If history is our guide, Suns will show up re-focused after Game 3 loss
MILWAUKEE – The bad Suns don’t show up very often. When they do, they are usually lacking energy and desperation. It’s probably Game 3 of a playoff series.
Don’t be surprised. We’ve seen this movie before. It usually ends well.
“We’ll be fine,” Suns forward Jae Crowder said. “We’re going to watch film. We’re going to talk this out. We’re going to man up to this.”
The Bucks finally threw punches that hurt in a 120-100 victory on Sunday night.
Giannis Antetokounmpo imposed his physicality, exceeding 40 points for the second consecutive game; Jrue Holiday finally resembled an impact player; Deandre Ayton forayed into foul trouble for the first time this postseason, leaving the Suns exposed around the basket; while Devin Booker and Mikal Bridges had terrible performances.
Not even Cam Johnson’s poster dunk for the ages could spark the Suns in Game 3.
“There are a lot of ways you can spin it, but they played with a great deal of aggression for longer stretches than we did,” Suns head coach Monty Williams said. “We knew it was coming. We did not respond to it well tonight. Especially in the second and third quarters.”
If history is our guide, the Suns will show up re-focused and re-energized in Game 4. They better, because the second quarter represented the Suns at their worst.
They were lacking intensity. Their shooting touch was off. Turnovers were flowing. The defense allowed too many uncontested layups and dunks. The Suns played as if they had no fear of their opponent, succumbing to their worst tendency.
Shortly after the quarter started, it felt like the game was trending in the other direction, toward an inevitable coronation. Cam Payne made a floater in the lane, giving the Suns a 36-30 lead. The building went mute. The Bucks were on the ropes. They called timeout out of desperation. And then they closed the quarter on a 30-9 run.
When do the Suns ever allow 35 and 38 points in successive quarters?
“We have a few days off here where we’re going to get right,” Booker said.
Johnson did his best to rally the Suns. He soared over P.J. Tucker, channeling the memory of Tom Chambers and throwing down a vicious dunk while drawing a foul. He scored on drives to the basket and perimeter shots, taking over the game and electrifying his stunned teammates. But just as the Suns made a real push, Holiday got Nashville hot, and there was no catching the Bucks on Sunday.
“This is one of those games that you typically, in NBA speak, say, ‘Flush it’,” Williams said. “But you can’t in the Finals. We have to watch the film and learn and get back to playing our kind of basketball consistently.”
To be clear, the outcome had nothing to do with NBA official Scott Foster, the perceived nemesis of Suns point guard Chris Paul. The Bucks scored 54 points in the paint. With five minutes left in the fourth quarter, they had a 20-0 advantage in second chance points. They took the fight to Phoenix and the Suns responded with a lazy, sloppy game.
The danger is in the psychology of the moment. The Bucks erased all doubts on Sunday. Holiday worked himself into the Finals by increasing his effort on defense; and if the home team evens the series in Game 4, it would represent a huge swing in momentum.
After the game, Williams made it implicitly clear he was not happy about Giannis using his size, strength and athleticism to steamroll through Suns defenders. Especially if the Bucks are now targeting Ayton, attempting to get him off the court.
“I’m not going to get into complaining publicly about fouls,” Williams said. “I’m just not going to do that. But we had 16 free throws tonight. One person had 17.”
Twenty years ago, a franchise located in downtown Phoenix won the first two games of a championship series. It felt remarkably easy. And then all hell broke loose in the Bronx. The Diamondbacks needed seven games to win that World Series, including a ninth-inning comeback against the greatest relief pitcher in history.
In other words, the Suns need to put an end to this uprising in Game 4. We’ve seen enough drama already.
Reach Bickley at email@example.com. Listen to Bickley & Marotta weekdays from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station.