The Phoenix Suns have risen to the moment and taken a 2-0 lead in the NBA Finals over the Milwaukee Bucks. Some would say it is a commanding lead, but as the old saying goes, “a playoff series doesn’t begin until the road team wins a game”. The Suns did what they were supposed to do: win at home.
The true test begins on Sunday night as the series shifts to Fiserv Forum in Milwaukee.
In no way am I trying to diminish the effort and results the Suns put forth in their first two NBA Finals’ games in 28 years. The team looked fantastic. Rather than the moment seeming too big for the young team, they embraced it. They owned it. A team that averaged 108.9 points per game in the playoffs dropped 118. Twice.
The Suns absorbed a 42-point night by Giannis by negating the assets around him. While many will focus on the fact that, through the first two games of the Finals, the Bucks backcourt duo of Jrue Holiday and Khris Middleton have combined for 28-of-77 shooting (36.3%), credit must be bestowed upon the defense that forced that shooting percentage. Much akin to the Clippers focus on Booker and Paul in the Western Conference Finals, the Suns have made the proper switches and pushed Holiday and Middleton off of their spots.
Be happy. Enjoy this moment. Exude confidence. But remember that the work is not done. Like the wise Jedi-like Monty Williams once stated, “Don’t get happy on the farm”. For if you do, you will be slaughtered.
Milwaukee has been here before. If you recall the Eastern Conference Semifinals against the Brooklyn Nets, the Bucks began the series on the road. It wasn’t the prettiest beginning to a series and, given the Bucks were playing the intimidating Nets lineup (sans James Harden, who had left Game 1 with a hamstring injury).
They lost the first game by 8 points, 115-107. They then followed it up by being blown out of the Barclays Center, losing by 39 in a 125-86 shellacking by the Nets. Many believed that the season was over for Milwaukee. They were talking each other off ledges.
49!!! @espnhomer is FIRED UP over the #Bucks blowout loss to the Nets. @AnalystTSmith34 tries to calm him down.— ESPN Milwaukee (@ESPNMilwaukee) June 8, 2021
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The beleaguered Bucks landed at General Mitchell International Airport in Milwaukee, made their way back to Fiserv Forum, and went to work.
The Bucks responded by winning an ugly Game 3, 86-83 (and you’ll hear no issues with winning ugly. Winning is winning the NBA Playoffs) and then taking Game 4, 107-96. In the blink of an eye, the series that could potentially cost head coach Mike Budenholzer his job was now a competitive affair with the outcome in question.
The Bucks pushed the series to Game 7 after both teams won at home and clinched a berth in the Eastern Conference Finals with a road win in that final game.
My point? The Bucks don’t think they are out of it. We shouldn’t think they are out of it. We can watch film all day long and believe that this Suns team is the dominant squad, but you never discount the level of commitment coming from the other side. Giannis wants to win. Badly.
Suns head coach Monty Williams is doing what he can to keep his team mentally sharp as they prepare for the challenge that lies before the team. “We have to approach every game with a level of desperation and we can’t look at the series’ numbers,” he said after the Game 2 win.
“Human nature forces you to do that, but our mentality is to play every game as if we’re coming off of a loss. I think that’s served us well throughout the playoffs. And we know that when we don’t play with the force that is necessary to win, we’re not as good as we can be.”
Game 3 will be a true test of will and desire for the Suns. More adjustments will be thrown their way, coupled with a raucous Bucks’ crowd. The environment will be intense. If they can navigate their emotions and execute their offense, the Suns can take a demanding 3-0 lead, being just one win away from an NBA Championship.
And if you win a ring, you can go back to your farm. And be happy.