EMPIRE OF THE SUNS

Suns bring it defensively to Bucks, Ayton shines again in 2nd straight win

Mar 4, 2019, 11:02 PM | Updated: Mar 5, 2019, 7:28 am
Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo (34) tries to shoot against Phoenix Suns center Deand...
Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo (34) tries to shoot against Phoenix Suns center Deandre Ayton during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Monday, March 4, 2019, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Matt York)
(AP Photo/Matt York)

PHOENIX — Every now and then, the Phoenix Suns’ defensive potential shines through. They have too much length and athleticism not to have performances like they did on Monday night against the Milwaukee Bucks.

The problem is those glimpses have been far too rare and defense as a whole has been the team’s defining weakness all season.

Whatever it was about Monday, though, led to the Suns playing some terrific defense on Giannis Antetokounmpo and as a whole team in a 114-105 win.

Deandre Ayton had his best game of the season. He was heavily involved in the job to deny Antetokounmpo, often matching up with him.

The amount of ground Ayton covered defensively, as well as the potential Bucks opportunities in the space the No. 1 pick occupied that he helped deny, were a huge part of the victory. When could you say that for any other Suns win this season?

“I never had a doubt that he’s going to be OK,” head coach Igor Kokoskov said of Ayton’s ability as a defender.

“I really feel very, very good and confident that he’s going to take care of this. I don’t want to be too excited but I want more for him.”

Ayton also had his fair share of help.

“Yeah, I’ll say I heard the guys all night,” Ayton said of the Suns’ communication on defense, noting they were talking to him specifically a lot.

The aforementioned strengths the Suns have athletically have them better-kitted than most teams to at least suppress Antetokounmpo as much as one team can hope to.

Whatever was in the air at Talking Stick Resort Arena had Phoenix doing an outstanding job to make plays on the ball and deny the MVP candidate room.

After guarding LeBron James on Saturday, Ayton once again took the task of defending one of the best players in the league.

Ayton did a great job sticking with Antetokounmpo laterally and going straight up with his hands once the Greek Freak got within five feet of the rim and looked to finish.

After Ayton did well to not leave his feet defending the baseline here, watch how he and Kelly Oubre Jr. suffocate Antetokounmpo on a catch near the basket Antetokounmpo usually scores off.

He can’t even shoot here.

We should briefly pause here and also note that Oubre was sensational. He had 27 points and 13 rebounds, five of which came on the offensive glass. To once again draw attention to the Suns’ energy, they were able to survive on the glass to only a minus-one margin because of 17 offensive rebounds.

Dragan Bender even got in on the action.

Antetokounmpo finished with 21 points, 13 rebounds, six assists and six turnovers.

Ayton was productive as always with 19 points and 12 rebounds, but along with the defensive play, he flashed some things offensively that left you even more impressed.

This is a move few 7-footers can execute.

The two missing elements of Ayton’s game offensively as a rookie center that will come with time have been physicality and dribbling.

Put those two together and he’s going to be an absolute juggernaut.

After being shown the above bucket after the game, Ayton said that’s a move Devin Booker specifically mentioned to him. Booker wants Ayton attacking the basket after keeping the ball on a dribble handoff sequence if the space is in front of him to go.

No dribble here in a clutch moment but making up that space so quickly is the key, and again — physicality. He takes the bump from Antetokounmpo no problem.

The win was remarkable in a variety of ways.

The opening of the game did not bode well for the Suns (14-51), as they allowed 19 Milwaukee (48-16) points in the opening 4:10 of the game.

From that point on for a large portion of the game, though, the Suns’ defense changed the game and the Bucks were missing shots.

Milwaukee scored 51 points over the next 28:44, an excellent accomplishment against the NBA’s third-best offense in efficiency.

Despite that defensive effort, the Suns’ offense collapsed and Phoenix was down 16 at one point in the second quarter.

But because they were defending well, they hung around, and with 6:03 to go, the Suns only trailed by seven.

From there, the Suns went on a 16-4 run that included that Ayton dribble attack.

A humongous corner three by Oubre capped those 16 points with two minutes to go and gave the Suns a three-point lead.

Phoenix was able to answer a Bucks three with a Tyler Johnson floater and the previously shown Ayton rim roll and outstanding finish over Antetokounmpo’s perfect verticality.

