Devin Booker scored 31 points and hit seven threes as the Phoenix Suns managed to overcome 42 points from Giannis Antetokounmpo to take a 2-0 lead in the NBA Finals with a 118-108 victory over the Milwaukee Bucks Thursday.
Booker’s all-star backcourt mate Chris Paul added 23 points and Mikal Bridges scored 27 for the Suns as they managed to take an opening-quarter punch from the Bucks and countered with a three-point barrage – headlined by Booker – that saw them rain down 20 on the Bucks’ heads by the time the game was all said and done.
There will now be a couple days of rest before the series resumes for a couple more in Milwaukee beginning on Sunday.
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The Bucks are in a lot of trouble right now. Only 30 of 434 teams who have gone down 0-2 in a playoff series have recovered to win the series, with just four managing to do the feat in the Finals.
Fortunately for the Bucks, though, a lot of these comebacks have been staged recently, with three coming this year alone — including one by the Bucks themselves after they got down 0-2 to the Brooklyn Nets in the second round and managed to turn things around when the series shifted to Milwaukee like these Finals are about to.
They’ll need to recall some of that magic to get back into this thing.
Here are a few takeaways from Thursday’s loss explaining why Milwaukee is in this hole to begin with.
Giannis is a man on an island
Antetokounmpo was brilliant on Thursday.
He scored 42 points and collected 12 rebounds on 15-of-22 shooting from the floor, even dropping 20 points in the third quarter of the game to try to keep his team in contention.
Giannis Antetokounmpo scored 20 points in the 3rd quarter.
That’s the most in a Finals quarter since Michael Jordan scored 22 in 1993, also vs the Suns.
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) July 9, 2021
But, as incredible as Antetokounmpo was on Thursday, he can’t win this championship alone and in Game 2 he looked like a man on an island out there.
In Game 2, Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday were awful.
They combined to shoot just 12-of-37 from the floor and 2-for-9 from three-point range for just 28 points – just one more than the 27 that Suns role player Bridges scored on Thursday.
Worse yet for Milwaukee, these poor shooting percentages aren’t anything new for this pair during this post-season.
Eric Bledsoe playoff shooting splits with the Bucks:
— 41.1 FG%
— 25.4 3P%
— 73.2 FT%
Jrue Holiday playoff shooting splits with the Bucks:
— 41.1 FG%
— 28.9 3P%
— 67.3 FT% pic.twitter.com/1PRn67M4k2
— StatMuse (@statmuse) July 9, 2021
The numbers you see don’t paint the whole picture, as both Middleton and Holiday have had flashes of brilliance during this post-season. But the consistency hasn’t been there and it’s now hurting the Bucks in their most critical games.
Antetokounmpo is a remarkable player, but every great superhero has a team he can fall back on to help him out when required. Holiday and Middleton need to be those guys and so far they haven’t been in these Finals.
Suns get the job done in a completely different fashion from Game 1
In Game 1, the Suns took advantage of the Bucks’ drop coverage and the fact they were softly switching things on them allowed Booker and, especially, Paul to hunt and capitalize on one-on-one matchups.
The result was a lot of mid-range jumpers and not a ton of assists as the isolation abilities of Paul and Booker picked apart the Bucks.
In Game 2, however, Milwaukee adjusted by still continuing to drop but then looking to more forcefully fight through screens and clog up the mid-range spots more.
That still proved to be no issue at all for the Suns as they just decided to bomb from outside, going 20-for-40 from three-point range — including an 8-for-14 mark in the first quarter alone, which proved instrumental for Phoenix as it carried just a 29-26 deficit heading into the second quarter despite going just 1-for-9 on two-point attempts in the period.
From there, the Suns found their touch from elsewhere around the floor and opened up threes and layups with some expert ball movement, highlighted by this incredible sequence near the end of the second quarter.
— NBA (@NBA) July 9, 2021
The Bucks looked like they made the adjustment from Game 1 to 2, but thanks to movement like that leading to 26 assists on 43 made Suns field goals, not to mention a scorching 21-point second half from Booker that saw him go 5-of-7 from deep – 3-for-4 in the fourth alone – there was just no stopping Phoenix Thursday.
Impressive stuff considering just how different this win was compared to how the Suns did it on Tuesday.
Suns centre depth could be a concern moving forward
The Suns should be riding high right now.
They’re up 2-0 by just brushing aside an absolutely incredible performance from Antetokounmpo and blew up the adjustment Milwaukee made defensively to boot.
However, if there is some vulnerability to find in this Suns team right now, it would be depth at backup centre.
In the first quarter of Game 1, Dario Saric left with an injury that turned out to be a torn ACL, taking him out of the series indefinitely.
Then, late in the third quarter, Torrey Craig, the player who was taking Saric’s minutes as Deandre Ayton’s primary backup, took a charge on Antetokounmpo and was seen on the ground in considerable pain holding his right knee.
He left the game with what the Suns called a right knee contusion and his status for Game 3 looks tenuous.
Should the worst come to pass and Craig misses the rest of the series, the good news for him is that he’s guaranteed a championship ring, regardless, as he was a member of the Bucks before he was traded for cash earlier this season.
Congratulations Torrey Craig for winning his first championship!
No matter who wins the Finals, he will get a ring for playing for both the Suns and Bucks this season.
— StatMuse (@statmuse) July 4, 2021
For the Suns, however, while Ayton has been great this post-season, they’ll have a real problem if Craig is out as they’ll likely have to rely on Frank Kaminsky in his spot as Ayton’s primary backup. Kaminsky is a fine player in his sixth season in the NBA, but his defence, quite frankly, just isn’t up to snuff to be playing much in the NBA Finals.
As odd as it may be to say, the status of Craig will be an important story to monitor in advance of Sunday’s game.