“Do you want to go to the Finals?” My older brother, Jarrett, asked me over the phone on Saturday, July 10th. Going to an NBA Finals is a once in a lifetime type experience, and as a die-hard NBA fan, this was an opportunity that I would not pass on. Four days later, I was surreally in Wisconsin for Game 4 of the NBA Finals between the Milwaukee Bucks and Phoenix Suns.
The Suns were led by Chris Paul and Devin Booker. Paul is one of the greatest point guards to step on the hardwood, while Devin Booker is one of the league’s most prolific scorers. Along with those two, Deandre Ayton played like a star throughout the playoffs. Mikal Bridges and Jae Crowder, the team’s wings, provided great support by spacing the court and playing stellar defense. Off the bench, Cameron Johnson and Cameron Payne were staples of the rotation, as both played the best basketball of their life throughout their playoff run.
Opposing the Western Conference champs were the Milwaukee Bucks, led by the 2x MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo. Antetokounmpo put all of the doubters that said he couldn’t perform in the playoffs to sleep, posting back-to-back 40 point games going into Game 4 (he would have a 50 point game in Game 6 to close the series). Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday were great second and third stars, respectively, as Middleton brought the offense and Holiday brought the defense. Add this to the support of Brook Lopez, Pat Connaughton, PJ Tucker, and Bobby Portis, and the Bucks had built a formidable team.
What made the matchup so intriguing to me was that both franchises were looking to make history. The Suns had made the Finals twice before (1976, 1993) but lost both times. The Bucks had made the Finals twice as well (1971, 1974), as they won the ‘71 title. History would be made on either side.
Furthermore, the contrasting styles of the teams’ offense made the matchup even more great. The Suns were built around spectacular guard play from Paul and Booker, while the Bucks were constructed behind the aggressive-minded, “get to the basket” Antetokounmpo.
Antetokounmpo is one of my favorite players, so I was pulling for the hometown Bucks to win, but I also wouldn’t have hated to see Paul capture his first NBA ring.
My brother and I arrived at the game two hours before the game so that we could get in the arena. We didn’t want to get there too late because outside the arena during the game were thousands of Bucks fans watching.
The energy in the arena was contagious, and it was so unbelievably loud. It’s hard to tell how loud it is on TV; I could barely hear myself screaming at some points. Whether we were chanting “MVP” for Antetokounmpo, “Bucks in 6” once the Bucks secured the game, or booing the Suns players when they were complaining to the refs, the energy was simply out of this world.
Booker had 42 points, as he was the only reason that the Suns were in the game. He played great in the pick & roll, eating apart the Bucks ‘drop coverage’ scheme. It seemed like every mid-range jumper he shot went in. On the other side of it was another 40 point game, as Middleton scored 40. The Bucks’ closer was key in their comeback win, hitting contested shot after contested shot to get the Bucks the win.
While all of that was awesome, it wasn’t the highlight of my night. I witnessed one of the greatest blocks in NBA history (and also got it on camera). With the game winding down, Booker threw an alley-oop to Ayton. It seemed like it was obviously going to end in a dunk. Except it didn’t. Antetokounmpo had one of the greatest recoveries ever, as the block kept the lead for the Bucks.
It was a down-to-the-wire. The Bucks outscored the Suns 33-21 in the 4th quarter. As everyone now knows, the Bucks won the game 109-103, tying the series 2-2. They would later win the series.
I wasn’t just at a game; I was at a historic game.