Suns halfway there, still waiting on Bucks to expose any flaws

Jul 8, 2021, 10:33 PM | Updated: Jul 9, 2021, 1:18 am
Devin Booker #1 and Chris Paul #3 of the Phoenix Suns celebrate during the second half in Game One ...
Devin Booker #1 and Chris Paul #3 of the Phoenix Suns celebrate during the second half in Game One of the NBA Finals against the Milwaukee Bucks at Phoenix Suns Arena on July 06, 2021 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

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.

Phoenix Suns

PHOENIX, ARIZONA - JUNE 22: Deandre Ayton #22 of the Phoenix Suns and Mikal Bridges #25 celebrate d...
Alex Weiner

Bridges reacts to Suns and Ayton not agreeing on contract extension

Phoenix Suns forward Mikal Bridges, basketball world comment on Deandre Ayton's contract extension situation.
17 hours ago
Anthony Davis #3 of the Los Angeles Lakers looks to pass around Deandre Ayton #22 of the Phoenix Su...
Kellan Olson

Suns add unnecessary unease with no Deandre Ayton extension

It would appear the Suns are attempting to nickel and dime with their No. 1 overall pick from 2018, and that could backfire.
17 hours ago
Landry Shamet #14 of the Phoenix Suns during the NBA preseason game at Footprint Center on October ...
Arizona Sports

Suns extend G Landry Shamet on 4-year, $43 million deal

Landry Shamet has cemented himself as one of the league's best shooters, posting a three-point percentage of 39.7% on 5.3 attempts per game.
17 hours ago
Deandre Ayton #22 of the Phoenix Suns reacts in the first half of game five of the NBA Finals at Fo...
Arizona Sports

Report: Deandre Ayton extension talks with Suns end before deadline

Deandre Ayton and the Suns have ended extension talks with three hours left before the deadline, reports Adrian Wojnarowski.
17 hours ago
Phoenix Suns forward Mikal Bridges, left, drives past Denver Nuggets forward Michael Porter Jr. in ...
Arizona Sports

NBA players give congrats after Mikal Bridges agrees to contract extension with Suns

Donovan Mitchell, C.J. McCollum and other players gave congrats after Mikal Bridges inked a contract extension with the Phoenix Suns.
17 hours ago
Mikal Bridges #25 of the Phoenix Suns takes a free-throw shot against the Milwaukee Bucks in game t...
Arizona Sports

Mikal Bridges and Suns agree to 4-year, $90 million extension

The Phoenix Suns have agreed to terms with forward Mikal Bridges on a four-year, $90 million contract extension, his agents told ESPN.
2 days ago
Suns halfway there, still waiting on Bucks to expose any flaws