That made it a four-point Suns advantage and all it took was defense and free throws to seal a second straight win at home.

The Suns became the first team to beat the Bucks twice, swept the season series and handed Milwaukee its second straight loss of the season for only the first time all year.

But for Phoenix, this is the second time they’ve been able to turn things around. They won five of seven in December and now have won three of four.

With the New York Knicks visiting on Wednesday and plenty more of the season left, it sounds like the Suns have the right attitude to push forward and grow from here.

“Felt like a new season for us,” Booker said. “Me and Kelly were just talking, we were like, ‘The season just started right now.'”

Most importantly, leave it to the guy in Oubre who is set to become a restricted free agent this offseason to see the bigger picture on how the Suns can use this time to really develop as a group.

“At the end of the day this is one season but we’re still all pretty much under 25, 26,” Oubre said. “We have a lot of hope and we have a lot of room to grow and that’s what we try and do each and every day.

“This season is coming to an end but there’s another season coming up so we gotta continue to grow and be ready for that. Just keep getting better.”

Penguin Air
Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo (34) and Phoenix Suns guard Tyler Johnson, left, battle for the ball during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Monday, March 4, 2019, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Matt York) Milwaukee Bucks forward Bonzie Colson, right, pressures Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Monday, March 4, 2019, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Matt York) Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo (34) tries to shoot against Phoenix Suns center Deandre Ayton during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Monday, March 4, 2019, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Matt York) Milwaukee Bucks guard Malcolm Brogdon (13) drives past Phoenix Suns forward Josh Jackson during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Monday, March 4, 2019, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Matt York) Milwaukee Bucks guard Malcolm Brogdon (13) passes against the Phoenix Suns during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Monday, March 4, 2019, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Matt York) Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo (34) drives as Phoenix Suns forward Richaun Holmes, left, defends during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Monday, March 4, 2019, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Matt York) Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo, center, drives as Phoenix Suns forward Mikal Bridges, right, and forward Richaun Holmes, left, defend during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Monday, March 4, 2019, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Matt York) Milwaukee Bucks guard Eric Bledsoe (6) shoots past Phoenix Suns center Deandre Ayton (22) during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Monday, March 4, 2019, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Matt York) Milwaukee Bucks center Brook Lopez, right, is fouled by Phoenix Suns forward Josh Jackson, left, during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Monday, March 4, 2019, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Matt York)

Empire of the Suns

Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker (1) and Houston Rockets guard Jalen Green scramble for the ball dur...
Kellan Olson

Phoenix Suns’ 6-game winning streak snapped by pesky Rockets

The Houston Rockets' rim pressure, rebounding and foul drawing continue to give the Phoenix Suns troubles, this time resulting in a loss.
2 days ago
Luka Doncic #77 of the Dallas Mavericks handles the ball against Devin Booker #1 of the Phoenix Sun...
Kevin Zimmerman

Devin Booker finds himself in a mess of an NBA MVP race

Devin Booker is among the top players on the top teams. But there is much room for the NBA MVP candidacies to shift this season.
3 days ago
Devin Booker #1 of the Phoenix Suns reacts during the second half of the NBA game against the Chica...
Kellan Olson

Devin Booker scores different type of 50 in Suns’ win over Bulls

Devin Booker has now scored 50 points in four different games but Wednesday's for the Phoenix Suns was unique.
3 days ago
General manager James Jones of the Phoenix Suns looks on after the game against the Miami Heat at F...
Kellan Olson

Phoenix Suns’ James Jones elaborates on new role, state of ownership

Phoenix Suns president of basketball operations James Jones spoke with the media on Tuesday about his new title and role.
4 days ago
Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker, right, looks to score a basket against Sacramento Kings forward KZ...
Kellan Olson

Devin Booker goes into superstar mode, Suns win 5th straight vs. Kings

Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker carried the team to its fifth straight win on Monday with a superstar 44-point performance.
5 days ago
Mikal Bridges #25 of the Phoenix Suns shoots over Kyle Lowry #7 of the Miami Heat during the third ...
Kellan Olson

‘Part of the middy committee’: Mikal Bridges makes leaps in the midrange

Phoenix Suns wing Mikal Bridges has pieced together a skilled midrange game that is helping him evolve as a scorer.
6 days ago
Suns bring it defensively to Bucks, Ayton shines again in 2nd straight win