It seems like just yesterday that the Milwaukee Bucks took down the Phoenix Suns in the NBA Finals. But that’s in the past now, and Thursday’s game was a whole other challenge in the Valley. Neither team looks quite like they did in June, or how they’ll look at full strength (Milwaukee was without Brook Lopez and George Hill, as well as awaiting the arrival of Serge Ibaka), but tonight Phoenix was the far better team as they took down Milwaukee in dominating fashion.
The Suns started the game with crisp execution, playing like a team that has seen the Bucks before and intends to see them again. Between the frantic pace and the regular slip-screens, Phoenix was able to score in bunches and take some early leads…but the Bucks kept hanging around and held their own, leading the first quarter 34-31. Phoenix found a groove in the second quarter, though, getting to the line more and hitting some jumpers to open up a double-digit lead, getting to halftime with the score favoring Phoenix 64-56.
Milwaukee ran out of juice in the third quarter, as Phoenix bolted back to a double-digit lead as the Bucks’ offense hit a cold stretch. A 12 point deficit became 14, then became 17, and briefly ballooned to 19 on a Mikal Bridges three. The Bucks didn’t just lay down and take it, but their lack of size and overall thinness reduced the already-thin margin for error. The third quarter ended with the score at 97-77, opening their biggest lead of the game and putting their 33-0 record when leading at the start of the fourth quarter on the line. Milwaukee was not about to threaten that record, and before too long Mike Budenholzer waved the white flag by inserting Thanasis Antetokounmpo into the game at the seven minute mark of the fourth.
- Seriously, this was an intense game. Neither team necessarily played differently than they normally do, but there was a certain level of “something to prove” from Phoenix and a touch of “we’re still here, don’t forget us” from Milwaukee. The Suns were a bit more blatant, committing seven personal fouls in the first quarter. But it was chippy; Giannis, who earned a rare technical foul on Tuesday, earned another one…from the bench! Referee James Capers must have not appreciated something Giannis said. A few minutes after that, Devin Booker got T’d up himself! It even went beyond just the play on the court, everything was just a little bit “extra” from the coaches too!
Everybody is fired up tonight! Challenge for Monty Williams with 8:21 left in the second quarter.— Eric Nehm (@eric_nehm) February 11, 2022
I can't remember another game I've covered where both coaches used their challenge in the first 16 minutes.
The Suns have size now, and they’re not afraid to use it. In the Finals, Milwaukee’s size was overwhelming. Phoenix’s offseason strategy to try and overcome that weakness involved adding JaVale McGee and Bismack Biyombo to better support the frontcourt behind Deandre Ayton, and at least for one game it was more than Milwaukee could handle. Brook-less and Serge-less as they might be, the Bucks could not protect the paint with only Bobby Portis, Giannis, and a few minutes of Greg Monroe. Additionally, when the Suns went jumbo-sized the Bucks couldn’t respond in kind, playing several stretches with Pat Connaughton, Wes Matthews, Khris Middleton, or Jordan Nwora as the nominal PF. Kudos to the Suns for exploiting a weakness, and valuable adversity for the Bucks to take and hopefully improve upon the next time they’re stuck playing against a bigger opponent.
The Bucks just didn’t have it tonight, and it happened against one of the NBA’s best teams.
Super impressive win for the Suns tonight — they’ve shot horribly from three but have just obliterated the Bucks’ switching and defensively they’ve congested the inside to slow Giannis. Good display of why they’ve got the best record in the league.— Frank Madden (@fmaddenNBA) February 11, 2022
It was clear that the Suns had this game circled on their calendar, but all of the Bucks’ opponents have done that this year. Yes, the Phoenix faithful (phaithful?) in the building enjoyed the payback of taking down the champs in convincing fashion, but the Suns are simply good. Like, really good. Milwaukee had a stretch of easy opponents on the road trip leading up to this game, and it was a long road trip, and the Bucks were missing several players…on and on, the rationale for the loss doesn’t change the fact that Phoenix is a team that could have won the title last year, and they know it.
Bonus Bucks Bits
- The Phoenix crowd still counts on Giannis free throws. Thing is, though, they’re not even getting to “10” on his release because he changed his routine. Read the scouting report, guys!
There's no way Phoenix fans are counting when Giannis is at the free-throw line? The man went 17-for-19 at the line to clinch the title against your team. That's honestly a really tough look for them.— Kane Pitman (@KanePitman) February 11, 2022
- Khris Middleton brought us back to the Finals with his proclivity to constantly find Chris Paul on the court and exploit the diminutive point guard. Several times he either took him to the rack or easily shook him off to find space for a swishing jumper. It wasn’t enough to drive the Bucks to victory, but it was nice to see!
- Lindell Wigginton got some playing time in the second quarter, since the Bucks were missing Hill and just traded away Donte DiVincenzo. It’s safe to say that, right now, Lindell Wigginton isn’t ready to cover Chris Paul.
- Revenge is a dish best served cold…
Remember that time Giannis Antetokounmpo guarded both the alley and the oop and blocked Deandre Ayton at the rim in the Finals?— Eric Nehm (@eric_nehm) February 11, 2022
Well, he was a step slow there and Ayton just got him back.
- Pat Connaughton went to the locker room midway through the third, and a replay from TNT showed that he may have suffered an injury on his shooting hand while guarding Chris Paul. Later in the broadcast, it was reported that he fractured his ring finger, meaning he’ll be out for a little while. Get well soon, Pat!
- Giannis got called for a flagrant one while boxing out rookie Suns forward Ishmael Wainright. It wasn’t a terrible foul (still a clear flagrant), but Giannis owned it and gave the rookie a tender hug in his apology, right there on the court. What a gentleman.
- Chris Paul had 19 assists. The Milwaukee Bucks had 18 assists. Eep.
- Thanasis is the Bucks’ Garbage Time MVP, and he scored six points and blocked a layup in the fourth quarter while the Suns still had most of their starters in the game. Why Monty Williams kept his starters in the game while up by double-digits with mere minutes left in regulation? Don’t know, don’t care, because Thanasis went full Thanasty on national TV (Tha-national?) and it was a bright spot in an otherwise unexciting loss.
- Brook Lopez update!
For the first time since his back surgery, Bucks center Brook Lopez talked with reporters tonight in Phoenix.— Eric Nehm (@eric_nehm) February 11, 2022
Lopez went into detail about his surgery, what went into the decision, the type of back surgery, his recovery and how he handled it all mentally. https://t.co/82ufdGnD78