With the 2021 NBA Finals underway, BasketballNews.com will
have you covered every step up the way with the top storylines,
breakdowns, player quotes and more. Here are Spencer
Davies' observations from the Milwaukee Bucks' perspective after
their 118-105 loss in Game 2:
Just a short time after he thought his year was over, Giannis
Antetokounmpo gave the world an all-time performance. Unfortunately
for the Milwaukee Bucks, he was about the only one that they could
Giannis finished with a postseason career-high 42 points and 12
rebounds, playing with sheer force and bullying his way to the
bucket with ease. He put the ball on the floor with some nifty
dribble moves, backed down his opponents deep in the paint and got
to the free-throw line as a result. Defensively, he was flawless as
a helper on the weak side and active with his hands and long arms.
Greek Freak’s third quarter was nothing short of dominant, keeping
the Bucks in the game with his power and realization that nobody on
the floor could answer for his stature.
To Milwaukee’s chagrin, it just wasn’t enough, as the Phoenix
Suns defended home court with a 118-108 win to take a 2-0 lead in
the NBA Finals.
“I just tried to be aggressive. Miss or make, gotta be
aggressive,” Giannis said postgame following the Game 2 loss. “Got
to leave everything on the court. You know, just focusing on my
body, my technique, everything I do.
“Personally I think to win this series, it's going to be all
mental. I feel like there's so much talent on both teams. It's
going to be mental,” Giannis said after the Game 2 loss. “It's
going to be the constant pressure. That's what I want to put to the
other team. Obviously they get tired, we get tired, Khris
[Middleton] gets tired, I get tired, but we have to keep coming
over and over again as a team. Keep being aggressive and keep
pressuring them and having that constant pressure putting on them.
That's what I was trying to do.”
Any time the Bucks shortened the deficit, Chris Paul would knock
down a patented off-balance mid-ranger over the top or a timely
three, and if it wasn’t him, it was Devin Booker knocking down
momentum-killing jumpers from wherever he pleased. The Bucks’
defensive adjustments worked; this was just a classic case of great
offense beating great defense.
“You know, we're pros. They can keep making them. I've seen it
happen,” said Pat Connaughton, who contributed 14 points and 7
rebounds off the Milwaukee bench. “I think we definitely tried to
make some adjustments at halftime. We were active in the first
half, being in the passing lanes and they made some shots, so we
tried to be a little bit less active going into the second half as
far as, you know, staying in. We wanted to show a body and then try
to get out. And it felt like in the second half, we did a better
job of it.
“I think they capitalized on the ones that got loose at the end
and they definitely hit some transition threes and Book hit a few
shots that were tough and contested and were setbacks and things of
that nature. But it's the NBA Finals. Great players do great things
and everyone around here can play, everyone around here can shoot.
It's just about trying to make them feel a little bit more
“[Booker] is one of the leading scorers in this game,” Jrue
Holiday said. “He's put in the work and practiced for it, just like
we've done the same. He's damn near perfected it and has been on a
roll, been on a tear. Difficult [to guard], yes, but still not
impossible for us to do a little bit more... I think we do exactly
what we did [to not get sped up]: Stay calm, stay collected. I
think the third and fourth quarter, we outscored them in the third
and we tied in the fourth. I think there are times in the game
where if they hit those big shots, you've just got to stay calm
like we did. And then once we get down, what, seven points, six
points, we have to try to get over that hump.”
Phoenix’s extra possessions late in the fourth when Milwaukee
went small again with Giannis at the 5 were also a big reason the
home team was able to secure the victory.
“Yeah, got to do a better job on the 50/50 balls,” Giannis said.
“There was one possession where we gave them three open threes.
Wasn't able to get the rebound. I think we were like down six or
something. It was a big shot. Just got to do a better job
rebounding the ball. And it's tough, it's tough, going small and
like switching up, and then I've got to get my butt back and help
my team to get the rebounds. But we're going to hopefully move
forward, we're going to do a better job of that.”
“Definitely [have to] run down those long rebounds, loose
balls,” Middleton said. “They had several. Late in that fourth
quarter, they scored each and every time. Even if they missed that
second attempt, they still got it back and hit a mid-range or a
three. We do that, it could be a totally different ballgame.”
There’s another saying that proves true in the NBA: It’s a
make-or-miss league, and the Bucks did not live up to cashing in on
their looks. There were more missed layups, perplexing early
attempts in the shot clock and a lack of rhythm and continuity,
specifically when it came to Middleton and Holiday. Milwaukee’s
Achilles heel in this postseason has been a lack of trust and a
shortage of passing. The team saw it work in the first quarter with
off-ball cuts and open-lane drives early on that led to 20
first-quarter points in the paint. And still, the Bucks reverted
back to the same bad habits in the next 36 minutes.
Holiday knew he had to be aggressive from the tip for Milwaukee
following his poor shooting night in Game 1, and he showed that
with a ton of field goal attempts. The problem was, not many of
those shots fell.
“I think we had a lot of open shots that we didn't make,”
Holiday said. “I know me personally, there were a couple layups
there that I usually make that kind of rimmed in and out. Had some
good looks... I think I did a good job of being aggressive,
especially from the start. We got a quick lead early, but again,
they started to go dry there a little bit. I'll continue to be
aggressive. It's the only thing I really can do is put pressure on
the rim and try to spread out for threes.”
