We have ourselves a series.
After losing Games 1 and 2 in Phoenix, the Bucks took care of their business on their homecourt to even the 2021 NBA Finals at 2-2.
NBA FINALS GAME 4: Takeaways | Player ratings
The series now returns to Phoenix for an all-important Game 5. The Suns will be looking to get back on track while the Bucks will be looking to ride the momentum they built up in Games 3 and 4.
With that in mind, some things to watch in Game 5...
Chris Paul bouncing back
Chris Paul stole the show in Game 1 of the 2021 NBA Finals. Since then, the Bucks have been able to make life more difficult for him.
While he went for 23 points and nine assists in Phoenix's Game 2 win, Paul also committed six turnovers, tying his season-high. He then turned the ball over four times in Game 3, followed by five more times in Game 4.
That means Paul has more turnovers in his last three games against the Bucks (15) than he did in Phoenix's entire first-round series with the Los Angeles Lakers (9), as well as its second-round series with the Denver Nuggets (5) and its third-round series with the LA Clippers (8). Uncharacteristic indeed.
"It was me, I had five of them," Paul responded when asked about Phoenix's turnover problems in Game 4. "It was bad decision making.
"That time we were down two and I tried to cross over right there, slipped, turned it over. I had some bad passes in the first half. They got a significant amount more shots than us, so for me I got to take care of the ball.
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It's taken a team effort, but Jrue Holiday has taken on the primary assignment of defending the 11-time All-Star. As I detailed following Game 4, Paul has had some success as a scorer against Holiday, but the bulk of his turnovers have come with the two-time All-Defensive First Team selection guarding him.
Holiday has dialled up the pressure, giving Paul little-to-no breathing room by picking him up almost the full length of the court.
Holiday has also been fighting hard to get around screens rather than gifting Paul the matchup he wants.
With the series now being a best-of-three, the Suns need to find a way to get Paul going again if they are going to come out on top. Phoenix almost won Game 4 despite Paul having an off night, but it took a superhuman performance from Devin Booker (42 points on 28 shots) to keep it close.
The possession game
Some numbers to keep an eye on.
According to NBA.com, the Bucks are averaging 16.8 points per game off of turnovers in the Finals. While that would've ranked them in the middle of the pack during the regular season, it's far more than the Suns are averaging (11.5) through four games of this series.
Additionally, the Bucks are getting 16.3 second-chance points per game, a rate that would've led the league during the regular season. It's also far more than what the Suns are averaging (8.8).
Both of those were a factor in Game 4, a game in which the Bucks shot a miserable 40.2 percent from the field and 24.1 percent from 3-point range.
|Points off of turnovers||Second chance points|
"Well, the turnovers just crushed us tonight," Suns head coach Monty Williams said following Game 4. "We shot 50 percent from the field, but they got 19 more possessions.
"Over the course of the game when you just give it up that many times the turnovers and offensive rebounding was a bit of a hill for us to climb."
There's only so much the Suns can do against Giannis Antetokounmpo and Brook Lopez, but P.J. Tucker has been a factor on the offensive glass in this series, as has Pat Connaughton. As the Atlanta Hawks learned in the Eastern Conference Finals, it's a collective effort to keep the Bucks off the boards.
An encore for Khris Middleton
Khris Middleton has shown up time and time again for the Bucks in these playoffs.
In Game 1 of Milwaukee's first-round matchup with the Miami Heat, Middleton scored a game-high 27 points and hit the game-winning jumper in overtime to set the tone for the series. Down 0-2 to the Brooklyn Nets in the second round, Middleton came up big in Game 3 with 35 points and 15 rebounds to get the Bucks on the board. He then scored 38 points in Game 6 to force a Game 7.
Middleton did more of the same in the Eastern Conference Finals. With Antetokounmpo sidelined due to injury, Middleton led the Bucks to victory with 26 points, 13 rebounds and eight assists in Game 5, followed by 32 points and seven assists in Game 6 to close out the series.
And, of course, his latest masterpiece: Middleton exploded for a playoff career-high 40 points in Game 4 to help the Bucks tie the series at 2-2.
Never afraid of the moment. pic.twitter.com/BYqhg8TrC1- Milwaukee Bucks (@Bucks) July 16, 2021
Is there more of that to come? Maybe not another 40-point game, but the Bucks could do with at least one more big Middleton performance in this series.
Doing it on the road in Game 5 to put the Bucks one win away from the title would be quite the moment.
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