Postgame schadenfreude, Valley of the Sun edition

I have been too busy (including vacation) to comment on the Bucks’ trip to the NBA Finals before now.

But Wednesday night’s 109–103 win that tied the Finals at two wins each requires me to post this from the Arizona Republic:

The Phoenix Suns had turned each of their previous three playoffs series in their favor with Game 4 victories on the road.

Not this time in the NBA Finals.

The Milwaukee Bucks withstood a mega 42-point effort from Devin Booker by forcing 17 turnovers that led to 24 points in topping the second-seeded Suns, 109-103, in Wednesday’s Game 4 to even the series before a charged sellout crowd of 16,911 at Fiserv Forum.

“The turnovers just crushed us tonight,” said Suns coach Monty Williams as the third-seeded Bucks also got 17 offensive rebounds and 19 second-chance points.

“We shot 50% from the field, but they got 19 more possessions. Over the course of the game when you just give it up that many times, the turnovers and offensive rebounding was a bit of a hill for us to climb.”

The fans chanted “Bucks in 6!” as Game 5 is set for Saturday at Phoenix Suns Arena.

“How bad do you want it? How bad do you really want it,” Bucks All-Star Giannis Antetokounmpo said. “And just leave-the-game-swinging kind of mentality. Try to be aggressive. Try to get stops. Try to set screens. Do everything physically possible to put yourself in a position to win this game. I think everybody was feeling that. That’s what we did.”

Phoenix had won its previous Game 4s in its journey to the finals.

  • at Los Angeles Lakers: Won 100-92. Tied series at 2-2 (Won in six).
  • at Denver Nuggets: Won 116-102. Took 3-0 series lead (Won in four).
  • at Los Angele Clippers: Won 84-80. Took 3-1 series lead (Won in six).

Again, not this time.

Khris Middleton scored a team-high 40 points with 14 coming in the fourth quarter while Antetokounmpo added 26 points, 14 rebounds and eight assists to just one turnover as the Bucks won Game 3 and 4 at home in this best-of-7 series.

“You need somebody who can make those shots,” Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said. “He and Giannis in a pick-and-roll, Giannis setting great screens. Khris, I thought he had some good looks kind of early. But then he just stayed with it. Credit to him. A lot of big, tough shots, and then the tough finish in transition. He was special. A lot of good stuff from Khris. And defensively, too, I think he’s given us a lot on that end.”

The Bucks overcame a seven-point deficit with 8:39 left in the fourth quarter to even the series. Game 6 will be back in Milwaukee on Tuesday.

Game 7, if necessary, will be July 22 in Phoenix.

“When you have that kind of a lead in the fourth, if we can just hold on to the ball and get good possessions, you feel like you can at least hold it there,” Williams said. “So I got to look at the film and see, was it schematics or was it just their defense, I’m not quite sure yet, but we certainly had a lot of self-inflicted stuff tonight.”

The Bucks closed the game on a 27-14 run as Middleton gave the Bucks the lead for good, 101-99, on a jumper with 1:28 left.

Fourteen seconds later,  Antetokounmpo, the 2019-20 NBA Defensive Player of the Year, followed that up with a massive block of Deandre Ayton’s lob dunk.

“I thought I was going to get dunked on, to be honest with you,” the two-time MVP said. “But you know, going down the stretch, just do whatever it takes to win the game. Just put yourself in a position that can win the game. I saw the play coming. I saw that Chris was going to throw the lob and I was just going to jump vertical toward the rim. Hopefully I can be there in time, and I was there in time and was able to get a good block.

The loss puts a damper of the performance of Booker, who bounced back from a career playoff-low 10-point effort in Game 3 to post his third 40-point game this postseason.

“You knew it was going to happen,” Suns wing Cam Johnson said. “You knew he wasn’t going to have another tough night. You know he’s going to get to it and he’s going to get buckets. That’s just what he does. He’s a great player. He’s one of the best players in our league.”

Booker set a record for most points scored in his first postseason run as he has 542 in the playoffs, but didn’t find much comfort in his special Game 4 performance.

“It doesn’t matter at all,” Booker said. “I said that after last game too, when I struggled shooting it. The main objective is to win the game. So anything that goes on throughout the game, it doesn’t matter, for real.”

Phoenix led 82-76 going into the fourth quarter as Booker had 18 points in the third quarter on a perfect 7-of-7 shooting.

The Suns shot 70.6% from the field in the quarter (12-of-17).

However, Booker picked up his fifth foul with 10:50 left in the fourth.

The Suns were up six, 85-79, when Cameron Payne replaced Booker and led, 93-90, when Booker returned with 5:55 remaining.

“He could have gone for 50-plus tonight,” Williams said. “I wanted to get him in maybe a minute earlier than I did, you’re just holding on trying to get as many stops and solid possessions as you can, but it’s not an ideal situation, but I thought we managed it well.”

Booker didn’t get called for another foul, but had two instances when the whistle could’ve easily blown against him. He grabbed Jrue Holiday in transition with 3:38 left in the game, but wasn’t called for the foul.

After the game, lead official James Capers said Booker should’ve been called for the foul on that play.

“During live play, I saw a clean sweep of the ball and thought it was a no call,” Capers said. “However, after seeing the replay, I now realize that I missed Booker’s right arm around the waist of Holiday, and it should have been a defensive foul on the play.”

The Suns went into halftime tied at 52-52 as Booker led all scorers with 20 on 8-of-15 shooting after scoring just 10 in Game 3 on 3-of-14 shooting.

Mikal Bridges added seven points in the first half as the Suns led by as many as nine in the first half. Chris Paul managed just two points in the first half on 1-4 shooting.

Paul finished the game with 10 points and a game-high five turnovers.

The Bucks, as a team, had five total turnovers.

“It was me, I had five of them,” said Paul about the turnovers. “It was bad decision making. That time we were down two and I tried to cross over right there, slipped, turned it over. I had some bad passes in the first half. They got a significant amount more shots than us, so for me I got to take care of the ball.”

His last turnover led to a Middleton layup on the other end to put Milwaukee ahead, 103-99, with 27.2 seconds left.

Usually so careful with the ball, Paul has totaled 15 turnovers in the last three games. When asked if Paul was physically OK, Williams said the 16-year veteran was fine.

“Great players have games like that,” Williams said. “We expect him to bounce back. He had five (turnovers), but we had 17 and they scored 24 points, you know what I mean? That was pretty much the game right there. Then you double that up with the offensive rebounding, so it wasn’t just Chris. As a team tonight, we got to take better care of the ball.”

Bridges didn’t score again after halftime as he took just four shots for the game, marking the second straight game he didn’t score double figures after posting a career playoff-high 27 in a Game 2 win in Phoenix.


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