In Game Two of the 2021 NBA Finals, the Phoenix Suns defeated the Milwaukee Bucks with a final score of 118-108. While Giannis Antetokounmpo put the Bucks on his back with a 42-point-12 rebound-4 assist-3 block performance, there was no one Suns’ player who stood out that much more than the rest. Chris Paul had another amazing game with 23 points, four rebounds, and eight assists, but Devin Booker also had an amazing game, with 31 points, five rebounds, and six assists. Deandre Ayton contributed with his second double-double (10 points, 11 rebounds), although he was not as dominant as he was in Game One. In Game Two, the X-Factors defined who would win, and in that Game Two, the X-Factors were Jrue Holiday and Mikal Bridges.
Both of these players started hot right out of the gate. Although Holiday made his first few shots and was on fire, his scoring cooled down a fair amount. His biggest contribution to the Bucks was his hands-on defense, for which he is known throughout the league. He was the reason Paul committed six turnovers in Game Two, and at some points forced Booker to bring the ball up because of how much he hassled CP3. Holiday would finish the game with 17 points, five rebounds, seven assists, two steals, two blocks (one of which was a massive block on Booker), and just one turnover on 7/21 shooting from the field. Overall, he played a decent game, but he couldn’t hold a candle to what Bridges did.
If the NBA Finals was only one game and not a series, then Bridges would be in the running for Finals MVP. He was arguably the second best Suns’ player on the court after Booker in Game Two, as he dropped 27 points and grabbed seven rebounds. This included an incredible dunk that was almost a poster on Brook Lopez (he smartly got out of the way), but unfortunately, karma came back to bite him as Antetokounmpo would reject one of his shots later in the 4th quarter. Bridges helped swing the momentum of the game in the favor of the Suns, and showed just how amazing wing players can be under Monty Williams. The other starting wing player, Jae Crowder, finished with an 11 point-10 rebound double-double.
Momentum Shift of the Game:
It all started in the second quarter with Booker missing a three. From there, he got his own rebound, kept his dribble alive, and found Cam Johnson in the corner for a three, which he drained. On the other end, Mikal Bridges got a steal and fed Devin Booker, who attempted to put up a huge dunk but was blocked by Holiday. After that, Deandre Ayton got the ball and threw down a monster dunk of his own. This put the Suns up by four and forced the Bucks to call a timeout.
From there, everything felt different. The Suns would win the second quarter by 14 points, giving them a lead that they would not relinquish. In no small part this had to do with the fans, who loudly cheered for every Phoenix bucket, booed every call that didn’t go Phoenix’s way, and again, taunted Antetokounmpo at the free throw line by counting the seconds it took him to take his shot. He would finish 11 of 18 from the charity stripe.
The Main Difference:
The one area that separated the Bucks and the Suns in Game Two was how they scored their points. Milwaukee dominated the paint with a forward heavy lineup which brought them many easy buckets and early leads. However, the Suns kept themselves in the game early by making threes. 3>2, and it was significantly easier to make threes as the defense collapsed around Paul and Booker during drives. However, the drives did not wield many points early on, and Ayton had trouble making baskets in the paint and grabbing rebounds. It was so horrible to watch the Suns in the paint it made me think they were allergic to all shots in the paint, including free throws. Unlike Game One where the Suns shot 25 free throws, the Suns did not even shoot their first free throws of the game until 14.9 seconds left in the 1st half. They would finish the game with only 14 free throws, making 12. Three-point shooting kept the Suns in the game, and these stats prove it:
In the first quarter of the game for the Suns, they shot 8/14 from three-point range and 1/9 from everywhere else.
In the first quarter of the game for the Bucks, they went 2/4 from three-point range and 11/26 from everywhere else.
The three-point shooting volume is a big reason why Bridges was able to score 27 points, and it eventually gave the Suns their first lead of the game with 1:00 left in the first quarter, with a score of 26-24. The three that gave the Suns the lead was made by Torrey Craig. Although he only had six points (all points came from threes) and one turnover before he was injured at the end of the third quarter, Craig proved he is a champion.
No, quite seriously, Craig won a championship in the 2021 NBA Finals. How is this possible? you may ask. It’s Game Two! It’s impossible for players to already have won! Well, it is impossible… for every player except Craig. During the regular season, Craig played for the Milwaukee Bucks, but was then traded to the Phoenix Suns. This means that if the Suns win the 2021 NBA Finals, he gets a ring for playing with the team and in the Finals. However, if the Bucks win the NBA Finals, then Craig will still get a ring because he played with the Bucks during the season, helping them get to where they are currently.
Play of the Game:
Officially, according to the NBA’s Top Five Plays of the Night, the best play in Game Two was a monster Jrue Holiday block on Booker; however, the blocked dunk led to a Deandre Ayton dunk, which I feel devalues the first block a little bit. Would LeBron James‘ block in 2016 still be iconic if Draymond Green got the rebound and made a layup, putting the Golden State Warriors up 91-89? No, it wouldn’t.
I feel as though the best play in Game Two was not on the list above, but one of the last plays of the first half. Here is a video of the play:
Counting the passes in the backcourt once the Suns got the rebound, they made 12 PASSES in 24 SECONDS. The ball movement was near-flawless, and resulted in an easy and-one layup for Ayton.
After Ayton stole the ball to begin the play, he passed the ball to Crowder, who handed it off to Paul, who drove in to the paint, kicked it out to Booker, who passed it to Crowder again, who found Khris Middleton right between him and Bridges. Crowder let Middleton think he was going to shoot, and then passed it to Bridges, who had a great pump fake on PJ Tucker and gave it back to Crowder who gave it to Paul, who gave it back to Crowder, who gave it to Booker, and… well you get the point. The reason everyone loved this play was because of the ball movement and that everyone touched the ball and had a role, something you don’t often see today in a generation of NBA stars who grew up wanting to be like Micheal Jordan and bomb threes at an absurd rate. It’s plays like these that make people who grew up watching basketball anytime before 2000 think, “This is the way that basketball should be played.”
All in all, this was a fun game to watch, and the Bucks better do some damage at home, or Phoenix will easily take the series from right under their nose. My prediction of the Suns in six still stands, although I do believe Milwaukee will win Game Three tonight on their own floor.
But what do you think? Do you think the Bucks or the Suns will win Game Three? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below, don’t forget to follow the NBA Blog, and as always, have an awesome day!