One might say the NBA Finals have truly begun after the Milwaukee Bucks’ 117-98 Game 3 win over the Phoenix Suns Sunday evening.
Buck coach Mike Budenholzer has been a frequent target of criticism in adapting to opposing teams during the playoffs. Today, he silenced those critics for now.
“Yeah, you know, I think this group’s just about getting better, improving, learning,” Budenholzer said in the postgame conference. “And hopefully we did that in [this] game and there’s some things, you know, you just can’t relax on any of that.”
A return to the Fiserv Forum looked to be what the doctor ordered as the Bucks cut Phoenix’s Finals lead to 2-1. Giannis Antetokounmpo outperformed everyone once more after a second-straight 40+ point night. The Greek Freak had 41 to be precise, effortlessly dunking over the Suns throughout Game 3.
Giannis taking over 🔥 pic.twitter.com/N0Lh29XKXf
— NBA TV (@NBATV) July 12, 2021
“I feel like in the previous game, Game 2, there was so much traffic and I wasn’t able to make the corner pass to guys or make the right pass to guys,” Antetokounmpo noted postgame. “But now being at home, you have a little more confidence and your legs feel better and you can finish some of those plays.”
Not to mention Antetokounmpo was a more comfortable 13-of-17 at the free-throw line without fans counting him down.
While the Freak stole the show, the rest of the Bucks crew still put in the work. Jrue Holiday flourished for 21 points while adding a team-high nine assists. Khris Middleton supplied 18 points and Bobby Portis scored 11 and made eight rebounds.
Holiday stood his ground in the face of Phoenix’s defensive looks, affirming to reporters it’s about “believing in yourself and what you work on.”
“I work on those every day,” Holiday continued. “So I think to be able to step into those and have a rhythm, dribble and shoot them, fairly easy. They leave me open, too, so I have to continue to shoot them.”
Suns Scoring Stalls
Phoenix went tit-for-tat with Milwaukee throughout the first quarter, but the shot-making eventually slowed to a crawl as the Bucks’ defense stepped up.
Devin Booker had a very uncharacteristic performance, 10 points on 3-of-14 shooting, spending the entire fourth quarter on the bench.
“It wasn’t well, obviously,” Booker said to reporters postgame. “But there’s nights like that. The most important part to me is winning the game and we didn’t do that, so I’m more frustrated about that.”
Furthermore, Booker’s shooting woes weren’t limited to him, Phoenix attempted jumpers and layups to no avail all night. The ball swirled out at times on what seemed [ manageable shots from the likes of Chris Paul (8-of-14) and Cameron Payne (3-of-10).
Paul led Phoenix with 19 points while Jae Crowder and Deandre Ayton followed right behind with 18. Ayton started off with 12 points in the first quarter but foul trouble over time became a problem.
The Suns went small as a result for most of the third quarter, coming within four points. Cam Johnson fueled the rally with a high-flying dunk over P.J. Tucker. The forward later followed up with an under-the-basket layup while on the run.
P.J. Tucker looks like how my mom reacted to Ramsey Bolton getting eaten by his own dogs. https://t.co/cJhBCXEVW3
— José Solís (@JoseTweetSports) July 12, 2021
Johnson felt Phoenix was “due for some runs, we were due to get back in the game.” But the deficit widened almost as quickly as it closed. the Suns slumping again.
The inability to close the gap is something Paul knows can’t persist, telling reporters, “That’s something we have been talking about all playoffs. So especially on the road, you got to manage the game. You got to manage those end of quarters.”
Outclassed in the Stats
Numbers never fully tell the story, but a lot can be read from the statistic of Game 3 alone.
The Bucks’ emotion and determination showed themselves through the way they scored. They had 54 points in the paint compared to Phoenix’s 40. Going off of that, Milwaukee cashed in at nearly every possible second chance, scoring 20 points while holding Phoenix to two.
“You know what was coming, but just didn’t do enough consistently to withstand their attacking the paint,” Suns coach Monty Williams lamented after the game. “We gave them so many possessions, so we lost a shot and then they scored off of it. It was a double whammy.”
Turnovers also plagued Phoenix, the Suns turned it over 14 times, resulting in 16 fast break points for Milwaukee.
Unlike in Phoenix, where the Suns could foul Antetokounmpo with confidence, fouling him in Milwaukee had the opposite result. The Greek Freak shot more smoothly as previously mentioned. He went to the line 17 times over Game 3 while Phoenix went 16 times as a collective unit.
Antetokounmpo’s night was even more exceptional with the fact that he became the sixth NBA player to have back-to-back 40+ point games. That’s a list that includes Shaquille O’Neal and LeBron James among others.
Not that Antetokounmpo will compare himself to the greats, saying he’s “not Michael Jordan.”
“But you know, all I care about right now, it’s getting one more, that’s all,” Antetokounmpo maintained. “Just take care of business, doing our job.”
“All I care about right now is getting one more."
Giannis is locked in on the next Finals game
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) July 12, 2021
Game 4 is Wednesday, July 14th in Milwaukee at 9 PM eastern time.
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