Phoenix Suns vs. Milwaukee Bucks Preview
The Suns continued to defend home court on Thursday night as they earned a 118-108 win over the Bucks in Phoenix. The Suns played a dominant second quarter with a 30-16 scoring differential that carried them to the win. Phoenix is now just two wins away from its first NBA Championship in franchise history, but the Bucks won’t fold over and will have a counter-punch in store on Sunday. For odds movement and full matchup history, visit the Phoenix Suns vs Milwaukee Bucks Matchup Page.
Time: 8:00 PM ET
Arena: Fiserv Forum – Milwaukee, WI
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Bucks Starting 5
Milwaukee Bucks Analysis
Giannis Antetokounmpo continues to carry the Bucks on both ends of the floor despite hyper-extending his knee less than two weeks ago. His conditioning looked off at times on Thursday night, but he was able to play 40 minutes and was the only reason the Bucks kept this game close. Antetokounmpo finished with 42 points on 15-22 shooting, but he made just 1-5 3-pointers and 11-18 free throws. He did, however, chip in with 12 rebounds, 4 assists, and 3 blocks, including a ridiculous chase-down block on Mikal Bridges that was one of the best defensive plays I’ve seen all season. Giannis needs his teammates to step up more if this team takes back a game in this series.
After a strong Game 1 performance, Khris Middleton was a shell of himself on Thursday as he finished with just 11 points on 5-16 from the field and 1-6 from 3. Middleton did have 6 rebounds and 8 assists, but his offense was putrid, and he just didn’t do enough to help a hobbled Giannis. Jrue Holiday has also been shockingly bad in this series so far, and he finished with 17 points on just 7-21 shooting; he’s now shooting just 11-35 from the field in the first two games of the Finals (31.4%). Holiday’s defense on Chris Paul and Devin Booker hasn’t been good enough either, as both guys had very efficient, potent offensive games in Game 2 yet again. Milwaukee needs more out of both Middleton and Holiday.
Brook Lopez has struggled to stay on the floor for Milwaukee as Chris Paul and Devin Booker have exposed him defensively in pick-and-roll; he played just 28 minutes in Game 2 and had just 8 points and 9 rebounds. P.J. Tucker, meanwhile, attempted just 5 shots and had 7 points; he’s not really going to cut the mustard offensively. Pat Connaughton played 34 minutes as he picked up Lopez’s minutes, and he was solid with 14 points on 5-10 shooting and 4-9 from 3, but he was a -14 for the game and struggled defensively as well. The rest of the bench scored just 9 points between Bryn Forbes, Bobby Portis, and Jeff Teague. This team is missing the services of Donte DiVincenzo, who suffered a season-ending foot tendon injury back in May.
The Bucks shot 44.4% from 3 in Game 1 in an impressive performance following their shooting woes in the Eastern Conference Finals, but they fell back down to earth with 29.0% shooting from 3 in Game 2. Milwaukee did get their free-throw shooting up to 65.2% in Game 2, but that was still a pretty dreadful effort, and they left 8 points at the line. The Bucks scored a whopping 54 points in the paint against the Suns as they exposed their interior defense, but they only had 3 more rebounds despite that interior advantage. Milwaukee also scored 17 points in the fast break, many of which were from Giannis, but they often settled for 2 points when the Suns could move the ball and hit 3-pointers at a consistent clip.
Suns Starting 5
I absolutely adore Devin Booker. He’s just so damn fun to watch, and he sucked the life out of the Bucks late Thursday night as he came up huge in the clutch. Booker finished with 31 points on 12-25 from the field and 7-12 from 3 as the Bucks had no answers for him defensively. He also had 5 rebounds and 6 assists as he was a +10 in the game, tied for the best on the team. Chris Paul also had another awesome game despite his 6 turnovers, as he had 23 points on 10-20 shooting and 8 assists. CP3 is coming up huge in the biggest and most important series of his storied career. This backcourt has been superb all playoffs long and if the Suns do win the title, it will be interesting to see which of these two guys ends up winning the NBA Finals MVP award.
Mikal Bridges has been awesome all playoffs as a role player with high-level defending, secondary playmaking, and strong shooting. However, he leveled up differently on Thursday night as he scored a playoff career-high 27 points on 8-15 shooting and 3-9 from 3. He took the ball off the dribble, pulled up from all over the court, and scored at all three levels; Bridges was made for this moment. Jae Crowder was solid in support of the main guys with 11 points and 10 rebounds. He also played some solid defense across the board. With Bridges and Crowder on the wings, the Suns can switch on just about any matchup, which is a huge advantage defensively against the lanky Bucks team.
Young center DeAndre Ayton had a quiet game but still had another double-double, his 13th double-double in 18 career playoff games. He’s been terrific these playoffs as he’s averaged 16.2 points and 12.1 rebounds in his 18 career playoff games. Ayton has proven me wrong in this playoff run, and he’s clearly a centerpiece for this team moving forward with the upside to become the best big man in the league. Dario Saric’s injury forced Ayton to play 42 minutes on Thursday as Frank Kaminsky just doesn’t cut it off the bench. Cam Johnson and Torrey Craig have been reliable off the bench, but a short rotation has been Phoenix’s best approach as their starting five is dominant.
Phoenix struggled a bit from 3 in Game 1 of this series as they shot just 32.4% from deep as a team, but they righted the ship in Game 2 with 20-40 3-point shooting (50%). Devin Booker made 7 of his 12 3-point attempts, Chris Paul and Jae Crowder went 3-5 from deep, and Torrey Craig and Cam Johnson each hit two 3-pointers off the bench. Phoenix also went 12-14 from the free-throw line as one of the best free-throw shooting teams in the NBA. The Suns almost led wire-to-wire in Game 1, and Game 2 was much more of a fight, but they wound up winning by almost the same margin.
Suns vs. Bucks Betting Odds
The Suns opened up at about 3.5-point favorites in Game 3, following their first two wins in this series by an average margin of 11.5 points. The Bucks’ offensive struggles could recover as the series shifts back to Milwaukee, but they’ve actually shot 33.7% from 3 on the road and 29.2% from 3 at home during this postseason. Phoenix, meanwhile, has shot better on the road – they’ve shot 37.1% from 3 at home and 39.1% from 3 away from home this postseason. Phoenix’s backcourt has been dominant, and their ball movement has been impossible for the Bucks to deal with, and I don’t see that changing anytime soon. The Suns might sweep this series, and I’m rolling with them as a short road favorite with a few days of rest here.
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