Suns drop 3rd in a row in NBA Finals against Bucks, now in danger of elimination
No.34 Milwaukee Bucks ‘Giannis Antetokounmpo takes on No.25 Phoenix Suns’ Mikal Bridges in the second half of Game 5 of the NBA Finals at the Footprint Center on July 17, 2021 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo by Ronald Martinez / Getty Images)
PHOENIX – The last time the Phoenix Suns lost three games in a row, they reversed their season. That late January response after an 8-8 regular-season start turned them into contenders almost six months ago.
But what they’re able to muster in the NBA Finals after falling in three straight games for the first time since will determine whether or not they are champions.
The Suns lost Game 5 to the Milwaukee Bucks 123-119 and are trailing for the first time in the series since taking a 2-0 lead.
“We have to win a game to get them back on the plane,” Suns head coach Monty Williams said of the mentality going forward. “That’s it. And you’ve got to have that determination that you’re willing to do whatever it takes to get them back on the plane. So you can call it whatever you like, mental toughness, all that, but that is going to be needed and our guys are able to do it.This is the first time we’ve been in this position and we can do it.
In a game full of nuances we’ll get to, a simple breakdown was that the Big 3 Bucks of Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton, and Jrue Holiday all presented themselves as if this was the biggest game of the NBA season. For the Suns in the second game in a row, it was just Devin Booker.
Booker scored 40 points on 17 of 33 shots, having to take over and stagnate the offense in the second half due to Phoenix’s incompetence.
Antetokounmpo had 32 points, nine rebounds and six assists on 14 of 23 shots.
He was tied by Middleton’s 29 points, five rebounds and five assists with an efficiency of 12 of 23, as well as Jrue Holiday’s masterful 27 points on 12 of 20 shots, plus four rebounds and 13 assists.
The three combined for 88 points and 24 assists, accounting for 115 of the Bucks’ 123 points through that. Two free throws for Pat Connaughton, one for Bobby Portis, a three pointers from Brook Lopez assisted by PJ Tucker and an offensive rebound from Portis were the other eight points.
Phoenix took a 37-21 lead in the first quarter, returning to its brand of high-quality basketball and playing in 0.5.
Chris Paul was at the helm of this, finding a new sense of aggression while using bullet screens as a means of reaching the paint rather than manipulating the defense.
He was buzzing the ball for three-point opportunities and also prepared Deandre Ayton, who had eight points in the first quarter.
“He was going to paint and DA was going with him early, which put a lot of pressure on their rim protection,” Williams said of Paul. “The pressure against Chris slowed us down a bit. In the first quarter, it didn’t work out and we scored 37 points. So that’s a formula for us, just go paint, shoot or find guys.
Booker was the top player in the quarterback with 11 points and the Suns had five trebles. It was also the team’s best defense in the series, a reminder of how much easier the game is for them when the defense is buzzing.
But in the clearest example to date of the team’s inexperience in the playoffs, they gave up and the Bucks surged.
Milwaukee ran a 26-12 run in the opening 5:36 of the second quarter, and it all miraculously happened with Antetokounmpo on the bench. The Bucks had lost just two on his return.
In the middle of this wave, Paul and Ayton got lost in the shuffle. The two were unable to continue the pace they found at the start of the match, with Paul not looking well physically and Ayton returned to a provisional, non-impacting form he sometimes fell into during the last three years.
Paul didn’t have his usual quickness defensively, where Holiday crippled him out of the dribble. Ayton’s struggles to catch the ball were back and he wasn’t capitalizing on the lags with the seals and the position of the deep posts.
Like the Suns’ 20-5 hole they jumped in at the start of Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals, it’s a very easy way to lose a game of ball.
“We just made it easier for them,” said Suns winger Mikal Bridges. “We weren’t – we took our foot off the accelerator and thanks to them they stayed calm… We relaxed and that’s what hurt us.”
The Bucks took full swing and, to their absolute credit, put in some great shots, while the Suns got stuck in the mud.
In the middle of the quarterfinals, the Bucks were 32 of 45 (71.1%) from the field and Booker scored or assisted the Suns’ first 14 points in the third to avoid a rout. This has helped reduce the Suns’ biggest deficit to just 13 points at this point.
“Whether it was patterns or just courage and tenacity during these times, to just get a save we couldn’t get back-to-back stops in the second and third,” said Williams.
