'Just didn't have enough': Phoenix Suns can't match Milwaukee Bucks' aggression in Game 3 loss
MILWAUKEE — The 'Suns in 4' chants can cease.
Sky Harbor International Airport doesn't have to worry about Suns' fans trying to meet the team after Wednesday's Game 4 to get a possible glimpse of Devin Booker or Chris Paul holding the Larry O'Brien Trophy.
The Milwaukee Bucks are trying to make this a series.
Playing their first NBA Finals home game since 1974, the Bucks blitzed the Suns, 120-100, in Game 3 before a roaring sellout crowd of 16,637 at Fiserv Forum on Sunday.
"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."
The Bucks closed the first half on a 30-9 run after being down 36-30 with 9:05 left in the second quarter. Giannis Antetokounmpo followed up his 42-point performance in Game 2 with a 41-point eruption in Game 3.
"He's physical," said Suns forward Cam Johnson, as Phoenix is without Dario Saric, who suffered a season-ending knee injury in Game 1.
"When he gets downhill, gets to the basket, gets to the free-throw line, it encourages him to keep going. And he was hitting his free throws tonight and that just kind of opens up his whole game. So it's on us to stop him, give him more resistance."
The Suns cut Milwaukee's 15-point halftime lead to four, 74-70, with 5:22 left in the third, but the Bucks responded with a 24-6 run in taking a 98-76 lead into the fourth.
"Second-chance points," Suns forward Jae Crowder said. "It goes back to the 50/50 balls that we lost. I feel like on the road we got to win that battle. It's not about shot making. It's just about mano a mano, making sure your guy doesn't get it and coming up with the ball. Someway, somehow, you have to find a way. And I felt like once it got that close, those guys scrapped a little harder tonight than we did."
Jrue Holiday hit two 3s to ignite the Bucks' surge as he finished with 21 points. Hitting 5-of-10 from 3, Holiday entered Game 3 shooting 1-of-7 from 3 through Game 2.
"Even the second quarter, the second quarter, we didn't close that quarter out well," Suns' All-Star guard Chris Paul said. "That's something we have been talking about all playoffs. So especially on the road, you got to manage the game. You got to manage those end of quarters."
The Bucks led by as many as 25 in handing the Suns their third road postseason loss. They scored 54 points in the paint, 17 points off 15 Phoenix turnovers and went 20-of-26 from the line with Antetokounmpo connecting on 13-of-17 free throws.
As a team, the Suns finished 11-of-16 from the line.
"I'm not going to get into the complaining publicly about fouls," Williams said. "Just not going to do that, but you can look. We had 16 free throws tonight. One person had 17."
With the NBA's best road record in the regular season, Phoenix entered Sunday's Game 3 with a 6-2 record in road postseason games this season.
Paul scored a team-high 19 points while Deandre Ayton and Crowder each added 18. Ayton scored 12 in the first quarter, but ended the game with five fouls with his third coming with 9.5 seconds left in the first half.
"It's pretty self-explanatory," said Williams about Ayton, who picked up five fouls for the first time in a playoff game. Ayton has drawn four fouls six times in the postseason as the Suns are 4-2, winning the last four times when facing that situation.
"We got to figure out or define what is a legal guarding position because there are times where he can move his hands out of the way, but it's hard to tell a guy what to do when somebody is running into you, you know what I mean? I don't know what a legal guarding position is at times, but they were aggressive and we have to give them credit. I'm not going to sit here and complain about a team that is aggressive. But we have to understand how the refs are calling the game and then adjust to that."
Devin Booker scored a career-playoff low 10 points on 3-of-14 shooting (1-of-7 from 3).
"It wasn't well, obviously, but there's nights like that," Booker said. "The most important part to me is winning the game and we didn't do that, so I'm more frustrated about that. But we have a few days off here. We're going to get back right and going to go over film and be ready Wednesday."
Williams put his arm around Booker at the end of the third quarter as team's leading scorer didn't play all fourth quarter after coming out with 48 seconds left in the third.
"Just talking to him about the game, the kind of force we have to play with," Williams said. "Just normal stuff. This is one of those games that you typically, in NBA speak, say flush it. But you can't in the finals. We got to watch the film and learn and get back to playing our kind of basketball consistently. We saw it in spurts. Just didn't have enough of it tonight to hold them off and maintain any level of consistency."
So between Ayton's fouls, Booker's poor shooting and the Suns shivering from 3 (9-of-31) in Game 3 after their franchise-playoff record 20-of-40 effort from deep in Game 2, Phoenix looks to regroup as it hasn't lost back-to-back playoff games this postseason since dropping Game 2 and 3 in the first round against the Los Angeles Lakers.
The Suns ripped off nine straight after the Game 3 road loss against the defending NBA champions.
The Suns trailed, 60-45, at the half as they hadn't trailed by more than nine in Game 1 and 2 of the finals.
Ayton had 16 points on 7-of-9 shooting, but he committed three fouls in the first half.
Paul netted 10 in the half on 5-of-8 shooting, but Booker shot just 2-of-11 in scoring just seven first-half points. As a team, the Suns went 2-of-14 on 3s in the first half.
Antetokounmpo scored 18 points in the first half while Middleton added 15 after scoring 11 in Game 2 on 5-of-16 shooting. Bobby Portis added nine in the first half as Bucks fans were chanting "Bobby! Bobby!" throughout the game.
Portis ended the game with 11 off the bench.
"I think his shooting always stands out to me," Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer. "He's a guy, you know, I think he makes a big one in the corner in front of their bench in the second quarter and his ability to space the court for us, and then also work the offensive glass, get some put-backs. His energy and activity defensively is good."
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