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In Bucks’ Game 1 win over Heat, Jrue Holiday shows exactly why Milwaukee traded for him

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In Bucks' Game 1 win over Heat, Jrue Holiday shows exactly why Milwaukee traded for him

After two consecutive years of regular-season success and playoff disappointment, the Bucks knew something needed to change. Milwaukee’s front office pushed all of its chips to the center of the table in November, acquiring Jrue Holiday from the Pelicans as part of a four-team trade.

Holiday didn’t come cheap. The Bucks gave up Eric Bledsoe, George Hill, multiple first-round picks and multiple pick swaps in order to add the veteran guard to a franchise with championship aspirations. Holiday excelled during the regular season, averaging 17.7 points, 6.1 assists, 4.5 rebounds and 1.6 steals per game while posting new career highs in field goal percentage (50.3) and 3-point percentage (39.2).

MORE: Live scores, TV schedule for NBA playoff games

But the real questions were always about how Holiday and the Bucks would perform in the playoffs, and a first-round matchup with the Heat had to put a little fear into the hearts of Bucks fans considering it was Miami that kicked Milwaukee out of the NBA’s 2020 “bubble.” Well, Holiday passed his first test with flying colors.

The 30-year-old made an immediate impact in Saturday’s Game 1 win, totaling 20 points, 11 rebounds, three assists and three steals in 42 minutes. Giannis Antetokounmpo (26 points, 18 rebounds, five assists and three steals) and Khris Middleton (27 points, six assists, six rebounds and the game-winning jumper) were unsurprisingly major contributors in the 109-107 overtime victory, but the Bucks simply wouldn’t have been in position to take an early 1-0 series lead over the Heat without Holiday’s contributions.

In a playoff opener that had an elimination-game intensity, Holiday stepped up on both ends of the floor. He shined when it mattered most, scoring 16 of his 20 points in the second half and overtime period. 

While Middleton’s clutch shot was understandably the biggest highlight of the game, Holiday’s block on the final possession was no less impressive. With 0.5 seconds left, Holiday stayed attached to Jimmy Butler, who had previously hit a buzzer-beater to tie the game at the end of regulation, and swatted his final attempt away. (It may not have counted had it gone in, but Holiday ensured there would be no replay drama.)

“This is why I’m here. I want to feel this moment and the pressure and all that,” Holiday said during his postgame media availability. “It’s been fun, first game, but we still got some more work to do.”

That last part is absolutely true. The Bucks have plenty of work to do if they want to silence critics still expecting a postseason flameout.

For one game, though, Holiday demonstrated his immense value, and the Bucks saw exactly what made them so eager to add him in the first place. You can’t put a price on a playoff win.

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Chris Paul, NBA Twitter react to Deandre Ayton’s game-winning dunk in Suns vs. Clippers

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Chris Paul, NBA Twitter react to Deandre Ayton's game-winning dunk in Suns vs. Clippers

Deandre Ayton was the hero for the Suns in their Game 2 win over the Clippers.

With less than a second left on the clock, the Suns were down one point and had just 0.9 seconds to get a shot off. Jae Crowder inbounded the ball on the baseline under the Suns’ basket and found Ayton cutting to the hoop.

Ayton threw it down. The play took just 0.2 seconds off the clock and sealed the 104-103 win for the Suns.

Here’s a look at the amazing finish.

Ayton and Crowder deserve a bulk of the credit, but Devin Booker had an impact on the finish as well. His physical screen on Ivica Zubac — who is seven inches taller and 35 pounds heavier than Booker — gave Ayton just enough space to get open off the cut and throw down the dunk.

And Booker put his body on the line despite playing with a bloodied nose that required stitches after an inadvertent hit from Patrick Beverley earlier in the game.

The Suns’ finish thrilled Phoenix fans as well as the team’s star point guard Chris Paul, who missed his second straight game in the NBA’s health and safety protocols. He took time to celebrate the victory on Twitter and praised coach Monty Williams for his “big-time play call.”

Indeed, it was a nice play call, and Williams made sure Ayton was prepared to dunk immediately after catching the ball.

“DA — if he throws it, you gotta try to dunk it,” Williams said. “Okay?”

Ayton was ready and obliged. As a result of his make, NBA Twitter erupted and celebrated the exciting end to yet another tightly-contested playoff battle. 

