Booker brilliant, needs to get more help from stagnant Suns

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PHOENIX — When Devin Booker took his usual seat on the bench at the beginning of the second quarter, the Phoenix Suns lost their stranglehold on Game 5 of the NBA Finals.

Booker had scored 11 points and the Suns built a 16-point lead on Saturday night against the Milwaukee Bucks. The Footprint Center was in a frenzy and Phoenix couldn't miss a shot.

Life was good for Suns' fans. Then things changed. Over the next 5 minutes and 46 seconds, the Bucks began their comeback.

By the time Booker returned with 6:14 left in the second, the Suns' lead had nearly disappeared. The Bucks had taken all the momentum and never let it go on the way to a 123-119 win to take a 3-2 series lead as the scene shifts back to Milwaukee for Game 6 on Tuesday night.

Booker was impressive for the second straight game, scoring 40 points on 17 of 33 shooting after his 42-point performance in a Game 4 loss.

But the rest of the Suns were either inconsistent or non-existent.

Phoenix looked stagnant on offence , relying on Booker to generate offence by himself. That was readily apparent on a crucial possession in the final minute when Booker drove to the basket, the Bucks’ defence collapsed, and Milwaukee point guard Jrue Holiday ripped the ball away for a steal to seal the win.

Holiday outplayed Phoenix's Chris Paul for a third straight game. Deandre Ayton scored 20 points but wasn't his usual rim-protecting self on defence . Jae Crowder was quiet after a few early 3-pointers and a dunk. Mikal Bridges had good moments but the Suns needed more.

Booker's teammates were able to step up during a fourth quarter push, but it proved to be too late.

The Suns have always depended on Booker's production, particularly when it comes to scoring. Even when Paul — an 11-time All-Star and future Hall of Famer — was added to the roster during the off-season , it was the 24-year-old Booker who remained the cornerstone, having grown up over six years while the franchise built into a championship contender.

The difference this season was that Booker usually had plenty of help.

The Suns employed a high-octane offence that put on a premium on quick passes and sharing the ball. Coach Monty Williams likes to call it a 0.5 second offence because he wanted a pass, shot or drive within a half second.

The offence was clicking early in the finals and the Suns took a 2-0 series lead. It was the Bucks who were struggling to find enough help for two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo. But Milwaukee has flipped the script, winning the last three games — partly because Booker can't do it all by himself.

Phoenix is out of mulligans. If the Suns don't want to watch the Bucks celebrate in Milwaukee, they need to figure it out by the time the NBA Finals return to Wisconsin.

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More AP NBA: https://apnews.com/hub/NBA and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

David Brandt, The Associated Press

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