The NBA Finals will be a contest, after all. Behind another dominant performance from Giannis Antetokounmpo, the Milwaukee Bucks routed the Phoenix Suns in Game 3 to cut Phoenix’s lead in the series to 2–1. Perhaps the key takeaway from Game 3 was that Milwaukee is a much brighter team when Antetokounmpo has even a little bit of help.
With 41 points and 13 rebounds, Antetokounmpo is just the second player in NBA Finals history with back-to-back games with at least 40 points and 10 boards. Only eight have done so in the NBA Playoffs overall. The difference between Game 2 and Game 3 was that Antetokounmpo had contributions from other cast members.
However, let’s not get too far removed from just how dominant Giannis Antetokounmpo has been so far.
He may not be Michael Jordan, but Giannis Antetokounmpo is holding up his end for Milwaukee
Even though he quickly shut down any Michael Jordan comparisons, Giannis Antetokounmpo has 83 points and 25 rebounds over the last two games. So, it may be easy to forget that he was out with an ugly knee injury for the final two games of the Eastern Conference Finals.
Game 1 of the NBA Finals was merely a week after Antetokounmpo went down in a heap after a collision with Atlanta Hawks center Clint Capela. Antetokounmpo’s knee took a quite noticeable flamingo-like bend. Note this is not a natural motion for humans.
Giannis has been extraordinarily limited in the NBA Finals. As in limited to 37.7 minutes per game while averaging 34.3 points, 14.0 rebounds, 4.7 assists, 1.3 steals, 1.3 blocks, and 2.9 hotdog sales per game. He’s shooting 62.5% overall, and after a 13-of-17 performance in Game 3, he is at 66.0% from the line in the Finals (31-of-47).
Antetokounmpo played 38 minutes in Game 3 and was able to call it a night early. The Milwaukee Bucks led by as much as 25 points in the game and wound up with a 120–100 victory. For the people into this sort of factoid, it was the first win in a Finals game by the Bucks since a 102–101 win over the Boston Celtics at Boston Garden in Game 6 of the 1974 NBA Finals. It was their first win at home in the Finals since Game 2 of the same series.
As it turned out, the difference for the current edition of the Milwaukee Bucks had nothing to do with smarts and everything to do with more balance.
The Milwaukee Bucks are not, in fact, the ‘dumbest team in Finals history’
After the Milwaukee Bucks lost Game 2 of the NBA Finals to the Phoenix Suns, ESPN analyst Kendrick Perkins made one of the more ludicrous statements of his still-young television career.
“Let’s not overcomplicate this and make this simple. The Milwaukee Bucks have the dumbest team in Finals history, and the Phoenix Suns have the youngest team with the highest IQ in NBA history.”
In Game 2, Giannis Antetokounmpo scored 42 points to go with 12 rebounds. But the help just wasn’t there. Fellow All-Star Khris Middleton finished with 17 points on 5-of-16 shooting. Jrue Holiday racked up 11 points but needed 21 shots to do it. Giannis was 15-of-22. The rest of the Bucks were 27-of-71. That’s not intelligence; it’s just missing shots.
In Game 3, Antetokounmpo hit 14-of-23. Middleton was 6-of-14 and scored 18 points. The big difference was Holiday, who was 8-of-14, including 5-of-10 from 3-point land, and scored 21 points to go with nine assists. Meanwhile, the Suns went cold, and Milwaukee took the reins with authority.
The Suns weren’t quite so clever without the shots falling, either
If the Milwaukee Bucks suddenly got smarter because their support players held up their end of the deal, then the Phoenix Suns just as suddenly became less brilliant because their shots stopped falling. In the final nine minutes of the first half, Milwaukee took over the game. They outscored the Suns 30–9 over that stretch, making 12-of-19 shots overall and hitting 3-of-6 from deep.
On the other hand, Phoenix was 4-of-15 overall, clanked all four of its 3-point tries, and turned the ball over three times. Heading into Game 4, role-player Bobby Portis reminded Milwaukee fans on The Players Tribune that the Bucks have been in the same 2–0 series deficit before.
“(Y)ou can’t count this team out, even down 0–2. We all been here before. If you think that’s funny, ask yourself a question: ‘Where Brooklyn at?’”Bobby Portis
Yes, the Bucks lost the first two games on the road to the Brooklyn Nets in the Eastern Conference semifinals and came back to win the series in an overtime Game 7 in Brooklyn. It had nothing to do with smarts. Execution, on the other hand, played a key role.