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How Suns perfectly executed game-winning play — and why goaltending didn’t apply on Deandre Ayton’s dunk

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How Suns perfectly executed game-winning play — and why goaltending didn't apply on Deandre Ayton's dunk

Back in December 2017, the Suns and Grizzlies found themselves in a down-to-the-wire contest. Phoenix had the ball with just 0.6 seconds on the clock and the game tied at 97.

So what did then-Suns coach Jay Triano do? He unveiled a play that he had kept in his back pocket for years.

MORE: Chris Paul reacts to Deandre Ayton’s game-winning dunk

While standing on the sideline near the Grizzlies’ bench, Dragan Bender threw a pass toward Tyson Chandler that floated directly above the rim, giving Chandler the opportunity to slam it through the bottom of the net. Wait, you can do that?

“You cannot goaltend a ball that isn’t going to count,” Triano told reporters after the game.

More than three years later, Triano’s words were once again ringing throughout Phoenix Suns Arena. Coach Monty Williams drew up a similar play on Tuesday night, and his players executed it perfectly to give the Suns a stunning 104-103 win over the Clippers and a 2-0 series lead in the Western Conference finals.

Look at this beauty:

OK, let’s break down what NBA TV’s Matt Winer called “The Valley Oop.” (Great work, Matt).

First, notice the positioning of DeMarcus Cousins. Clippers coach Tyronn Lue made a smart move by putting Cousins on Jae Crowder in order to make an inbound pass more difficult, but Cousins is squared up to Crowder, opening up the passing lane Crowder needs.

As for the action in the paint, Devin Booker sets a terrific screen on Ivica Zubac, allowing Deandre Ayton to break free. Could Nicolas Batum have bumped Ayton and recovered? Possibly, but he is understandably concerned with leaving Booker.

(NBA)

Once Ayton gets a step on Zubac running toward the basket, it’s on Crowder to put the ball in a spot in which Ayton can score. As you can see from the angle below, Crowder just narrowly avoids the backboard. The placement here is simply incredible.

“That’s definitely Jae’s game-winner,” Ayton said after the game.

deandre ayton suns play
(NBA)

Now, you may still be asking, “But why isn’t that a goaltending violation?”

As the NBA explained in its Last Two Minute Report from that December 2017 game, “Goaltending rules do not apply because (Chandler) makes contact with the ball off of a throw-in and not a live ball that has already legally been touched on the playing court.” Scott Foster, who served as the crew chief on Tuesday, offered the same explanation when asked about Ayton’s dunk.

Sometimes less than a second can be all the time in the world. Just ask any Suns fan.

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Clippers’ Paul George misses crucial free throws in stunning Game 2 loss to Suns

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Clippers' Paul George misses crucial free throws in stunning Game 2 loss to Suns

The box score from Tuesday’s Suns-Clippers game — a pivotal Game 2 win for Phoenix in the Western Conference finals — will show Paul George had a decent game.

Twenty-six points, on 10-of-23 shooting; six assists; six rebounds; and 5-of-10 shooting from the free throw line. He also scored his team’s last six points, all within the last minute, to help the Clippers to a 103-102 lead with just 8.2 seconds remaining.

The only stats that ultimately mattered in the Clippers’ 104-103 loss, however, were the final two free throws George — a career 84.7-percent free throw shooter — missed. They ultimately allowed Phoenix a chance at an unbelievable comeback victory, which may prove costly even as the series heads back to LA.

NBA MOCK DRAFT 2021: Who will Pistons, Rockets take with top picks?

Had George sunk both of those shots, the Suns would have needed a 3-pointer just to send the game to overtime. Had he sunk even one shot, they would have needed a 2-pointer. But he missed both, allowing the Suns to win on an inbound dunk with less than a second remaining:

Credit to Deandre Ayton, Jae Crowder and the Suns. That play will go down as one of the top plays in NBA playoffs history. But every heartbreaking loss needs a goat, and no one fits the bill better than “Playoff P,” who could have secured a win for his team with the simplest of basketball scoring plays.

Here’s the bright side for the Clippers, if there is one: They have already overcome 2-0 deficits in each of their first two series against the Mavericks and Jazz, respectively. That’s likely a cold comfort as George and Co. head back to LA, however. The scathing Twitter comments aimed at George likely won’t do anything to help, either:

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