The Milwaukee Bucks had a chance to even the series with the Phoenix Suns, but after some valiant efforts punctuated by frustrating ineffectiveness, they lost their second consecutive game in Phoenix by double-digits, 118-108.
After falling well short of the goal in Game One, it was widely expected/hoped that Milwaukee would come into this contest with more, much more, in the hopes of evening the NBA Finals at 1-1. At the outset, Giannis Antetokounmpo answered the call.
What a way to start the game, Giannis!! pic.twitter.com/p14gm2pnFk— Milwaukee Bucks (@Bucks) July 9, 2021
With a flurry of dunks and forays to the rim, Milwaukee jumped out to an early 14-9 lead that Phoenix kept under control with some timely ball movement leading to open threes. That was the story of the whole first quarter, where the Suns hit eight(!) three pointers but the Bucks carried a 29-26 lead into the second period.
The second period began with Milwaukee’s momentum dissipating, and a number of wayward attempts from Jrue Holiday (who was 3-for-12 from the field halfway through the quarter) led to the Suns stringing together a handful of small runs that led to them reclaiming a decent-sized lead, 39-35. Once again, Giannis stepped up to try and rally the troops.
The speech must’ve done something, as the Bucks managed to claw back and tie things up at 41 a piece, but a lightning-quick 8-0 Suns run created the largest deficit of the half up to that point. Milwaukee put up significant effort on defense throughout, but Phoenix was able to find just enough space and move the ball just fast enough to put themselves in good positions, and halftime commenced with an 11-point Suns lead, 56-45.
In the second half, Phoenix quickly ballooned their lead up to 15 points, but Milwaukee’s renewed vigor attacking the rim and some forced misses started cutting it back down to manageable levels. With the score cut down to five, Chris Paul hit a buzzer-beating corner 3 to push it back to eight, and on the subsequent possession Giannis fell to the floor while driving, with his left knee seemingly giving out. He missed both free throws and a quick Devin Booker banker pushed the Suns’ lead back to ten points. Whenever the Bucks would threaten the lead, Phoenix would answer…but Milwaukee did not give up the fight. They found ways to answer big Suns baskets and Giannis kept attacking the paint and forcing foul calls…and still, they were only able to shave three points off of the halftime score, with the fourth quarter starting at 88-80 in favor of Phoenix.
Both teams continued trading body blows to start the fourth quarter, and Devin Booker caught (kept?) fire to once again push the Suns’ lead out to ten while Giannis was on the bench receiving attention from the medical staff, and another Booker triple grew the lead to 13. And yet again, the Bucks fought back and forced Phoenix to take a timeout with 4:32 remaining and the score at 103-97. The possession after the timeout, the Suns came up with two offensive rebounds and a corner three that landed, and once again the lead ballooned up to double digits. The Phoenix lead that developed in the second quarter vacillated but never went away, and the Bucks ran out of time before they could finally get over the hump.
Stat That Stood Out
The Suns’ outside shooting was, in a word, scorching. From the jump, Phoenix found the ball in the hands of their shooters, and the barrage simply never let up. Some of the threes were open, some of them were highly contested, and some of them were challenged late because of overhelp on defense. With twenty made threes (on 40 attempts, an even 50.0%) on the night, the Suns simply managed to outpace the Bucks’ inconsistent interior-heavy offense. If you replayed this exact game 10 times, the Suns might only perform as well from deep in half of them, but hypotheticals don’t matter in the NBA Finals.
Milwaukee played hard enough to steal a game in The Valley, but they lacked the precision and composure that Phoenix displayed. Most notably, with Giannis Antetokounmpo putting up 42/12 in 40 minutes merely a week after nearly shredding his knee, the Bucks lacked consistent contributions from his co-stars; Khris Middleton (5-for-16 from the field, 1/6 on threes) and Jrue Holiday (7-for-21 from the field, 1/3 on threes) came up short, and the Bucks cannot afford for both of them to falter at this stage.
Game Three is in Milwaukee on Sunday night.