Milwaukee hadn’t seen a game this big in almost 50 years.
It might have been that long since the Bucks gave a gut-check performance this good.
Sunday’s NBA Finals Game 3 was essentially a must-win for Milwaukee, and the Bucks went out and seized it. Or more to the point, bullied the Suns and took it.
The Bucks rode two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo on one end and withering defense on the other. And when it was over they had a 120-100 rout of Phoenix before a raucous sellout crowd of 16,637 at Fiserv Forum to stay in this series.
In the first NBA Finals game in Milwaukee in 47 years, Antetokounmpo had a night for the ages. He poured in a game-high 41 points, the second straight game he’s cracked 40. And the Bucks held the Suns to 9 of 31 shooting from 3-point range, and Suns star Devin Booker to 10 points on 3 of 14 from the floor.
It was a comprehensive rout, and a huge bounce back for Milwaukee. The Bucks still trail the Suns 2-1, but with Game 4 at Fiserv Forum on Wednesday and Antetokounmpo on fire, they’ll feel good about their chances.
The Greek Freak attacked the rim mercilessly, grabbing 13 rebounds and getting downhill to draw fouls. He shot 13 of 17 from the free-throw line, taking his Achilles’ heel and kicking the Suns with it.
“We knew what type of game it was going to be,” Antetokounmpo said in a postgame on-court TV interview. “I was just trying to be aggressive, play every possession at a time. … I was just trying to get downhill, open up driving lanes.
“In order to be champions, we’ve got to bring it. Game 4 we’ve got to bring it.”
The Bucks closed the first half on a 30-9 run, including the last 10 straight points going into the locker room with a 15-point edge. And another 16-0 run to close the third quarter made it 98-76 going into the fourth.
That final period was garbage time.
Milwaukee has been at its best when it has been counted out and left for dead. The Bucks had lost Game 2 of the Eastern Conference semis in Brooklyn by 39 points, only to come home and eventually pull the series out in seven.
After a performance like Sunday — by the Bucks in general, and Antetokounmpo in specific — an encore doesn’t seem quite so crazy. The Greek Freak became only the sixth man with back-to-back 40-point games in the NBA Finals, joining Michael Jordan, Jerry West, Rick Barry, Shaquille O’Neal and LeBron James.
Jrue Holiday and Khris Middleton snapped out of their respective slumps, as Holiday finished with 21 points, nine assists and a game-high plus-22, while Middleton added 18 points, seven rebounds and six assists.
The Bucks were down 36-30 after a Cam Payne floater before they reeled off a 14-2 run. Middleton found Antetokounmpo for a cutting layup and 44-38 edge with 5:47 remaining in the half.
Milwaukee was still clinging to a modest 50-45 lead after a Payne three-point play with three minutes left in the half. But that’s when they tightened the screws defensively, forcing the Suns to miss their last seven shots.
Phoenix did manage to crawl within four in the third quarter. But as soon as veteran point guard Chris Paul took a breather, the Bucks pounced. They started what became a 16-0 run, and blew the game back open.
Booker, who was clearly off his game offensively and shut down by the defense of Middleton and the Bucks, sat the entire fourth quarter.
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