BOSTON -- The relationship between Giannis Antetokounmpo and teammate Khris Middleton, now nine years in, is well-known for its depth and trust.
"It's blooming, it's blooming!" Antetokounmpo said after the Milwaukee Bucks finished off a jaw-dropping display of clutch play in stealing a 110-107 Game 5 victory over the Boston Celtics on Wednesday night to grab a 3-2 series lead.
Antetokounmpo, the space over his right eye caked in skin glue after numerous attempts to close an oozing laceration that plagued him throughout the dramatic fourth quarter, had wrapped Holiday up in a hug moments after the final buzzer -- and rightly so.
The Bucks traded three first-round picks for Holiday in 2020 -- a deal for a then-30-year-old guard that was questioned at the time -- and eventually signed him to a $135 million extension last year
Those felt like bargains after he delivered another in what has become a long list of defensive gems. In this case, one a diamond, the other a ruby.
The nuanced greatness of the play he made with eight seconds left and the Bucks up by one point after a dramatic putback by Bobby Portis that deserves its own novella is hard to communicate even if you saw it and then replayed it.
Holiday was defending Jaylen Brown, who scored 16 of his 26 points in the third quarter. But the Celtics had spent the fourth attacking the easier mark, Pat Connaughton,
and that's where Marcus Smart went for a potential game-winning shot. It had worked, sort of, because Smart was in the process of getting a clean look when Holiday broke off from Brown.
What happened next is all will, instincts and fortune favoring the prepared. Holiday said in the moment he believed Smart wouldn't be able to see if Brown was open
Holiday was right; in fact, Smart never even saw the blur wearing No. 21 that cleanly ripped the shot out of his hands before it could enter Celtics lore as a game winner.
But instead of swatting it and risking knocking the ball out of bounds only to stay with Boston and another chance to win, Holiday grabbed the ball in midair to try to keep possession.
As he landed from his leap, he was close to the baseline and had to dance to control the ball and stay in bounds. But Holiday gathered the ball and managed to throw it off of Smart to retain possession and finish off one of the most graceful thefts you'll ever see.
Smart, the just-named NBA Defensive Player of the Year, was speechless.
"It's not like I planned it out or anything," Holiday said. "I just went after it; it was instinctual."