Giannis’ Teammates Are Letting Him Down

The Suns took Game 2 of the Finals 118-108 and are now up 2-0 with the series shifting to Milwaukee. The Bucks are now 5-6 on the road during this postseason, but 7-1 at home. They’re going to need to continue that home-court dominance if they’re going to get back into this series, because obviously if you go down 3-0, it’s over.

No team in NBA playoff history has ever won a series they trailed 3-0. In fact only five teams in American sports history have ever come back from a 3-0 deficit, and four of them were in the NHL. The other one was the 2004 Red Sox in the ALCS against the Yankees. In the NBA, two teams have almost done it: the 2003 Trail Blazers in the first round against Dallas were able to force a Game 7, but Dallas regrouped to win it. And in 1994, the Nuggets forced a Game 7 in the second round against Utah, but Utah won Game 7.

Game 3 is a must-win for the Bucks. No two ways about it. I’d even say Game 4 is a must-win as well. Only one team in NBA Finals history has ever come back from a 3-1 deficit, and that team had LeBron James on it.

I want to first give credit to the Suns here because they’ve clearly been the better team in this Finals. Devin Booker was really good: 31 points, 6 assists, 12-25 shooting including 7-12 from three, and he played 44 minutes. Chris Paul was 10-20 shooting for 23 points and 8 assists. But the guy who stepped up the most was Mikal Bridges: 8-15 from the field for 27 points and 7 rebounds, 8-8 from the free throw line.

In order to win NBA Championships, even your role players have to step up. For some reason, it just feels like in every NBA Finals series (other than the blowouts), there is always a role-player that steps up and does something extraordinary, whether it be a hitting a big-time clutch shot, getting a stop, or even having a monster game altogether. Think the Ray Allen Shot for Miami in 2013, Fred VanVleet in the 2019 Finals Game 6, KCP hitting tons of big shots in last year’s Finals, etc.

Mikal Bridges had one of those monster games last night, and it was enough to make the difference and get Phoenix the win. He’s averaging 11.8 points per game these playoffs, and he more than doubled that last night. If he scored 12 points last night, Phoenix does not win that game. So hats off to Bridges for stepping up. He picked a great time to have the best playoff game of his career.

However, I want to talk about the Milwaukee Bucks here. Because while the Suns are playing excellent as a team, the Bucks are a one-man show right now.

Last night, Giannis was spectacular: 42 points, 12 rebounds, 3 blocks on 15-22 shooting, which is even more impressive when you consider he was just 1-5 from three. He was just 11-18 from the free throw line but that’s just what you get from Giannis, so you can’t really be too upset about that consider how much he contributed everywhere else. He was dominant last night. Any concerns about that knee are long gone: he’s clearly 100% at this point. In Game 1, he was a bit rusty and probably worried about re-injuring himself, but last night he was back to his normal self. He could not be stopped; Phoenix had no answer for him.

When he was on the court, Milwaukee was +3. The man had 20 points in the third quarter alone! It was one of the greatest individual performances in a single quarter in NBA Finals history.

He scored 30 points in the second half. That has only happened three times in a Finals game since the ABA-NBA merger in 1976! Isiah Thomas’ famous Sprained Ankle Game in 1988, Isiah Thomas in the 1990 Finals, and then Giannis last night. That’s it. MJ never had a 30-point second-half in an NBA Finals game. LeBron has never done it. Kobe never did it. Shaq never did it. Isiah Thomas and Giannis are the only two players in NBA history to have a 30-point second-half in a Finals game.

But it didn’t matter, because his teammates let him down spectacularly, specifically Khris Middleton and Jrue Holliday. Middleton: 5-16 shooting for 11 points and 8 assists, including 1-6 from three. Holliday: 7-21 from the field 17 points and 7 assists. Somehow Holliday was only a -3, but Middleton was a nauseating -15 for the game. The only player on the Bucks outside of Giannis that had a good game was Pat Connaughton, who went 5-10 from the floor for 14 points, but the Bucks were also -14 in his 33 minutes.

For the series, Khris Middleton is now 17-42 from the floor (40.4%).

Jrue Holliday? 11-35, or 31.4% field goal shooting.

That is not going to get it done, to say the very least. When your #2 and #3 options are shooting a combined 36.3% from the field for the series, you are probably not going to win.

You really can’t ask for much more out of Giannis. The dude is a force of nature. He played so well, he didn’t even need both Holliday and Middleton to have a good game–he just needed one of them to step up, and the Bucks would’ve won that game. But neither of them did.

Both guys basically pooped their pants last night.

The worst part of it is not that Giannis’ teammates can’t step up and play well enough to win this series, it’s that both Middleton and Holliday are fully capable of playing excellent basketball, but they’re not.

Khris Middleton has had some phenomenal games over the course of this postseason. He’s averaging 23ppg; he’s had two 38-point games and one 35-point game during this 2021 playoff run.

He is capable of being not just a good second-option but a great second option. But right now he’s getting outplayed by Mikal Bridges in this series.

You just can’t have that if you’re Milwaukee. It’s just unacceptable.

Jrue Holliday has also had some top-notch games over the course of this postseason, but he’s choking right now. He’s out there playing like Brian Scalabrine.

In this series, Giannis is a +4 overall in the 75 minutes he’s played. But overall, the Bucks have been outscored in the two games by 23 points. That means the Bucks are -27 overall in the 21 minutes that Giannis has not been on the floor.

That’s a LeBron in the 2015 Finals-level of hard-carrying.

Giannis’ teammates can barely even function at all with him on the bench. He goes and sits down for a minute or two, and Phoenix immediately goes on a run.

It’s honestly kind of impressive how bad the Bucks are when Giannis is on the bench. -27 in 21 minutes! Think about that. If it were a normal game from the opening tip-off, that would mean being down 27 with three minutes to go in the second quarter. You don’t see that very often, even in regular season games. It’s a special level of sucking for a team to be -27 in 21 minutes.

Nick Wright elaborated on this topic on the show this morning:

Giannis played 21.5 minutes in the second half out of a possible 24. In his 21.5 minutes, the Bucks were +8, but in the 2.5 minutes he sat, they were -7.

His teammates squandered his 21.5 minutes of hard work in just 2.5 minutes. It’s incredible, really.

Wright also said that Giannis is now unquestionably one of the three best players in the world along with LeBron and KD. You can debate the order, he said, but you can’t debate that those three are the clear-cut best players in the NBA right now.

I think I’m ready to put Giannis into that top-three tier as well. After seeing him ball out in a Finals series, I think he belongs in there. Because the Finals are the ultimate test, and I just can’t put a guy in the top-three category until I see him play in the Finals.

Giannis’ teammates are going to have to step up in Games 3 & 4, because they are letting him down massively at the moment.

Octavian

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