The Bucks just secured their first win of this 2021 NBA Finals series, 120-100 at home in Milwaukee, and it’s exactly what the doctor ordered. The Bucks desperately needed this game after losing the first two in Phoenix, because you cannot go down 3-0.
In my last post, I wrote about how Giannis’ teammates–specifically Khris Middleton and Jrue Holliday–were letting him down with their poor play, and that they needed to step up or else this series would be over quickly. Giannis, as dominant as he is, cannot beat this Phoenix team by himself.
The Bucks are clearly a different team at home. They just played better in all facets of the game. Holliday, who was an abysmal 7-21 in Game 2, was 8-14 from the field for 21 points and 9 assists. Middleton wasn’t exactly a standout performer, but he was 6-14 for 18 points, 7 rebounds and 6 assists. Those are solid numbers. Altogether, he and Holliday were a combined 50% from the field in Game 3 after shooting a combined 36% over the first two games of this series. Those two stepping up made a big difference for the Bucks.
Giannis had nearly identical numbers in Games 2 and 3. Tonight he had 41 points, 13 rebounds and 6 assists on 14-23 shooting and 13-17 free throw shooting. In Game 2, he had 42 points, 12 rebounds, 4 assists on 15-22 shooting and was 11-18 from the line. We’re seeing consistent transcendent greatness out of Giannis right now, and in my view no one can deny that he is one of the top three players in the league.
The difference in this game was that Giannis’ teammates were better, they played much tougher defense on Phoenix, and Phoenix simply didn’t play as well as they’d been playing in Games 1 & 2 at home.
The Suns were 9-31 from three as a team in this game, while Milwaukee was 14-36. Technically the Suns shot a higher team field goal percentage in this game than the Bucks (48.2% vs. 47.8%), but the Bucks had more field goals made than the Suns due to the fact that the Bucks had seven more field goal attempts in the game. The Bucks were 43-90 while Phoenix was 40-83, and this disparity in shot attempts can be traced back to the fact that the Bucks had 13 offensive rebounds to Phoenix’s 6, and 9 turnovers to Phoenix’s 14.
The Bucks were just better in every facet of the game. They outscored the Suns 54-40 in the paint, 16-6 in fast-break points, and were 20-26 from the free throw line compared to Phoenix’s 11-16.
It feels like home court advantage is extremely important to both teams in this series. Devin Booker looked like an absolute superstar in Phoenix, yet tonight he was just 3-14 shooting for 10 points.
This is why I think this series will go seven games: both teams are heavily reliant on home court advantage. Obviously as we’ve seen, Giannis can dominate at home or on the road. And Chris Paul had a pretty good game tonight (19 points, 9 assists on 8-14 shooting) but it’s the rest of the players–the young players, the role players–in this series who go up and down based on whether the game is played at home or on the road. Kendrick Perkins always says, “Role players are better are home.”
Other than Jae Crowder, no player in this series has previous Finals experience. That’s another reason home court advantage matters so much right now.
Now, while I expect the Bucks to even the series up 2-2 in Game 4 on Wednesday night, I believe that game will be closer than this one was. I don’t think Devin Booker will go 3-14 for 10 points again. He’ll be better.
But I also don’t think the Bucks have quite played their best game yet. I think they can still play better than they have in this series, which should be a scary thought for the Suns, because I think the Suns in Games 1 & 2 played about as well as they’re capable of playing. I also don’t think Phoenix has any answer for Giannis, either. As we went over above, he now has back-to-back 40 & 10 games on highly efficient shooting. This is becoming a trend now, and if he just gets good–not even great–performances from his teammates, the Bucks are probably the better team in this series.