PHOENIX SUNS

Bucks’ Big 3 was better than Suns’ Big 3 in Game 5 of NBA Finals

Jul 17, 2021, 11:05 PM | Updated: Jul 18, 2021, 12:13 am
Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker (1) shoots over Milwaukee Bucks guard Pat Connaughton (24) during t...
Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker (1) shoots over Milwaukee Bucks guard Pat Connaughton (24) during the first half of Game 5 of basketball's NBA Finals, Saturday, July 17, 2021, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Matt York, Pool)
(AP Photo/Matt York, Pool)

PHOENIX — In Bull Durham, when Crash Davis is counseling Nuke on life in the big leagues he tells him, “You gotta play this game with fear and arrogance.” All Saturday long I had that line bouncing around in my head.

You see, I was brimming with confidence that the Suns were going to win Game 5 vs. Milwaukee. I was so sure of it. And I was so scared I was wrong.

Fear and arrogance. Push and pull. Yin and Yang. All. Day. Long.

Arrogance is gone and in a strange way so is the fear. In its wake is only resignation and the feeling that the moment has passed the Suns by.

First…the obligatory dad speech: The Suns were the best road team in the league this year. All you have to do is win a game in Milwaukee. Every Finals game is its own entity. Don’t think of it as winning two games in the NBA Finals. Go win a quarter in Milwaukee. And then another. And then another. And then one more for good measure. Break this down into little solvable problems and don’t focus on the totality of the task. Remember, the D-backs were down 3-2 to the Yankees. Remember, the Suns appeared doomed back in 1993 before Paul Westphal’s great “we’re gonna win the series” postgame speech.

Dad speech over. Feel better? If you don’t, I get it.

Now, back to fear and arrogance. My confidence in Game 5 sprung from the presumed desperation of the Suns. All postseason long we’ve seen desperation serve as the ignition to winning basketball and the easy assumption was that the Suns — knowing going back to Milwaukee down 3-2 is a big ask – would be the more desperate team. It would ignite them to play harder, better and with more focus.

It was also based on the presumed advantage of being home. The fact that the splits suggested the Bucks would struggle on the road, as they have for much of the postseason. And of course, the belief that Chris Paul would play better.

The Suns got their turnovers under control. They didn’t get killed on the boards. Phoenix got another 40-point performance from Devin Booker. Shot 55% from the floor including 68.4% from 3 and lost. It doesn’t take any special certification to know why.

Milwaukee’s Big 3 were the better of the Big 3’s. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jrue Holiday and Khris Middleton were an overwhelming force of nature. Combining for 88 points on Saturday. Holiday in particular was a menace. The strip and the lob to Antetokounmpo might have supplanted Giannis’ block of Ayton as the signature play of the series. And that’s saying something.

The Suns’ Big 3 had a game that looked great in the box score. Booker had 40 points but often the ball got stuck with him. Chris Paul had 11 assists to 1 turnover but there were times where there was no flow with him on the floor. Ayton had a 20-10 game but missed rebounds and had a hard time corralling balls into his hands.

They even got 13 points from Mikal Bridges, typically a litmus test that everything was going to be alright. It wasn’t.

The Suns calling card all season long was their defense. Tonight it failed them.

For the neutral observer, I’m sure Saturday night was a spectacular slice of entertainment. The last couple of minutes provided the kind of thrills that validate a matchup some thought to be drab.

But we are not neutral observers.

We are a fan base that has watched a dozen or so teams throughout the years that were good enough to win a title only to fail. And while this year and this postseason run has rejuvenated the Suns fan in all of us, it’s human nature to wonder if the Suns are going to be able to beat the Bucks and their fans on Tuesday.

No more arrogance. No more fear. All that’s left is the realization that this beautiful run might have one night left.

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