In their final chance to keep their title hopes alive, the Phoenix Suns travelled to Milwaukee to try to force a Game 7.
They had been able to grab early leads in the last couple of games, but were not able to sustain success and were suffocated by the Milwaukee Bucks’ defense when it mattered most.
The Bucks were 9-1 at home heading into Game 6 and they played in front of a raucous crowd.
The Bucks made a lot of uncharacteristic turnovers early in the first quarter, and neither team could hit any shots until Brook Lopez made it 4-2 with 8:42 left in the first period. Khris Middleton caught fire in the middle of the first quarter, going on a personal 7-2 run that made it 17-15 with 5:14 left In the period.
With their shots not falling, and and Bucks coming up with points off turnovers and misses, it looked like the Suns were going to be toast after one quarter as the Bucks pulled out with a 29-16 lead after one quarter.
Phoenix shot a horrible 7 of 24 in the first quarter and 2 of 9 from three. They had a lot of good shots too, that simply wouldn’t go in. Milwaukee, on the other hand shot 11 of 23 and 3 of 9 from three. The Bucks already had a huge rebounding advantage of 19-8 after one quarter. The start of the game was a tense one for both teams, with 11 turnovers split between them in the first quarter.
Antetokounmpo finished with 10 points, 6 rebounds, and a perfect 4 for 4 from the free throw line in the first quarter. The entire Suns starting five finished the first quarter with a combined 11 points.
Cameron Payne looked to be the answer early in the first half, as he already had 10 points with less than two minutes gone in the second quarter. The Suns finally found their own little run in the second quarter, and managed to cut the deficit to 29-26 after Jae Crowder made a pair of free throws.
Halfway through the second quarter, the Suns had cut it to 33-31 after Mikal Bridges split a pair of free throws after getting fouled on a fast break. The Suns came back from 13 down to tie it 33-33 thanks to a Chris Paul drive. They finally grabbed their first lead of the game after Middleton picked up his third foul guarding DeAndre Ayton, giving him two shots in the penalty and making it a 35-33 game.
Paul found his scoring in the second quarter as he scored 13 points in the period (tying the Bucks’ whole squad) and masterfully orchestrated the offense and found his teammates for great shots that finally went in as he finished with 4 assists. His display, plus Payne’s earlier scoring spurt, helped the them to a 47-42 halftime lead after being down double digits early in the game.
Milwaukee were awful from the field in the second quarter, hitting 4 of 20 in the second quarter, which led to the Suns outscoring them 31-13. Phoenix shot 11 of 18 in the period.
At halftime, the teams were tied 20-20 in paint points, and the rebound lead for Milwaukee had been trimmed to 27-22. The Suns took care of the ball much better also, only turning it over once compared to the Bucks’ five miscues.
Jrue Holiday was an awful 1 of 11 in the first half, but still contributed with 5 rebounds, 6 assists and 2 steals. Devin Booker was also quiet in the first half, shooting 2 of 8 on his way to 4 points.
Antetokounmpo brought his team back to life early in the third quarter with a quick three point play off a drive and then an actual three point shot. Antetokounmpo’s athleticism was on full display in the third quarter, and he already had 10 points in the third quarter after making a pair of free throws with 8:08 left in the period and gave the Bucks a 56-55 lead. He pushed it to 58-55 after grabbing his own offensive rebound after a huge drive with 7:26 left in the period.
Crowder made a huge 4-point play out of a Suns timeout, forcing Antetokounmpo into fouling him as he hit the three to give the Suns a 59-58 lead, but the Bucks answered back to make it 66-61 with under five minutes left.
Antetokounmpo had 17 points at halftime and 37 heading into the final stanza. He also shot 12 of 13 of his free throws heading into the fourth quarter. However, the Suns had plenty of fight in them, as the third quarter finished tied at 77-77. It set up a fourth quarter worthy of a title-deciding game.
The Greek Freak sat and rested to begin the final quarter but Milwaukee held it together and they had a 84-82 lead with 9:45 left when Antetokounmpo finally came back. He instantly made a difference as he pushed the lead to 86-82 after getting a block and then an offensive rebound and tip in. He then forced Ayton’s fifth foul with 8:03 left in the game. He then pushed the lead to 90-84 with 7:73 left in the game.
The Suns cut it to 94-90 and forced a Bucks timeout with 4:50 left. The Bucks pushed it to 98-90 before the Suns were able to make it 98-92 with 3:08 left in the game. As he had done all game, Antetokounmpo pushed the lead to 100-92.
With 1:33 left, the Suns had the ball and a 100-94 deficit, and Crowder drew a foul with 1:14 remaining, then made both of his free free throws to cut it down to 100-96. Middleton made a huge jumper to make it 102-96 with 56.9 seconds left. Booker missed an open three with 47.7 seconds left and that spelled the end for the Suns.
The final scoreline was 105-96, and there is no doubt about who the hero of the game was. Fresh off two-straight NBA Playoffs disappointments, Antetokounmpo managed to redeem himself by clinching the title in what will be known as the finest performance of his career.
The two-time MVP, and now 2021 NBA Finals MVP, produced 50 points, 14 rebounds, 2 assists and 5 blocks. The man scored a point for every year that Bucks fans had waited for their next championship.
Middleton, who struggled early from the field, came up big in the second half and finished with 17 points, 5 rebounds, 5 assists and 4 steals. Jrue Holiday shot 4 of 19 from the field, but still had 12 points, 9 rebounds, 11 assists and 4 steals. Bobby Portis was also a true energizer for the Bucks, as he scored all 16 bench points for the Bucks in 23 minutes.
For the Suns, Paul finished with 26 points, 2 rebounds, 5 assists, and a steal, but didn’t get enough help from Booker – who shot 8 of 22 including 0 f 7 from deep for 19 points, 3 rebounds and 5 assists. Ayton battled foul trouble and was only able to muster 12 points, 6 rebounds, 1 assist, 2 steals and 2 blocks.
This may have been Paul’s one and only shot at winning an NBA title, and it was simply not to be. He ran into the greatness of Antetokounmpo, and the Bucks earned their title.
Championship teams find a way to dig deep when they face adversity. When things started to go the wrong way, the Bucks pulled out the little bit of magic left in them to clinch their title in front of their home crowd.
While I would have loved a Game 7, but there is no denying that Milwaukee earned the title with their Game 6 performance. It’s also great to see a superstar win a title with the team that drafted him. No matter whatever happens next, he will always have delivered on his promise to the city of of Milwaukee.