebound when the two got into a debacle that could end up being one of the most fateful moments of all of the playoffs in the league. NBA.

Last season, the defining moment in the Bucks’ title run came when Kevin Durant’s field goal late in the fourth quarter of Game 7 only forced the Brooklyn Nets into overtime because his toe was on the 3 point line. This season, it could be that Portis ended up with that unlikely offensive rebound and was able to put it back.

But even with Portis’ late bucket and Antetokounmpo’s brilliance, Holiday was the hero.

“We’re in Boston, we’re down 14 points in the fourth quarter and people would say it’s all against us,” Holiday said. “But we come together. I feel like we’ve done it many times and we live and die by it. Support each other, wrap your arms around each other and go out there and fight – honestly, let it stake.”

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