Wow. Game 4 of the 2021 NBA Finals was undoubtedly the most entertaining one so far. It felt like a real battle, with both teams seeming to have made the right adjustments to combat their opponent’s strengths.
The Bucks were strong in the paint as usual, but the Suns were able to almost match them in the first half with a 28-22 advantage for the home teams. It was a good sign that the Suns had the lead multiple times and kept it close even when their threes weren’t falling at a good clip.
Devin Booker struggled through Game 3 with 10 points but got his shot going fast in the first half, and was aggressive in his drives to the hoop. He finished with 20 points on 8 of 15 shooting from the field to end the first half. He used an array of jump shots, floaters, and sweet moves to get his buckets and keep the Suns in the game.
Brook Lopez was a big contributor in the first half, being aggressive in the paint and drawing fouls along with easy buckets for 10 points. Giannis Antetokounmpo was solid in the first half, but as has been his style recently, had a relatively low scoring output with 10 points but glued together the Bucks’ efforts with 7 rebounds, 4 assists and a steal.
Khris Middleton was efficient from the field in the first half and was the Bucks’ leading scorer with 16.
The Suns were hot from the field in the first half and made 21 of 42 buckets, and that took into account their 4 of 13 struggles from beyond the arc. They again had trouble getting to the free throw line, making 6 of 6 as they watched the Bucks make 11 of 13.
The Bucks also struggled from deep, shooting 3 of 16 at halftime, but made up for it with their free throws.
The 52-52 tie heading into the second half was indicative of how competitive the game was, and set up an exciting fight to the end of the game. Phoenix had managed to get a 9-point lead at one stage, but never hit double digits which has been their lucky charm.
The key battles were close, with the Bucks leading rebounding 24-21 and assists tied at 12. The Bucks were far more efficient with the ball, though, only turning it over twice to the Suns’ 7.
Booker continued cooking in the second half, and it didn’t seem to matter how well Jrue Holiday defended him – and he did a pretty damn good job of smothering him. Booker had 10 quick points in the third quarter but picked up his fourth foul with 5:53 left in the third quarter, forcing him to sit when it looked like the Suns had a chance to pull away.
Losing their leading scorer took away a lot of the Suns’ momentum. The Bucks retook the lead with 3:38 left in the third quarter after a Pat Connaughton three, but Cameron Payne again came up big with a bucket to retake the lead.
Booker came back with three minutes left in the game and he made the first shot he took after re-entering the game to make it 73-70. If the Suns were going to win the game, they had to ride booker, which seems to be the gamble that coach Monty Williams decided on. No one else could score regularly, and Booker’s presence stabilized their offense.
Booker finished with 18 points in the third quarter, giving Phoenix an 82-76 lead heading into the final 12 minutes. Unfortunately for the Suns, he picked up his fifth foul with 10:24 left in the quarter, which compounded a missed called by the refs on the previous position and again put Phoenix in a tough spot without their star scorer. Credit goes to Phoenix, though, as they went into grind-it-out mode. They took it possession by possession and managed to preserve their lead as Booker sat.
As if Booker’s foul wasn’t bad enough, though, Cameron Johnson hurt himself on a play with around 9 minutes left after slipping on a drive, compounding the Suns’ injuries woes, and he was seen asking for a game stoppage as he struggled to get back up.
The Suns were also aggressive and got lucky with a few foul calls, which put the Bucks in the penalty with over 7:10 left in the game. Booker was still sitting at that point, but the Suns still held onto a 90-86 lead as the Bucks called a timeout after Jae Crowder split a pair of free throws.
PJ Tucker picked up his fifth foul with 6:27 left on a key play, giving Crowder three free throws and allowing the Suns to push it back up to 93-88. Booker re-entered the game with 5:55 left, but both teams went cold from the field. The Bucks pushed it to 95-94 with 3:30 left and Booker was lucky to not get called for his sixth foul during that play.
Pat Connaughton hit a huge 3 to make it 97-95, but Booker instantly tied the game after with under three minutes left in the game. Another foul gave the Suns another pair of free throws, again putting Crowder on the line and allowing the Suns to retake a 99-97 lead.
When winning time came, it was Middleton who answered the call. He scored 10 of the Bucks’ last 12 points and saved his team from a disastrous 3-1 deficit.
Middleton tied it again at 99-99, and Booker missed a chance to retake the lead. There was still all to play for with 1:28 left in the game and it was about who would execute better. Middleton put the Bucks up 101-99, and then Antetokounmpo came up with a killer block on an Ayton alley-oop to prevent a tie. Chris Paul lost the ball on the next possession when Booker didn’t even touch the ball, and Middleton made another shot to make it 103-99. Booker missed a drive after a Suns timeout and then Middleton sealed the game with four free throws in his ensuing possessions.
Middleton finished with 40 points, 6 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 steals on 15 of 33 shooting (3 of 8 from three). He basically dueled Booker, who finished with 42 points, to a draw. The big difference was that Middleton’s teammates did a much better job in the clutch.
Antetokounmpo finished with another one of his typical lines with 26 points, 14 rebounds, 8 assists, 3 steals, 2 blocks and only one turnover. Jrue Holiday struggled from the field again with a 13 points on 4 of 20 shooting, but also added 7 rebounds, 7 assists and 3 steals. Brook Lopez chipped in 14 points, and Pat Connaughton hit some huge threes to finish with 11 points. While PJ Tucker didn’t score a bucket, his defensive contribution again helped the Bucks during a lot of tough moments.
Chris Paul struggled mightily in Game 4. As great as he’d been in the first two games of the series, his regression continued into this game, prompting the question as to whether or not the injuries he’s suffered throughout the postseason were beginning to catch up. He finished with 10 points, 4 rebounds, 7 assists and 5 turnovers. A lot of the shots that he missed were short, even from his normal money ranges, which could mean that his hand injury is getting worse, plus he just didn’t seem to be moving too well around the court.
DeAndre Ayton was monstrous on the boards again with 17 rebounds, while also contributing 5 assists and 3 blocks. However, his 6 points were simply not good enough and well below his playoff average. Jae Crowder, who had shot two free throws prior to Game 4, made 6 of 7 for the game and also 3 of 9 threes for 15 points.
Considering the piling injuries, the Suns really needed this win. They managed to get 42 points out of Booker, even though he battled foul trouble all through the second half, but they can’t really blame the refs because they also allowed Booker to get away with at least two clear fouls in the fourth quarter that would have taken him out for good.
The 109-103 defeat will be absolutely deflating for the Suns, but the home team is meant to win, so it’s not surprising that it’s a 2-2 series. What sucks for them is how they lost the game, which was through bad execution and mental mistakes.
For us NBA fans, it just means that there will definitely be at least two more games in this series. Let’s hope the Suns can recover from their injuries and come back strong, because if the next three games are played like Game 4, then we’re in for some serious fun.