Even though it looked like Milwaukee wasn’t going to be missing, it was going to happen eventually, and how the Suns seized those opportunities was going to be the game-maker.
The first was at the end of the third when the Bucks managed just four points within 2:53 of the third quarter. The Suns only had seven, which was progress but not enough.
The last period was defined by those windows for the Suns and how the Bucks’ Big 3 have stepped up in other pockets for the past 12 minutes.
Antetokounmpo recorded Milwaukee’s first four points in that frame before the Suns lost Middleton to an easy layup, then Holiday converted on a tough float.
That flurry gave the Bucks their biggest lead of the night, 14 points, for a 108-94 score with 9:08 to go.
Then came the second chance for the Suns to get back into the game. By the next 5:41 am, nearly halfway through the quarter, the Bucks had only collected six points.
It was a struggle for the Suns to counter with more, but they eventually got there to make it a 13-6 push that cut the Bucks advantage in half to seven.
What broke that was the shot that looked like a dagger, a ridiculous Middleton and one to extend Milwaukee’s advantage to 10 with 3:25 to go.
Phoenix would have another opening, however.
Paul punched a 3, Ayton hit two free throws, and even after another impressive jumper from Middleton, Booker quickly responded with a drive to take him to 120-114 Bucks at 2:03 left.
Booker, who landed the Middleton mission later in the game after Bridges needed to take Holiday for Paul, did a terrific job in the clutch and took out Middleton’s drive the next time around. The ball went out of bounds and a review of the appeal gave Williams a chance to regain possession from the Suns on the other end.
After the Bucks ‘ball was judged, Middleton missed again and Williams’ game would go with Phoenix down six.
Booker flew around the ball screens with Holiday all over him, and in one motion, grabbed the ball, planted his feet, stood up and shot a 3 from the right wing which sort of fell for have it 120-117 Milwaukee with 1:24 remaining.
With just over a minute to go, Antetokounmpo was fouled by Paul. The Greek Freak missed the first, then Williams wisely took a time out to freeze Antetokounmpo’s second and also set up another game.
Antetokounmpo also breathed in the second and Williams’ play saw Paul take a good shot at Connaughton in the right corner.
With all of Paul’s teammates near the top of the key and the final move causing Booker to fly into the opposite corner through an elbow screen, Paul instead called a beep and led the baseline straight through Connaughton for a lay. -up.
This reduced the Bucks’ lead to one. In the possession that followed, Middleton got stuck with five seconds left on the shot clock and called the timeout at 38 unfinished seconds.
Out of the stop, Holiday got a bad look at isolation and his miss was bounced back by Booker.
Williams let Booker go from there, where all three of the series’ key stats would show his ugly head in one streak.
Booker on the right wing drove left towards the key. Antetokounmpo abandoned Ayton on the baseline and was there waiting, so Booker stopped and spun, and when he turned around, there was Holiday waiting to snatch the ball.
Holiday started the break in transition, finding Antetokounmpo for a lob that Paul fouled him on, which gave the Bucks a chance to have him in a four-point game.
Antetokounmpo missed his free throw, but Holiday hit it in the air, where of course Antetokounmpo would get a second shot on Middleton.
Middleton was fouled, made a free throw, and so Antetokounmpo’s dunk was points from a turnover and in transition while Middleton’s lone free throw was a point from the turnaround. second chance.
Booker was no longer heroism at four, missing a three-pointer that wrapped it all up.
Paul finished with 21 points, two rebounds and 11 assists, a better outing than Game 4 but one where his impact was still not as great as it usually is.
While Ayton played a good defense on Antetokounmpo and contributed 20 points and 10 rebounds, he was MIA for most of the game.
In what will be the Suns’ biggest concern over the past two games, they have attempted 19 three-pointers after 23 on Wednesday. This is how a team loses by shooting 68.4% (13 of 19) from deep.
Much of this was due to what Booker had to do individually at the expense of the offense.
“We have to move it,” Williams said. “We know what Book can do with the ball, but the only thing we talked about was going to the paint job, finding some guys at the back. We have the impression that it is a formula. There were times tonight where it just stuck a bit and against their defense they don’t have to work against it. So we can score in iso balloon, but for that defense to work we have to move it and to beat this team that’s what you have to do.
The margins were cleaned up for Phoenix after being dismantled in Milwaukee. Turnovers points (17-16) and second chance points (14-12) have both been on the Suns’ side while quick break points (21-12) have always favored the Bucks.