We have ourselves a series. After dropping the first two games in Phoenix, the Milwaukee Bucks pulled out a much-needed 120-110 win over the Suns in Game 3 at Fiserv Forum Sunday night. With the victory, the Bucks now trail 2-1 in the NBA Finals, which is much more manageable than 3-0 — a deficit that’s proven to be historically unsurmountable.
As they have been throughout the postseason, the Bucks were led by Giannis Antetokounmpo, who had 40-plus points for the second consecutive game. In all, Antetokounmpo finished with 41 points, 13 rebounds and six assists in 38 minutes of action. It was an extremely impressive performance from the two-time MVP, but he also had his fair share of help. Jrue Holiday had 21 points, nine assists and five rebounds, while Khris Middleton added 18 points, seven rebounds and six assists of his own. Chris Paul led the way for Phoenix with 19 points and nine assists, and DeAndre Ayton added 18 points and nine rebounds, but ultimately their production wasn’t enough.
The win was a big one for the Bucks, and the loss was obviously disappointing for a Suns team that controlled the first two games of the series. Still, neither team can afford to dwell on it for too long as they have to prepare for Game 4 on Wednesday night. Here are four key takeaways from Milwaukee’s win over Phoenix in Game 3.
1. Giannis made some NBA history
Not only did Giannis Antetokounmpo propel the Bucks to a Game 3 win, but he also made some serious NBA history in the process. By finishing with 41 points and 13 rebounds, Antetokounmpo became just the second player ever to record 40-plus points and 10-plus rebounds in consecutive NBA Finals games. The only other player to do it was Shaquille O’Neal.
Antetokounmpo did a lot of his damage from the paint in Game 3. In fact, the 24 points that he scored in the paint tied the record for the most in a Finals game over the last 25 years.
Antetokounmpo’s numbers are extremely impressive, especially considering the fact that he’s playing in his first Finals. He now has 103 total points through his first three finals games, which is the fourth-most all-time, behind only Rick Barry (122 points), Allen Iverson (106 points) and Willis Reed (104 points). If he can continue to play at the high level that he has so far, the Bucks will have a real opportunity to win their first title since 1971.
2. A forgettable game for Devin Booker
Devin Booker has been one of the breakout stars of the postseason, but he had a forgettable performance in Game 3. Booker started off slowly — he shot just 1 for 7 in the first quarter — and he was never really able to get back on track after that. In all, Booker finished with just 10 points on 3-of-14 shooting from the floor and 1-of-7 shooting from long range. Booker played just 29 minutes in the game, and he didn’t play at all in the fourth quarter as the Bucks were already up big at that point — in part due to Booker’s inability to produce points earlier in the game. The 10 points that Booker scored in Game 3 were the fewest he produced in any game this postseason. Moving forward, the Suns will obviously need Booker to get back on track if they’re going to pull out two more wins in the series to claim their first-ever NBA title.
3. A great night at the line for Antetokounmpo
Giannis Antetokounmpo’s free throw shooting has been a major storyline throughout the postseason, as the two-time MVP has had his fair share of struggles from the charity stripe. But in Game 3 he came through at the stripe. Antetokounmpo attempted 17 foul shots in the game, and he knocked down 13 of them. That amounts to 76 percent, which is a big jump from the 55 percent he’s averaged this postseason. When he’s knocking down his free throws at a high clip like that, the Bucks become tough to take down. Playing at home probably helped, as there weren’t 20,000 fans loudly and quickly counting to 10 every time he went to the line. Antetokounmpo deserves credit for remaining aggressive throughout the series even though he has struggled from the line. Philadelphia 76ers forward Ben Simmons could learn a thing or two from him.
4. The Bucks were the more physical team
The Bucks dominated the Suns in the paint and on the offensive glass, and that ended up being a huge factor in Game 3. Milwaukee grabbed 13 offensive rebounds compared to just six for Phoenix, and in turn it outscored the Suns 20-2 when it came to second-chance points. Rebounding is a matter of effort, especially when it comes to offensive rebounding, so that tells you that the Bucks were the more determined — and physical — team on Sunday night. This factor is also evidenced by the free throw totals, as the Bucks shot 10 more free throws than the Suns did in the game (26 to 16). The Bucks set the tone with their physicality, and the Suns never really answered the bell. Moving forward, Phoenix will have to be more physical, and also do a better job of boxing out.