The Milwaukee Bucks had to play Game 3 of the NBA Finals with a sense of urgency, considering how they’d lost both of their previous games against the Phoenix Suns by double-digits.
Boy, did they respond in emphatic fashion.
Giannis Antetokounmpo did his bit to keep the game close again in the first half, before the Bucks went on a huge run. He finished the first half with 18 points on 7 of 13 shooting with 8 rebounds and 4 assists with no turnovers.
The Bucks went on a huge 30-11 run to grab a 60-45 halftime lead, which was reminiscent of how the Suns went on a 20-point turnaround to close the first half in Game 2. That 15-point lead was the biggest the Bucks had so far in the NBA Finals. They would go on to surpass that.
Bobby Portis did his bit in the first half too on both the offensive and defensive ends, scoring 9 points on 4 of 9 shooting while grabbing 6 rebounds and harassing the Suns all over the court.
For Phoenix, it was DeAndre Ayton’s turn to have a huge first half with 16 points, 5 rebounds and a steal on 7 of 9 shooting.
Chris Paul was solid in the pick and roll as usual. He had a pretty good start with 10 points and 4 assists on 5 of 8 shooting in the first half. His star back court partner Devin Booker had trouble with his shot, though, scoring 7 points while making only 2 of 11 shots. Booker didn’t play much of the second half and finished with 10 points.
The second half started all right for the Suns as they forced two quick fouls and then made a couple of buckets, but Ayton then picked up his fourth foul with 10:25 left in the third quarter which forced Monty Williams to play a much smaller lineup.
With Ayton out of the game, there was little the Suns could do to stop Antetokounmpo’s continued assault in the paint. He grabbed offensive rebounds at will, made tough putbacks, and even hit his free throws at a good clip.
Cam Johnson made an amazing play in the third quarter, though, skying for a dunk over PJ Tucker and making his free throw to cut the lead to single digits. An unsuccessful challenge came for the Bucks, and then Johnson again scored on his next possession to cut the deficit to single digits at 69-61. Johnson had 2 points at halftime, but he entered the fourth quarter with 12.
The Bucks then lost a jump ball, and Mikal Bridges ran scot-free to make it a 69-63 game before the Bucks got a quick bucket to make it 71-63 and stop the bleeding.
The teams traded buckets for a while until Jrue Holiday hit a couple of threes to make it an 80-71 lead. The script was flipped in Game 3, as it was the Bucks who had an answer every time the Suns would get it to within 4 to 6 points. Holiday scored 12 points in the quarter and was key to their ability to regain the double-digit lead.
Heading into the fourth quarter, the Bucks had actually built up their lead and were in complete control with a 98-76 advantage with 12 minutes left to play. The Suns didn’t have any big runs left in them, and the Bucks closed it out with a big 120-100 victory.
Antetokounmpo gave his team his all again, and this time it paid off. He finished with 41 points, 13 rebounds, 6 assists and a steal while shooting 14 of 23 from the field. He also, especially by his standards, shot lights out from the free throw line with a 13 of 17 clip. Hack-a-Giannis failed spectacularly.
This game was first time Khris Middleton took free throws, and he made all three of them on the way to 18 points, 7 rebounds, 6 assists and a steal while shooting 6 of 14 from the field.
Jrue Holiday had himself a solid game, too, as he finished with 21 points, 5 rebounds, 9 assists, a steal and a block on 8 of 14 shooting. He shot 5 of 10 from beyond the arc.
As a team, the Bucks were totally unselfish, assisting on 28 of their 43 made buckets. They won the rebounding battle 47-36 and the paint scoring battle 54-40.
Phoenix will be leaving the arena shell-shocked, but they’ll have to take responsibility for their poor shooting. They only made 9 of 31 threes, and Jae Crowder was responsible for a two-thirds of their made triples as he shot 6 of 7 from deep. They just got reminded about how talented the Bucks are, and how dangerous they can be when firing on all cylinders.
The Bucks’ victory is good news for NBA fans, because it means we’re going to get at least one extra game from the series. We’ll have to see how the Suns adjust for Game 4, but we’ve got ourselves a dogfight now.
While Phoenix still hold the 2-1 lead, they’ve been put on notice. If the Bucks lose this series, they’re going to go down swinging.