Suns halfway there, still waiting on Bucks to expose any flaws
PHOENIX — Anybody who knows me knows I love Flagstaff. I was born there. Met my wife there. Visit whenever I can. When I make the drive up the I-17 the moment I slip into vacation mode is when I hit Camp Verde. As soon as we get back on the road after stopping for coffee I think, “OK, we’re there.”
Of course we’re not there. Still have to go up the hill, round the big bend, slow down through Munds Park, you know the drill. But we might as well be there. The rest is just the driving version of dotting some i’s and crossing some t’s.
The Suns are not at Camp Verde yet. Not yet. But as I sit here inside an empty Phoenix Suns Arena — which has reinvented itself as one of the most influential amplifiers of sound in the league — I am legit wondering if I’ll be back here in a week.
I think I will be. I believe the Bucks will at some point find the combination that unlocks the Suns’ vault and exposes their flaws, or that the Suns themselves will think they’re there and ease up on the gas pedal.
But it hasn’t happened yet.
Game 1, it was the backcourt brilliance of Devin Booker and Chris Paul and a serious imposition of will from Deandre Ayton.
Game 2 offered a different kind of threat. The Bucks made clear their intentions to smack the Suns in the mouth early. An aggressive claim of what they believed to be their territory. Booker got off to a slow start. Ayton wasn’t getting touches and wasn’t impacting the game. The Suns were scoring all their points almost exclusively from the 3-point line, a road that is fun to drive but often makes you stop, turn around and find another way to your destination.
Except the Bucks kept giving it to them, the Suns kept making them and the law of averages were damned on this night. Forty 3-pointers attempted, 20 made. Every Phoenix Sun who took a 3 made a 3 except for Cameron Payne.
And while Giannis Antetokounmpo flat out dominated in his 40 minutes of work, the other two-thirds of the Bucks’ Big Three were woeful. Khris Middelton and Jrue Holiday combined to shoot 12-of-37. Let Giannis get his; it’s not terribly relevant if he’s not getting help.
Meanwhile, help was everywhere for the Suns. Mikal Bridges had the kind of moment that will have him on the show sheet of sports show in America. Booker started slow but closed in a way that reminded all he is in fact a superstar in this league. Paul had a perfectly great game except for those odd fourth quarter turnovers. And after a nationally televised coach-’em-up session from Monty, Deandre Ayton balled in the final eight minutes of the game.
The Suns continue to show that they’ll adjust to your adjustments. They’ll counter your Plan B with their own. And when you pivot like Ross in the stairwell, they’ll pivot with you. There is a reason they are 14-4 in the playoffs and it’s not because a bunch of dudes around the league got hurt.
The next 72 hours will be some of the most important coaching Monty has done in Phoenix. The Bucks will play with untethered desperation on Sunday and the Suns internal GPS can’t lead them to believe they’ve arrived at their destination.
They’re not in Camp Verde and certainly they’re not in Flagstaff. They’re halfway there.
And for all of us who have been on this ride with them throughout the years, so are we.