“No matter what's going on, you've got to stay aggressive and
you cannot get in your feelings. It's hard not to. You know, NBA
Finals, 20,000 people booing you and all that, it's kind of hard.
But at the end of the day, it's not about me. It's not about him.
It's not about Khris. It's not about Coach. It's about all of us,”
Giannis said. “At the end of the day, if there's a game that you're
3-for-12 or whatever the case might be and you can rebound the ball
or get a steal or do something else to help the team win, that's
what it's all about right now. I think [Jrue] understands that. I
know he's going to be there when we need him the most and I don't
worry about it. He's a great basketball player. He's played great
all year and he's going to continue to play great for this
So was the story of the game with Holiday and Middleton, who
once again did not seem to have their jumpers going with quick
possession after quick possession, particularly after the Suns
converted on the other end. They seemed to be rushing and trying to
do too much, and couldn’t convert much; the two were a combined
5-for-23 at a point and finished 12-for-39.
“In the first half, I had more than a few go in and out for me.
So, that's that. I'll take them over and over again. Just didn't
hit them in the second half... knocking down some shots would make
life a lot better for us.”
“You always give credit to the defense,” Bucks head coach Mike
Budenholzer said of Holiday and Middleton’s troubles. “Those guys
do a good job. There's probably a few looks that I think they got
to go in when you're playing against a good defensive team -- you
get a good, clean one. Jrue was getting to the paint a lot. I liked
his aggressiveness. I think we need all three of those guys. I
think if they just keep working, they will come good... Jrue's got
to play his game. He knows how to play. He and I will talk, but it
will be more just keep being aggressive. Our spacing I think was
better tonight. I think his opportunities were better.”
Defense was not really an issue for the Bucks. Their coverage on
Paul and Booker was tighter. Holiday was even picking up Paul
around three-quarters court on the inbounds. As a team, Milwaukee
didn’t commit a foul until the 8:17 mark of the second quarter, so
the discipline was there, as was the physicality.
But what hurt, with Paul giving it up and Booker not getting
easy layups, were the open looks and opportunities that surfaced
for Mikal Bridges, Jae Crowder and Cameron Johnson to make their
own marks. As a team, the Suns drilled 20 three-balls on a 50%
“I think a little bit of over-helping,” Middleton said of what
Milwaukee did wrong. “CP and Book, they were able to get into the
pick-and-roll play and get in the middle, draw a crowd -- sometimes
we over-help and sometimes they hit tough shots. They did a good
job of spreading the floor, getting to the middle and then
drive-and-kick and find the shooters.”
“With Book and Chris, they attract so many people that you just
want to just try to stop them from getting (in) the paint and make
it difficult for them, but you can't forget about the other guys.
Not helping so much and hard close-outs to those threes,” Holiday
On the bright side, the Bucks as a whole did a much better job
of getting a body or two on Deandre Ayton as well to make sure he
stayed off the boards as much as possible. Brook Lopez was terrific
at defending in between on pick-and-rolls and recognized when Ayton
was going to catch his lobs, so that is a positive, too.
Connaughton and PJ Tucker gave Milwaukee a boost with their
hustle plays and some timely triples, but the Bucks’ issue seems to
come from a lack of juice at the backup point guard position. While
Jeff Teague’s veteran presence is valuable on this stage, he just
hasn’t been up to par in the short minutes he’s been afforded. Bryn
Forbes provides a shooting threat; however, he is an easy target
for the Suns on the defensive end. They’re really hurting without
Donte DiVincenzo as well.
Perhaps most disconcerting of all is that Phoenix won with two
completely different styles. In Game 1, it was a freeway to the rim
with plenty of restricted area shots and free throws. In Game 2, it
was via perimeter shooting and daggers to crush Milwaukee’s spirits
after solid defensive possessions.
The good news? The Bucks are heading home. Every game is a
must-win, basically, from here on out. They’ve been down 0-2 in a
series as recently as the Eastern Conference Semifinals, and have
been mentally tough all postseason long. The question is, though:
Can they do it in The Finals?
“We've got to come out, be prepared and be ready for a dogfight.
We have been in this hole before. It's not going to be easy, but
we've got to find a way to do it,” Middleton said. “Like I said,
it's going to be hard, but that's what it is at this point in the
playoffs. Hopefully we can knock down a couple more shots, limit
them to some of those three-pointers and play a little bit faster
or freer or whatever.”
“I think no matter what we say, we know what the deal is,”
Giannis said. “It's as simple as that. We've got to go back home
and do our job. They did their job. We've got to do our job. We've
been here before and we were able to get the job done. Hopefully we
can put ourselves in position and we can believe in one another and
we can play together and we can have fun. We can compete and we can
dive on the floor, we can make shots, put ourselves in a position
to win the game.
“But we know what the deal is, man. Like, we got to go back home
and protect home.”
Game 3 of the Finals is set for 8 p.m. ET in Milwaukee at Fiserv
For Game 1 observations from the Bucks' perspective,