Suns break out for 140 points in win over league-leading Milwaukee Bucks
PHOENIX — Before the Phoenix Suns tipped off against the Milwaukee Bucks on Sunday, Suns head coach Monty Williams said the Suns couldn’t run their offense the same way they did during a Feb. 2 matchup.
He estimated his team took 80 2-point attempts and 48 mid-range that night. On Sunday, Williams said, they needed to take more at the rim or beyond the arc.
That they did. Immediately. A 47-point first quarter elevated the Suns to a 140-131 win over the league-leading Bucks on Sunday, albeit Milwaukee was missing MVP favorite Giannis Antetokounmpo.
“The way we played was awesome, but the belief that we could win that game, you could see it,” Williams said.
The first five Phoenix shots of the game were from beyond the arc or at the rim. All five fell, giving the Suns an early 14-4 advantage.
“That was Ricky (Rubio) and (Devin Booker),” said center Aron Baynes, who made two of those first four 3-pointers. “They had the ball in their hands a lot and they were drawing two, three guys when they got into the paint and they were kicking it out.”
In the first quarter, only three shots were taken from midrange. Throughout the game, a handful were shots they simply wanted. Booker, elite in that range, didn’t hesitate when he found space, at one point drilling an and-one from a bit beyond the free throw line.
Booker said the team plays better when they create more plays on the fly and not just run sets. The Suns posted 30 assists, which bodes well for winning: They’re 13-7 this season when they do so.
“The game has just turned to concepts and actions. It’s kind of hard to say, ‘We’re going to run this play for this person every time down the court.’ It’s a read-and-react game,” Booker said. “You watch the playoffs, it’s a controlled pick-up game.”
He was stellar, finishing the first quarter with 20 points and scored 36 total on 13-for-17 shooting. In the second half, Booker was hounded by Eric Bledsoe but still kept a solid percentage as other players took charge of scoring.
The Bucks tore back. The lead, which had been as high as 25, dwindled down to seven with 10 minutes left in the fourth quarter.
Phoenix has been there plenty over the years. The team hasn’t been able to close quarters or games against better groups. The Suns couldn’t get a win against the Detroit Pistons or Golden State Warriors at the end of February.
In the third quarter Sunday, it felt like another collapse was coming: Booker was called for a charge, his fourth foul, and got subbed out. Phoenix was called for a delay of game violation as Booker tossed the ball in the general vicinity of the referee and it rolled into the crowd.
Milwaukee outscored the Suns in the second half, but Phoenix held on.
Forward Mikal Bridges said he has seen a difference the last few games since Williams got on them for losing to the Pistons and Warriors.
“We would go up and (the opposing team) would start creeping down and you could look at everybody each other in their eye and you know that (we’re) not like, ‘(sigh), OK,’” Bridges said. “They know, like, ‘Alright, we’re going to come down, we’re going to score, we’re going to get a stop.’”
Surprisingly, he said it’s easier to do that on the road than it is at home, which might help explain Phoenix’s better road record than home.
“You do that a lot when you’re on the road. When you’re on the road it’s just you guys, it’s just the team and that’s it,” Bridges said. “It’s kind of tough when you’re at home because you got the crowd with you as well. It’s kind of tough to be just conscious (of) us.”
Bridges came up big in the fourth quarter, at one point getting five quick points to extend the lead back to 16, but the largest may have been a block on a Khris Middleton corner 3-pointer with a 10-point Suns lead in the closing minutes.
It kept a double-digit lead and prevented a momentum shift. Bridges finished with 21 points.
“It’s kind of cool, having older guys, you do a good play and then one of them grabs you and be like ‘That’s what I’m talking about,’” Bridges said. “Baynes does that a lot.”
Baynes himself had a big game, scoring the Suns’ first seven points in the fourth quarter. He finished with 24 points and four 3-pointers.
His ability to stretch the floor helped the Suns not play into the game plan of Bucks head coach Mike Budenholzer.
“That’s one thing that Bud’s teams do – they want to force contested 2s,” Baynes said.
Point guard Ricky Rubio, as he was Thursday in the win over the Portland Trail Blazers, was key in helping the Suns avoid that. Phoenix shot 19-for-43 from 3, its second game in a row making 19 3s, and was 27-for-31 from the free throw line.
Rubio finished with a triple-double, accumulating 25 points plus 13 rebounds and assists apiece.
Sure, the Bucks were missing Antetokounmpo. But their team isn’t great only because of their reigning MVP. The defense is by far the top in the league, Budenholzer’s ball movement is based on his learnings with the San Antonio Spurs offense, and the team entered the game 5-1 on the season without Antetokounmpo.
Middleton finished with 37 points and Bledsoe played fiend-like defense on Booker while finishing with 26 points.
But the Suns these last three games have found something they’ve missed throughout Booker’s career: help. Secondary scoring, high-IQ plays, and guys who don’t melt down when the star heads to the bench.
Now Phoenix needs to do that consistently. If what Bridges says about it being easier on the road than at home is true for everyone on the team, they need that “us against the world” attitude, as he put it, to continue coming through at home.