The block that keeps the NBA Finals alive

The Phoenix Suns have done well to win the first two games of these NBA Finals and were close to taking one of the two games on the road.

Bucks live to fight another day

The Milwaukee Bucks capitalised on home court advantage to level the NBA Finals 2-2 after beating the Phoenix Suns 109-103 in Game 4 on Wednesday. But the play that sealed the deal for them – by their superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo – was one that will be looked at as the moment that changed this series – if the Bucks go on to lift the 2021 NBA championship.

Historical context

Five years ago in the NBA Finals, a Golden State Warriors (GSW) team on its way to be considered the greatest team in the history of the NBA was stopped by LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and the Cleveland Cavaliers. GSW led the final series 3-1 and no team in the history of the NBA had ever recovered from that deficit.

But LeBron and the Cavs levelled the series and then in Game 7, produced a moment that continues to be spoken about five years later. With 2:03 left on the clock in the fourth quarter and the scores tied at 89-apiece, GSW got a break with Steph Curry on the ball. He made a pass to Andre Iguodala who went for a layup to give his team the lead. But LeBron had made up ground by now and leapt towards the basket at the same time as Iguodala went up and blocked the shot on the backboard. The block ended up being ‘the play’ that decided the series.

Giannis’ Finals moment?

On Wednesday in Game 4, Giannis had a similar moment that could be talked about for years to come. The Milwaukee Bucks were leading 101-99 when the Suns centre Deandre Ayton (being guarded by Anteokounmpo) passed the ball to Devin Booker. Ayton, after passing the ball, got himself into a good position to score when Booker launched a pass. But Antetokounmpo, who had his back to Ayton, miraculously pivoted and leapt off his left leg – the same left leg that he had hyper-extended a mere two weeks ago – and flew towards the backboard.

Ayton, who was mid-air at this point and still possibly believed that this was an easy basket, was suddenly met by the 2.21m wingspan of the Greek Freak. Giannis’ somehow managed to put his hand between the ball and the rim and stop a sure-shot two-pointer. “I thought I was going to get dunked on, to be honest with you,” Antetokounmpo said later. “But you know, going down the stretch, just do whatever it takes to win the game. Just put yourself in a position that can win the game.”

What should have been a clear two-point-play that could have levelled the scores at a crucial juncture ended up being a game-saving rejection from Bucks’ two-time MVP. The moment would have been iconic either way. If Giannis’ hand hadn’t come out of nowhere to block Ayton, it would have been possibly looked at as one of the defining plays of these NBA Finals.

How this changes the final

The Phoenix Suns have done well to win the first two games of these NBA Finals and were close to taking one of the two games on the road. By stopping that from happening, Giannis and the Bucks have levelled this series and given Milwaukee life in these Finals.

LeBron’s ‘The block’ isn’t just significant for when it happened, but also for how it changed the tide of the series. Up until that point, the Cavaliers were constantly trying to catch up. But after that block, they had the confidence to go ahead and take the series against all odds.

Giannis’ block may be viewed in the same light as well. The Bucks have been trailing this series from the start, and when it looked like Phoenix were on the verge of a comeback, Milwaukee’s superstar came to their rescue to keep the series alive.

If Phoenix had won on Wednesday, the Bucks would only have the 2016 Cavs to look at for inspiration when it came to coming back from 3-1 down in an NBA Finals. This win, powered by that block, means both teams will now have to regroup and come back harder in Game 5, which will take place in Phoenix.

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