NBA Finals: Bucks rout Suns in Game 3 behind Giannis Antetokounmpo's huge 41-point effort

Jeff Zillgitt
USA TODAY

MILWAUKEE — The Milwaukee Bucks took their first step toward making the NBA Finals a long series.

Playing in a Finals game in Milwaukee for the first time since 1974, the Bucks defeated the Phoenix Suns 120-100 in Game 3 on Sunday. The Suns lead the series 2-1, and Game 4 is Wednesday (9 p.m. ET, ABC).

A change in location and venue altered the tone of the series.

In a game the Bucks could not afford to lose, two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo delivered a special performance.

Milwaukee relied on Antetokounmpo’s special, almost unstoppable brand of bully-ball. He scored a game-high 41 points, including an impressive 13-for-17 from the foul line. He also had 13 rebounds and six assists.

"There's a lot of ways you can spin it, but they played with a great deal of aggression for longer stretches than we did," Suns coach Monty Williams said. "We knew it was coming. We did not respond to it well tonight, especially in the second and third quarters. The turnovers certainly hurt us, points in the paint, everything we have been talking about the whole series. So it was a tough lesson for us to learn."

Bucks backcourt tandem Khris Middleton (18 points) and Jrue Holiday (21 points) made sure Antetokounmpo’s performance was not wasted.

The Suns had five players in double figures, led by Chris Paul’s 19 points. Deandre Ayton had 18 points and nine rebounds. Jae Crowder also had 18 points.

Here are three keys to the Bucks' win:

Greek Freak dominates

It’s fair to surmise that Antetokounmpo isn’t 100% after sustaining a hyperextended left knee in Game 4 against Atlanta in the Eastern Conference finals and then missing the final two games of that series.

But he’s still a dominant force.

Following up his 42-point, 12-rebound effort in a Game 2 loss, Antetokounmpo feasted in the paint in Game 3, scoring 28 of his points inside, including 24 on 12-for-12 shooting in the restricted zone.

He scored 11 points in the second quarter when the Bucks jumped to a 60-45 halftime advantage. Antetokounmpo also had 16 points in the third as the Bucks built a 98-76 advantage headed into the final quarter.

The Bucks had not led by double digits in the series until Game 3 and had a 20-point lead for much of the fourth quarter, including a 101-76 advantage on Antetokounmpo’s dunk with 11:18 left in the game.

"We know what kind of game this was going to be," Antetokounmpo said. "We knew that if we lose the game, you are in the hole, 3-0 or whatever the case might be. We knew that we had to come here and play great basketball, so I knew that."

Middleton, Holiday deliver for first time in series

Middleton’s playoff statistics in wins and losses is a lesson in contrasts. In losses, he shoots 34% from the field and 21% on 3s and averages 18 points. In wins, it’s 49%, 42% and 26 points.

And in the first two games of the Finals, Middleton and Holiday were a combined 28-for-77, including 7-for-25 on 3s.

Milwaukee needs offense from its second- and third-best players to have a chance in this series, and it got it from Middleton and Holiday in Game 3.

Giannis Antetokounmpo is the second player in NBA Finals history with back-to-back 40-10 games.

They combined for 39 points and 8-for-17 on 3s. Holiday also had nine assists, and Middleton added seven rebounds and six assists.

""Part of it is being home but just staying aggressive," Holiday said. "The guys tell me to continue to be aggressive because that's what's going to be best for our team. I'm pretty sure, even somebody like Khris can tell you, just a shooter who is going through a slump, continue to shoot and that's what I did."

Suns' 3-point shooting woes

Before the game, Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer was asked about the randomness of a make-or-miss league.

"The randomness makes sport beautiful," he said. “As the coach, yeah, it's kind of miserable."

Phoenix shot 2-for-14 on 3s in the first half, and Devin Booker was 2-for-11 from the field and 1-for-6 on 3s in the first two quarters. He finished with just 10 points after scoring in the 20s in the first two games.

"I think I can get better (shot attempts)," Booker said. "We'll make that happen. The point of the game is to win it, and there were other things that went on throughout the game. You can say it's a make-miss game, but at the end of the day you have to make the other team miss and get easy opportunities for your team. We didn't do that tonight."

Milwaukee limited Phoenix’s 3-point success as a team. The Suns were 20-for-40 in Game 2 but shot just 9-for-31 (29%) on Sunday.

Follow Jeff Zillgitt on Twitter @JeffZillgitt.