The Phoenix Suns have protected their home court with a 118-108 victory in Game 2 against a Bucks team that repeatedly felt so close to stealing it. Here are some takeaways from a game the Suns offense won just as much as the Bucks offense lost.
Devin Booker, definitely a superstar
The Suns found a way to score every time they had to, pretty much from the start. Mikal Bridges met Milwaukee’s starting intensity with some tough 3s. Chris Paul did some huge mid-range pull-ups against a scheme that worked hard to eliminate them. The entire team, especially Deandre Ayton, broke the offensive glass, cornering several balls 50-50 and creating critical second-chance opportunities.
However, no individual had a bigger overall impact than Devin Booker. Phoenix’s leading scorer finished with 31 points and seven triples. It was not the most efficient night because he did not attempt a single free throw, but if the degree of difficulty took into account the number of points each of his baskets was worth, Booker would have scored between 75 and 80 points. His ridiculous free throw shot on Giannis Antetokounmpo made even less sense than the 31-foot bomb he charged from the right wing (an area of the court that he completely dominated all night).
Booker literally shrugged off Khris Middleton on multiple fourth-quarter isolations, repositioned for an immediate wide open at Phoenix’s pick-and-roll in Spain, and nailed one contested dominate after another. Every element of his skill level was present during the most important game of his young career. “Be legendary” indeed.
The Bucks wasted Giannis’s greatness
Despite some ugly free throws, questionable triples, and a sore knee that chilled every Bucks fan’s blood every time he crashed to the ground, Antetokounmpo looked like a two-time NBA MVP in the second half. of Game 2. His 20 points The third quarter was historic (no player in the Finals has surpassed that mark in a single quarter since at least 1997—though a few have gotten over it before in these playoffs).
It’s difficult to conjure up a more physically unstoppable player. Giannis’s power was unholy. He made 12 shots in the paint and 11 of them came in, flying for transition dunks and working his way to the front of the basket in midfield situations. Antetokounmpo’s prowess was on display too: Standing on the spike twice, he carefully placed a pair of incredibly difficult one-legged fadeaways on the rim before they tumbled through the net. A few post-up changes along the baseline were works of art when he appeared on the edge of an empty tank.
Despite everything, he kept coming. The Suns had no choice but to foul (unintentionally) and hope the gifts would be lost. Monty Williams eventually had to get Deandre Ayton out of Giannis and hope that Jae Crowder could defend himself. No dice. The Bucks began bringing in Khris Middleton to set up flat ball screens near the top of the key, dragging Bridges into action with more distasteful results.
Antetokounmpo finished with 42 points, 12 rebounds, four assists and three blocks. He had +3 in 40 minutes, two days after posting 35, many of them as a center changing screens, guarding the rim, running towards shooters and exerting as much energy as possible. There were times when he couldn’t help limping, which somehow made the performance even more remarkable. Now, with two days to rest their knee, the Bucks may need even more from their franchise superstar if they want to make this Finals a series. Unless, of course, Jrue Holiday or Middleton (who combined for 28 points on 37 shots) decide to show up. Offensively in Game 2, both were huge disappointments.
Milwaukee’s defense was better
In Game 1, the Bucks didn’t look like the team that entered these Finals with the best defense of the postseason. Rather than execute the knockdown coverage they’re known for, Milwaukee spent the entire first half trading their greats for Phoenix’s star guards, a strategic decision that filled Booker and Paul with confidence every time they touched the ball.
In Game 2, the Bucks were good again. Brook Lopez stayed in the paint defending pick-and-rolls and did a great job giving whoever was on the ball enough time to recover on screen before he returned to Ayton himself. It was masterful coverage for most of the game and helped Milwaukee look more like Milwaukee. One of the most disciplined defenses in basketball, the Bucks fouled too many times in Game 1. In Game 2, the Suns took their first free throw with 14.9 seconds left in the first half.
However, not everything was perfect. It can’t be against an offense like Phoenix that is capable of recognizing an opponent’s thought process in real time and then counterattacking. Example: When the Suns realized the Bucks were trading 1-4 but not Lopez, they had Crowder slide a screen for Chris Paul, immediately prompting Crowder to kick Bridges into the corner for an open three.
The Suns quickly understood that the Bucks entered the game wanting to eliminate as much dribbling penetration as they could. They contracted the floor and packed the paint as much as they could. Every time a ball handler turned the corner, another Bucks defender was already waiting in the gap to eliminate any progress. Phoenix responded by getting off the ball at the right time, especially when someone stunted within an inch of a three-point shooter.
In the first half, the Suns made seven corner triples, an area where an overwhelming 26% of all their field goal attempts came from. During the regular season, Milwaukee’s highest shooting frequency allowed from the corner was 17%. (Entering Game 2, only 5.8% of his opponent’s shots in trash-free minutes were from the corner, lower than all teams this postseason except the Spurs, who did not survive the play-in tournament.)
But overall, the Bucks carried out Coach Budenholzer’s plan well enough to win. They were attentive and quick on the ball, pressing Paul 94 feet, spinning him as he dribbled across the ground. There were even prior well-executed trades where, when the Suns clearly wanted to hunt down Lopez with a high screen, Holiday would walk away from Booker and take the assignment so Lopez could stay close to the basket. (A couple of times the Suns returned the ball to Booker, forcing Lopez to go to an island. But the results on those possessions were mixed as the Bucks befriended the shot clock.)
In the end, Milwaukee lost because Holiday and Middleton couldn’t score. If they’re heading into Game 3 with the same defensive focus and intensity, there’s no reason this series can’t be tied this time next week.
More coverage of the NBA playoffs:
• Starting unit Synergy drives Suns finals run
• The Bucks don’t have an easy answer for Chris Paul.
• Are these endings an aberration or the new normal?
• The finals are amazing. And impressive.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.