The Morning Shootaround is where you will find a new, timely column every Monday from one of SI.com’s NBA writers.
I had an idea for a piece, but Wednesday's incredible Game 4 completely changed my plans.
This contest is the kind that makes you want to throw your idea away and wrap it up in a wad. The game was an unforgettable one, with a memorable moment interspersed with several teeth-grinding sequences.
It is impossible to begin anywhere except the play that felt seismic. One that might, for now at least, be the defining play in Giannis Antetokounmpo’s two-time MVP and Defensive Player-of-the-Year career.
With just 80 seconds remaining, Milwaukee was up 101 to 99 when Devin Booker, the world-destroyer, and his 42 points were coming around the Deandre Ayton screen at top of the three point arc. The Bucks' P.J. had the advantage of giving the guard a half-step and an advantageous angle to maneuver towards the rim. Tucker forced Antetokounmpo up to the free throw line and to help. This left Ayton free to dive to the rim.
Booker, who had been scoring all game with his offhand, reacted by launching a pass to Ayton using his left. With what appeared to be an open alley-oop, the big man was sitting in the restricted circle behind the defense. Booker's pass was not perfect. A little bit like the one Booker made earlier in the season, which was also blocked. Booker threw the ball more towards the baseline than toward the rim.
Ayton still has a large catch radius. In this case, you could argue that Antetokounmpo was smart enough to place the pass slightly off the hoop.
The sequence is nine-tenths to a second. It takes a stopwatch from the moment Booker receives the ball and the time it's caught high by Ayton. The Suns tied the game with a beautiful, selfless play by their unstoppable scorer. He sneaked a creative pass to his big brother underneath.
Only the tie did not occur. Giannis was instead.
The 6-foot-11 forward tracked the ball in nine tenths and then flipped his hips in coverage. He then leapt into a jump that sent him approximately 11.5 feet above the rim. He'd already met Ayton at summit, and he denied him. He jumped from the same knee that he had hyperextended two weeks earlier in cover-your eyes fashion to make the play.
Antetokounmpo stated that he saw it coming after the game. "Once [Booker] had it in his one, he was too far to make a layup. I was aware that he was trying lob and I did so. It's possible to get it. It's almost there. It was almost like I could feel [Ayton] roll to the rim behind my back, so I knew that the only way to stop him is to jump towards the rim and attempt to cover the angle to his score.
This game-changing play was a strong reminder that coach Mike Budenholzer should use Antetokounmpo more as a help defender than just putting him on a hot wing scorer such as Booker, Kevin Durant, or Jimmy Butler every possession.
Remember: This was Antetokounmpo's second amazing display of defensive athleticism during the series. The first was his unbelievable, LeBron-like chasedown block in game 1.
Two other aspects of this contest were notable. Booker was lighting up the Milwaukee nets, even surpassing Khris Midton who ended with 40 points. His star backcourt partner was feeling intense defensive pressure and doing the opposite.
Chris Paul was just 5-for-13 with 10 ppg and had five turnovers in the game. This is a very unusual performance for the normally confident floor general. He now has 17 turnovers in the series' first four games. This is a remarkable number considering that he had only 22 turnovers in his 14 previous playoff games.
Giveaways played a major role in Game 4. Milwaukee won the turnover battle 17-5. By a score of 17-5, the Bucks won offensive-rebound. The result was that Phoenix got just 78 shots attempts to the Bucks'97, which gave the home team more chances for redemption.
Jrue Holiday was responsible for twenty of the Milwaukee shots, more than Antetokounmpo had 19 attempts. He missed 16 of them. He cranked all five of his threes. He attempted 10 layups, but failed on seven. He missed a short-range jumper, and Antetokounmpo grabbed the offensive board. Then, Giannis gave him a pass, and he took a straight-on triple, which was rimmed out once more. In a tight game, Antetokounmpo missed two jumpers in 11 second.
Holiday stated after the game, "Even though my shot isn't falling, I still try to be aggressive offensively."
Holiday's redemption performance is a difficult one for Bucks fans. Yes, Holiday shot much like Josh Smith throughout the night. He made Paul uncomfortable, which was evident after Game 1. Milwaukee was switching way too quickly. Paul continued to push the ball in transition.
In each of the guard’s first three giveaways, he was the one hounding Paul. Holiday ran up the court for a layup, and Devin Booker was flagged as a foul. Holiday was not called on the fourth steal. (Antetokounmpo took possession of the ball and made a layup to reduce Milwaukee's deficit down to one, 95-94. We'll get to this later. Paul's fifth and last turnover was a terrible one. He slipped and lost control of the rock just 30 seconds before the Bucks were up 101-99. But, Holiday was there to grab it and make another fast break. Six seconds later, Milwaukee had two more points after Middleton had given up the ball. The Fiserv Forum crowd was roaring and the Bucks were almost guaranteed Game 4.
Holiday's performance was remarkable because of that. He found ways to contribute, even in a game in which he couldn't hit any shots ( something that the Bucks have seen from their playoff point-guards in recent years). He had seven assists, and only one turnover. He was also able to keep his foot on it defensively against Paul, picking up 94 feet of possessions--a truly exhausting task that he hopes will have a cumulative effect on the future Hall of Famer throughout the series.
"That's part of the reason we did it--to not give Chris easy baskets or an easy view of how the game works. Holiday stated that he is able to control the game and simply put it in his hand because he knows how."
This brings us to the final aspect of the contest. It was not overlooked and should be talked about.
Mark J. Rebilas/USA Today Sports
Game 4 was very physical and both teams had issues with the game's call. Tucker and Jae Crowder were the usual complainers. Booker picked up his fifth foul just 11 minutes into the game.
Phoenix coach Monty Williams made the wise decision to substitute Booker for the Suns, even though it wasn't exactly the decision Williams wanted. Booker was 7-for-7 with 18 points scored in the third quarter. Paul was struggling and Booker was the only source of offense for the team at that time. He had 38 points by the end of the contest while his teammates weren't in double figures.
Booker should have been careful if he returned to the game with 5 minutes left. Then, something strange happened. Two minutes later, Booker made an obvious (or perhaps intentional) error to prevent Holiday from converting a layup after Paul's fourth turnover.
Booker wrapped Holiday up in the air as if trying to stop a third-and-long pass. Fiserv's crowd groaned loudly at the absence of a whistle, apparently in anger and confusion. Some people's reaction changed to excitement when Antetokounmpo grabbed a loose ball and made it into a basket. Even though Milwaukee won the points, ESPN's play-by-play guy Mike Breen rightly pointed out why it was such an important decision to not blow the whistle.
Booker snubbed Holiday! They didn't call it. Antetokounmpo bank it home, but that would have been [Booker]'s] sixth foul!" Breen exclaimed.
Mark Jackson, one the color analysts on this call, said "How can you not call that foul?"
Jeff Van Gundy asked, "And if Devin Booker is your foul, how are you going to take that foul?"
The arena confusion grew into widespread boos when the game was about to end.
James Capers, game's crew chief acknowledged the missed call after the contest. He said that he hadn't been able to see Booker's right hand around Holiday's waist in time to blow the whistle. Even with Capers's explanation, it was one the most bizarre no-calls in recent memory. The Suns were spared their most prolific scorer in the final four minutes of the game--Booker scored two more points after that and could have won a crucial Finals game against the team that had a 2-1 lead.
The Bucks were able to win the series tie and shift the storyline that would have made it a very ugly one if Phoenix had won. It would have marred an otherwise amazing game, but Antetokounmpo's rejection will be the highlight of this incredible game.