The Phoenix Suns and Milwaukee Bucks faced off for the first time since the Finals, and the Suns were amped up to send a message to the Bucks and the world.
An early three-point deficit became an 8-point Suns halftime lead, which ballooned to a 20-point lead after three quarters.
Deandre Ayton was excellent against the Bucks’ stubborn switches of smalls onto him in the post, scoring 27 points on 12 of 14 shooting by the end of the third quarter. He simply killed their whole switch-everything strategy to contain Chris Paul and Devin Booker.
The Suns blasted the Bucks in this one, despite Booker being in foul trouble all game (3 fouls by early second quarter) and the All-Star back court shooting poorly all game.
Looks like the Suns strategy of keeping their identity intact (league-leading 45-10 record) while adding a bit more beef for the big teams like the Bucks (blowout win here) has worked exactly as James Jones wanted it to.
The Bucks big three of Middleton, Giannis and Holiday combined for 60 points but it just wasn’t nearly enough against the Suns in this one.
Just like the Bulls game earlier this week, the Suns had such a big lead (26 points) they took their foot off the gas and let the final score be whatever it was.
Suns win, 137-108
Their record is now 45-10. They have a 4-win lead over the next best team. They have the league’s best road record and best clutch record, but they didn’t need either in this blowout at home.
The Bucks are the same but different. Same big three (Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton, Jrue Holiday), but different starters around them. Brook Lopez is out with a back injury all season so far, and Pat Connaughton has been supplanted by new acquisition Grayson Allen. Bobby Portis is a full-time starter in Lopez’ place. Both Allen and Portis are posting career highs in minutes, points and rebounds.
The fans were definitely hyped for this game, just like the players. Most of them remained on their feet until after the tip, and cheered mightily as the Suns took a 6-0 lead.
The Bucks came back, though, taking a 14-11 lead as the Suns went cold from the floor on a trio of missed threes.
The Suns took the lead back by going into Ayton against small switches. Both teams were playing a high level of basketball, even as they transitioned into bench minutes.
The Bucks are doing here what they did all Finals, playing two bigs at once against the Suns smaller team. Greg Monroe, Giannis and Portis took turns with two at a time.
After a few possessions of that, Monty Williams countered with what he wished he could have done in the Finals. When Giannis subbed out Portis, Ayton came back while McGee stayed on the floor to take Monroe. Now the Suns are matching the Bucks size. Let’s see how it works out.
Worked out as you might expect — with a lot of ‘where am I supposed to be, now?’ energy. It kind of took the Suns out of their rhythm.
The Bucks led the Suns 34-31 after one. Ayton led the Suns with 10 points on 4-4 shooting. Holiday had a great first quarter for the Bucks with 12 points on 3-for-4 shooting (incl. 2-2 on threes, 4-4 FTs). The Bucks and Suns were both shooting over 55% from the field.
The Bucks have a lot of length on the perimeter, with Jrue Holiday (6’4”) and Khris Middleton (6’7”) both with really long arms. Booker and Paul need to work to get open, or screen with a forward to get a smaller guy (Allen, or a backup guard or forward) on them on a switch.
The second quarter was fits and starts as the Suns pulled back to a 39-37 lead while the Bucks quickly brought back their starting lineup against the Suns mostly-bench lineup. Both teams mixed and matched lineups the rest of the quarter.
The game turned in the Suns direction when they picked up their own intensity and took the lead despite still missing almost all their threes (3-16 at the half!!!) thanks to a heavy diet of drives to the paint and...
Chris Paul started doing more Chris Paul things. The Suns did some small/small screens to get Jrue Holiday off him to get that rhythm going. Paul has 9 points, 8 assists, 4 rebounds and 2 steals at the half (Suns were +11 with him on the court). Deandre Ayton had 15 points, 4 rebounds.
The Suns as a team are out-rebounding the Bucks (20 to 18) and got more free throws (13 to 11). That’s a huge change since the Finals where the Bucks killed the Suns on the boards and drawing fouls. Ayton, Biyombo and McGee were all huge. For the Bucks, the Big Three were all in double figures and had 39 of their 56 points.
Suns up 64-56 at the half.
Suns came out fired up in the second half and took a 74-61 lead to force a Milwaukee timeout. The Suns were active on D and punished the Bucks small switching onto Ayton in the post by scoring every time. The Bucks only scores of the quarter were both on loose balls almost stolen by the Suns, only to fall to Bobby Portis for a jumper.
The Suns lead ballooned to 19 at one point, before Giannis decided just to take matters into his own hands and drive relentlessly at the rim from behind the three-point line. Meanwhile, Booker and Paul are shooting only 7 of 22 from the field, combined, and the team is shooting just 5 of 28 on threes.
Yet the Suns are also 29 of 41 on two-point shots, including Ayton’s 10 of 12 from the field, and have a 14 point lead anyway (87-73 with 2:52 left in the third).
Scary times ensued at that point, when Monty Williams put in the Elf/Ish/Bis combo with Cam Johnson and cold-shooting Book. Meantime, the Bucks were trying to get back in the game with Giannis, Portis and Allen on the court against that scary lineup.
Book started getting aggressive, since he wasn’t making any jumpers anyway, and drew foul shots to keep the Suns lead. Through the end of the quarter, the Suns kept grinding and grinding, even with the backups in against the Bucks starters.
End of three: 97-77 Suns!
The fourth quarter opened with the Suns getting easy shots against the shell-shocked Bucks who might now be wondering how the Suns got this much better without adding any big names. The Suns now have more size and toughness, attack the paint more and can win without Paul and Booker going off.