The Deer are here.
In this NBA Finals, that is. Trailing the Phoenix Suns 2-0 in the series, the Milwaukee Bucks hit another gear at home and rode an unstoppable Giannis Antetokounmpo to a convincing 120-100 victory on Sunday night.
Antetokoumpo had 41 points, 13 rebounds and six assists and was pretty much a load from the mid-first quarter on. He became only the fourth player with at least 30 points, 10 rebounds and five assists in an NBA Finals game through three quarters. He joined Michael Jordan, LeBron James and Kevin Durant. Pretty good company. He also saddled up alongside Jordan, James, Shaquille O’Neal, Rick Barry and Jerry West as the only players to notch at least 40 points in consecutive Finals games.
Antetokounmpo was merely following up another big performance, but the difference this time was the help he received from teammates like Khris Middleton, who had more points at halftime (15) than in all of Game 2 (11). Middleton only scored three points in the second half, but that didn’t matter at all because Antetokounmpo was a wrecking ball.
The Bucks also got big “glue guy” outings from P.J. Tucker and Bobby Portis and 19 points from maligned point guard Jrue Holiday. Holiday’s game included 5-for-10 three-point shooting, including a number of key makes in the second half when Phoenix was still in the game.
Devin Booker had been the brightest star of these Finals heading into Game 3. His huge finish to the second game had made sure of that, but Sunday was not his night.
Booker had averaged 29 points a game and hit 40% of his three-point attempts in Phoenix, but shot like there was a big deer blocking the rim in Milwaukee.
Booker started Game 3 just 1-for-8 from the field, finished 3-for-14 and was rested for much of the second half as the Suns looked ahead.
After averaging a combined 56.5 points through two games, the most by a starting backcourt since 1971, Booker and Chris Paul totalled just 29 points in this one.
DeAndre Ayton and Jae Crowder held the Phoenix offence afloat, combining for 36 on 14-for-18 shooting, but it wasn’t enough.
As a result, when the teams reconvene in Wisconsin on Wednesday there will be a ton on the line, with the Bucks potentially aiming to tie the series against a suddenly depleted opponent, instead of possibly facing the end of their season.
Milwaukee had lost two games to open the Eastern final against Brooklyn, but won the next two at home and also rallied from a 3-2 deficit with a home victory, before winning Game 7 in Brooklyn. The team is now 8-1 at home in the playoffs.
About a week ago, we didn’t even know if Antetokounmpo would be healthy enough to complete the playoffs after he got injured. Now he’s turning in all-time great all-around performances.
“He’s a great playmaker, screener, passer and he does so many great things,” Bucks head coach Mike Budenholzer said. “I think when he’s conscious of doing a little bit of everything, he’s very capable and that’s when he’s at his best.”
CRAIG WAS A GO, BUT SUNS HURTING
After losing reserve big man Dario Saric for the series earlier, Phoenix’s depth would have been further tested had banged up forward Torrey Craig been unavailable as well on Sunday. Luckily, for Phoenix’s short bench, Craig was a go.
“He’s got some soreness, but everybody does. So we think he’ll be OK,” Williams said at his pre-game availability.
Williams lauded Craig’s toughness and was glad to have him available.
Craig is basically the eighth man for the Suns at this point and they don’t have a lot behind him. He played 15 minutes but was ineffective.
PAUL LOSES A FOSTER GAME AGAIN
One of the officials for Game 3 was Scott Foster. You might have heard he has a bit of history with Paul.
“If I was a betting man, 11 games in a row,” Paul said back in Round 1, when the Los Angeles Lakers beat Phoenix in the third game of that series. “Eleven games in a row.”
If you missed the context, Paul was referring to his 11-game losing streak in playoff games Foster had refereed.
Williams was asked pre-game if the referee assignments matter much to him.
“I look at them, but it doesn’t impact me at all. I just don’t get into that stuff. I think the referees, the officials, especially that are reffing on this level, they are the best of the best,” Williams said.
“I always think the guys that are on this stage are the ones that you can communicate with. That’s what I look for in an official is ones that I can talk to while the game is going on and a timeout situation. The guys that are on this level, to me, that’s the sign of a high-level official, the ones that can communicate in pressure situations, talk you off a cliff, listen to your complaining and kind of wade through what you’re trying to say and give you an answer that makes sense.
“So that’s about as far as it goes for me.”
Paul has now lost 12 straight in the playoffs with Foster refereeing.
Williams didn’t seem thrilled with the work of the officiating staff post-game.
“I’m not going to get into the complaining publicly about fouls. Just not going to do that,” Williams said. “But you can look — we had 16 free throws tonight (as a team). One person (Antetokounmpo) had 17.”
Ayton battled foul trouble, which hurt the Suns.
“We got to figure out or define what is a legal guarding position because there are times where he can move his hands out of the way, but it’s hard to tell a guy what to do when somebody (Antetokounmpo) is running into you,” Williams said.
“I don’t know what a legal guarding position is at times.”
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NASH CHECKS IN
Steve Nash won two MVP awards while with the Suns, but never carried Phoenix to a title. Still, he remains forever connected to the franchise and Williams noted Nash had wished him well when asked whether any former Suns had gotten in touch.
“I got a text from Steve the other day. I thought that was really cool of him. He’s coaching Brooklyn. But it just spoke to me about how those guys feel about the Suns, the fan base, the former players. It’s a pretty cool family to be a part of,” Williams said.
You can bet the Nash angle would have been played up had Nash’s Nets ended up facing off with Williams and the Suns in the championship series.