Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo was a one-man wrecking crew, but Phoenix was a team. Balanced. Better. And in the end victorious, halfway to an NBA title.
Nothing showed that more than a highlight 10-pass possession that ended the first half and capped off the game-deciding run. Every Sun touched the ball, every Buck scrambled in vain, and it summed up Phoenix’s 118-108 victory over Milwaukee in Game 2 of the NBA Finals on Thursday night at Phoenix Suns Arena.
“Just chemistry, trust, believing in your brother, believing in your teammate,” Devin Booker said. “That’s the most pumped I’ve been after a play. … You feel the energy and you want to make a play for your teammate.”
Booker led the way to a 2-0 series lead before a sellout 16,583 crowd of Phoenix Suns Arena. And it left the Suns just two wins from the first title in their 53-year history.
Chris Paul had 23 points and eight assists, and Mikal Bridges provided a playoff career-high 27 and great defense on Khris Middleton. But Booker was brilliant with 31 points, six assists and five rebounds in a marathon 44 minutes.
“Big time,” Paul said. “He’s trained and worked his whole life for these moments. … So, if Book shoots it, I expect it to go in.”
Booker missed eight of his first 10, watching as his Suns actually fell behind 21-12 in the first quarter. But he didn’t shy away from the moment, hitting 10 of 13 the rest of the way.
“We had the lead going into the fourth quarter, and we wanted to hold that,” Booker said in an on-court TV interview. “We wanted to defend that at all cost.”
They couldn’t defend Antetokounmpo, who had a monster 42-point night — including 20 in the third quarter as the Bucks tried to rally. But the Suns defended everybody else right out of the gym.
“There’s a lot of things we have to improve,” Antetokounmpo said. “Rebounding the ball. We can play better. We definitely can play better.”
Phoenix held Holiday to just 7 of 21 shooting, while Bridges held Middleton to just 11 points on 5 of 16 from the floor. Phoenix harassed the Bucks into 9 of 31 from behind the arc.
“You always give credit to the defense. Those guys do a good job,” Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said. “Jrue was getting to the paint a lot; I liked his aggressiveness. We need all three of those guys.”
And despite falling behind by nine on a P.J. Tucker putback with 5:05 left in the first quarter, the Suns adjusted and kept Milwaukee out of their paint. They allowed just 6 of 25 shooting and 2 of 12 from deep in the second quarter, outscoring the Bucks 30-16 to turn the game.
“The first quarter was a storm of aggression from them, attacking the paint, offensive rebounding,” Suns coach Monty Williams said. “But I liked the fact that our guys just stayed the course and showed poise.”
With the score tied at 41-all, a 15-4 run closed the half and perfectly encapsulated the night.
A brilliant 10-pass possession started with Paul in transition and ended with Bridges finding Ayton for an and-one with 14.9 seconds left in the half. It sent Phoenix into the locker room with a 56-45 lead that proved more than enough.
The cushion grew to 65-50 in the third quarter on a Bridges dunk, before Antetokounmpo lead a Bucks rally single-handedly. He poured in 20 points in the third quarter, and when Holiday found Brook Lopez running the floor for a layup, that cut it to 93-88 with 8:45 left.
But Antetokounpo subbed out just six seconds later — on the bench, being treated for cramping — the Suns put some daylight between themselves and Milwaukee. An Ayton layup and Booker 3 sandwiched around a missed Holiday layup padded it back to 98-88. Another Booker 3 stretched it to 13, and it never got close again.
“Those are the moments that he lives for. Doesn’t run from it. I’ve seen it from him for two years. He just steps up and makes big plays,” Williams said.
“Devin wants to prove to everybody he’s one of the best players in the league. But not just from a stats, numbers perspective: He wants to prove it by winning … and he’s getting the chance to do it on the big stage.”