In Game 3 of the NBA Finals, the Milwaukee Bucks defeated the Phoenix Suns with a final score of 120-100. Revitalized by playing at home where every made shot generated thousands of cheers and claps, and no fans are taunting Giannis Antetokounmpo while he shoots free throws, the Bucks looked like who they were supposed to be, and not a team desperately trying to not get blown out. Antetokounmpo was in MVP form, dropping 41 points, 13 rebounds, and 6 assists on helpless defenders. All-Star wingman (pun intended) Khris Middleton didn’t do so bad himself, scoring 18 points, snagging 7 rebounds, and dishing six assists. Meanwhile, key acquisition and starting defensive-minded point guard Jrue Holiday stepped up with a 21-point-5 rebound-9 assist performance. However, despite the final score, this game was very close throughout the first quarter.
Both teams went blow-for-blow at the start of the game, with the fans in the stands encouraging the Bucks as much as they could. Big man Deandre Ayton started off strong for the Suns, making his first 6 of 7 shots. Unfortunately, being guarded by a former Defensive Player of the Year does have its downsides, and Ayton would finish the game with 18 points and 9 rebounds, which was certainly not his strongest performance. The Suns lacked their leading scorers’ usual big outbursts in Devin Booker, as he only had 10 points and 6 rebounds during the game, and this was a big part of how the 2nd quarter shaped out the way it did.
The second quarter began as the first had ended, with both teams taking small leads over one another. However, with around three minutes left in the second quarter, the Bucks lead began to grow bigger, and bigger, and bigger. Momentum was on their side, and they kept pummeling the Suns with incredible dominance in the paint and perimeter dominance as well. By halftime, the Bucks were up by 15 points, 60-45. The Suns did their best to minimize the damage in the 3rd quarter, and at some points it looked as though they would take the lead. However, when that seemed to be happening, Jrue Holiday would nail large threes to restore the Bucks’ lead (he would finish 5-of-10 from three). With the huge lead in place, the Bucks were able to hold the lead in the 4th quarter and win the game, putting them behind in the best-of-seven series two games to one.
Antetokounmpo in particular looked more dominant than any player I’ve seen since Shaquille O’Neal in 2000. He easily got open on pick-and-rolls, dunked more times then I can count, and became the only player other then Shaq to have 40+ points and 10+ rebounds in back-to-back NBA Finals games, putting him in some elite company.
The Main Difference:
The two main differences that helped the Bucks win Game 3 were offensive rebounds and free throws. Offensive rebounds generate second chances, and the Bucks grabbed 13 offensive rebounds in Game 3 while the Suns grabbed only 6 offensive rebounds. When it came to these second-chance points from offensive rebounds, the Bucks outscored the Suns 20-2, and had there not been any second-chance points, the final score would have been 100-98, in favor of the Bucks. However, if the Suns got more second-chance points, then the game would have been closer, and maybe, just maybe, the Suns could have pulled out a victory. Of course, having two seven-footers in the starting lineup certainly helped dominate the paint and grab offensive rebounds.
The second main difference is free throws. At home, Antetokounmpo did much better while shooting his free throws. Who wouldn’t when 20,000 fans aren’t screaming at you for 10-15 seconds before and while you shoot? Antetokounmpo was 13/17, which isn’t great, but much, much better than he normally shoots. For the 2020-2021 season, Antetokounmpo is shooting 68.5% from the free throw line, and he shot around 76% in Game 3. The Bucks finished the game 20 of 26 from the charity stripe, while the Suns only shot 16 free throws and made 11 of them. The Suns are supposed to be one of the best Finals free throw shooting teams ever, and the Bucks shot better than them on their home court. This undoubtedly was a huge part of their Game 3 victory.
Play of the Game:
Remember what I said in the Game One recap about how we might have seen the best play in the series? Well, I was wrong, as what Cameron Johnson did to PJ Tucker is so unprecedented and incredible that the NBA almost immediately dubbed it the best dunk in the NBA Finals from the last five years. Here’s a standstill in time of the moment:
Off of an inbounds pass from Chris Paul, Johnson rushed down the court, elevated, and dunked all over PJ Tucker, drawing the foul and sending the Suns’ bench into chaos. Just looking at how high he elevated to dunk was crazy, and in a game where Phoenix needed all the momentum they could get, this was a helpful rallying moment.
Despite the incredible Game 3, I think that if Booker can drop 30+ points and Paul can find his groove with at least 10+ assists, I think the Suns will win Game 4, and take a 3-1 series lead. But what do you think? Let me know in the comments below, don’t forget to follow the NBA Blog, and as always, have an awesome day!