NBA Finals Game 3 preview: Suns’ hot shooting, Bucks’ next move

Jul 9, 2021, 2:31 PM

Devin Booker #1 of the Phoenix Suns shoots against Jeff Teague #5 of the Milwaukee Bucks during the...

Devin Booker #1 of the Phoenix Suns shoots against Jeff Teague #5 of the Milwaukee Bucks during the first half in Game Two of the NBA Finals at Phoenix Suns Arena on July 08, 2021 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Ah, nothing like a little shooting variance in the modern NBA, eh?

If we want to simplify Thursday’s Game 2 of the NBA Finals, the Phoenix Suns shot 20-of-40 (50.0%) from three-point range and the Milwaukee Bucks were 9-for-31 (29.0%). That difference is a tough mountain for any team to climb.

But the question that should be raised is even though 50% is obviously high and 20 three-pointers tie for the second-most in a Finals game ever, how much of that was the Bucks’ own doing with how they defended the Suns?

Looking back to those 20 three-pointers, nine of them came off one pass to an open shooter. The Bucks went into “make the other guys beat you” mode, sending more bodies in the way of Devin Booker, Chris Paul and Deandre Ayton.

The other guys beat them.

The Bucks had center Bobby Portis trap when he was in, but that still led to similar results because someone then had to cover Ayton.

And the Suns started creating their own spacing from this aggressive defense, putting shooters off the wings and more in the corners so the helpers were too far away.

Of the Suns’ 11 other trey balls, five came on pull-ups, which are the ones Milwaukee can just tip its cap to and move on.

This is Booker being a superstar on a shot he’s struggled with over his career. The Bucks will live with that.

The one off-the-dribble 3 they won’t live with is one that brings up the great dilemma between the defenses the Bucks have tried in the first two games.

Switching Brook Lopez onto Paul here prevents this pull-up 3, but in drop and with Jrue Holiday letting Paul go left, it’s an easy shot.

It’s hard to believe that Lopez and Holiday, who were both great defensively in Game 2, could give up a look like that.

The six threes remaining were two in transition, one of which was another Booker pull-up, and two via kickouts on offensive rebounds.

The last pair was an extra pass made after the initial read by the guard, another thing the Suns do not have trouble doing, even on an improvised Jae Crowder action like this.

That ended in a corner 3, a shot the Denver Nuggets had huge problems with containing early in the Western Conference semifinals.

On Thursday, the Suns attempted 17 shots from there. That was good for 18.9% of Phoenix’s total attempts, the highest that percentage has been for the Suns in any regular season or playoff game this year, per Cleaning the Glass.

And to go back to that 50% overall mark for the Suns from 3, going off Cleaning the Glass’ numbers that block out garbage time, Phoenix has shot over 45% from 3 in 18 regular season or playoff games. That includes 51.4% in Game 6 against the Los Angeles Lakers, 48% for Game 3 in Denver and 55.2% in the Western Conference clinching Game 6 win over the Los Angeles Clippers.

The Suns have proven they were due for at least one of these a series, because, well, they’ve now done it once in each series.

The Bucks’ choice is how much they factor that into their tweaks for Game 3.

Cleaning the Glass’ data has the Suns at 38.8% from deep for the playoffs, a slightly above average number, but the most notable number inside that one is Phoenix at 45% from the corners. Cutting those attempts back will be near the top of the list.

For Milwaukee, though, there really are no definitive, clear-cut answers for how to stop this Suns offense. It’s more about the choices they make.

That’s something Booker has been talking about for years now, where he wants to force the defense to make those decisions on what to try and nullify, knowing there will inevitably still be something left available.

That’s all coming together in the Finals.

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