Game 3 of the NBA Finals between the Phoenix Suns and the Milwaukee Bucks was a good old fashioned butt-kicking by the Bucks as they dominated the Suns, 120-100. The team that had been worked over in their first two games in Phoenix closed out quarters strong, dominated the glass, and owned the paint on Sunday night.
Giannis led the charge with a stellar performance, scoring 41 points on 14-of-23 shooting, adding 13 rebounds and 6 assists. He went 13-17 from the line as the hometown crowd wasn’t counting during his pre-shot routine. Jrue Holiday added 21 points and Bobby Portis had a nice 11 points coming off of the bench for Milwaukee.
Devin Booker had one of his worst shooting performances of the postseason, scoring 10 points on 3-of-14 shooting. While Deandre Ayton (18 points, 9 rebounds), Chris Paul (19 points, 9 assists), and Jae Crowder (18 points, 6-of-7 from three) had a positive impact on the game, Phoenix could not survive the relentless pressure on the glass or their own mistakes. Add the fact that they came back to earth shooting from three (9-of-31, 29%).
Phoenix is now 1-3 in Game 3’s thus far this postseason and 5-3 on the road. The Bucks move their record to 8-1 at home in the playoffs.
It shouldn’t matter, you know? The impartial refereeing crew of an NBA Finals game should not be the story. Yet given the history between Chris Paul and official Scott Foster, it was the story prior to the game on Sunday evening.
And there it is. Tonight’s crew chief? Scott Foster. pic.twitter.com/opkQH2JsTI— John Voita (@DarthVoita) July 11, 2021
It should never come down to officiating. You should never put yourself in a situation in which the referees determine your fate. Despite the pre-game frustrations from the Suns’ fanbase with the NBA’s decision to empower Scott Foster, the story would come down to how the Phoenix Suns and Milwaukee Bucks could execute their adjustments and impose their will upon the opposition.
It was nice to see that Torrey Craig was available for the game following being bulldozed by Giannis Antetokounmpo in Game 2, causing a right knee contusion. His effectiveness would remain to be seen, but given the lack of depth behind the Suns’ center Deandre Ayton, knowing he could be a factor was a positive sign for Phoenix.
Here is how the game went...and I’ll do my best to avoid talking about the whistles. Because this game and this series is so much more than the zebras.
The Bucks had the home town behind them to start the game as the fans at the Fiserv Forum were ready to cheer on their team in a Finals game for the first time since 1974. The Deer District was packed, the Forum was raucous, but the Suns survived the initial onslaught of emotion by the first timeout, trailing 15-14 at the 6:04 mark.
Withstand the initial energy and then break their will.— Espo (@Espo) July 12, 2021
Giannis exited early at the 8:30 mark in the first. It was either fatigue or anxiety, but Pat Connaughton was subbed in early for the two-time MVP. He reentered the game shortly thereafter. He had another solid quarter, scoring 7 in the first and dished out 4 assists along the way.
Deandre Ayton and Chris Paul both appeared to by in sync early in the game, scoring 18 of the Suns first 20 points. Ayton had 12 of those. He was hustling, getting the team secondary possessions, and attacking the interior of the Bucks defense. He had that middy game going early as well.
Booker was testing his range in the first, opting to take the majority of his shots from beyond the arc in the first quarter. He began the night 1-of-7 from the field; 5 of those attempts were from deep. He finished the quarter with 5 points.
The Suns shot 48% from field, although only 22.2% from deep, but still led 28-25 after the first.
Phoenix began the second with back-to-back turnovers which resulted in 5 Bucks’ points. But the Suns, lead by Ayton, put together an 8-0 run to respond.
Chris Paul continued to cook in the second quarter as he artfully distributed and found his shots on the floor. He finished the half shooting 5-of-8 for 10 points with 4 assists.
The Bucks put together a 20-6 run in the middle of the second behind the efforts of Giannis and his attacking of the basket. The insertion of Frank Kaminsky into the lineup to spell Deandre Ayton assisted the run as well as he was a -7 in his first 3 minutes on the court. The Bucks pushed their lead to 8 with 3:44 left in the half after the 18th point by Antetokounmpo.
The torrid quarter for the Bucks continued as their lead ballooned to 13 following a Bobby Portis corner three-pointer. Fiserv Forum was in a frenzy as they chanted “Bobby, Bobby, Bobby” to recognize him for his efforts. Their ball movement was elite as they assisted on 18 of their 24 first-half field goals.
The Suns went 0-for-6 end to the half, giving up a 10-0 run in the process. Milwaukee outscored Phoenix 35-17 in the second. Throw in a tough shooting night for Devin Booker — 2-of-11 from the field, 7 points — and the Suns found themselves down 15 at the end of the second.
Mikal had 0, Jae had 3, the team shot 14.3% from three, and Ayton had three fouls. Not good. Bucks 60, Suns 45.
With 10:25 left in the third, Deandre Ayton walked to the bench as he picked up with fourth foul of the contest. The size advantage for the Bucks that many in Phoenix were wary of if this situation presented itself came to fruition. Monty's response was a lineup of Paul, Booker, Bridges, Crowder, and Johnson. Play small, play zone, and hustle. That is what Phoenix would have to do to survive the third.
Cam Johnson began impacting the game in numerous way, most notably when he took flight in one of the best damn slam dunks of the postseason over PJ Tucker. Cam confidently drove to the rim and threw it down! Bucks’ coach Mike Budenholzer unsuccessfully challenged the play.
That play sparked a 7-0 run for the Suns. And it sparked Cam Johnson, who began coming alive in the mid-third. Layups, threes, rebounds; Johnson took advantage of playing in a small ball lineup and helped get the Suns within 4 points. Crowder added three three-pointers in the quarter.
Jrue Holiday was catching fire as well in the third as well, matching Johnson shot for shot. It was his best offensive effort of the series thus far. Bobby Portis was a thorn in the Suns’ side as well as he thrived without Ayton on the floor. The fan favorite reinvigorated the crowd with every contribution he made.
‘Twas the boards that killed every run the Suns posed in the third. When Phoenix forced a miss from the Bucks, they could not snag the defensive rebound. Second chances hurt, especially in the playoffs. Through three quarters the Bucks owned the glass, outrebounding the Suns 37-23, including 11-3 on the offensive glass and 20 to 0 second chance points.
The Suns did a poor job again closing the quarter. The Bucks finished the quarter on a 16-0 run and outscored Phoenix 38-31 in the quarter. Bucks 98, Suns 76 after three.
Not much could be done in the fourth as the Suns struggled to find their rhythm. Ayton picked up his fifth foul and went back to the bench with 8:53 in the fourth. Antetokounmpo continued his dominance with dunks and alley-oops, posting his second consecutive 40+ point game.
Devin Booker played only 29 minutes in Game 3 as it was clear that Monty wanted to get him some extra rest.
Now we can stop chanting SUNS IN FOUR all the time!— Dave King (@DaveKingNBA) July 12, 2021
After the extremely fast paced scheduling of the first three rounds of this postseason, things are slowing down. Game 4 will occur on Wednesday night, three days from now, at 6:00pm Arizona Time.
The Suns will look to have 3 wins in an NBA Finals for the first time in the history of their franchise.