Milwaukee Bucks superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo was the most dominant force on the court in Game 2 of the NBA Finals, but Devin Booker and the Phoenix Suns dug the two-time MVP a 2-0 series hole.
Booker and Chris Paul had an answer for every Bucks run, scoring 31 and 23 points, respectively, in a 118-108 win that thrust the Suns within two wins of their first championship, as the series moves to Milwaukee.
"It may be a surprise to others, but I expect those guys to lead the way, especially offensively for our team," Phoenix forward Jae Crowder — the only player on either team with experience on this stage — told reporters. "That's what we have been doing all year, and it's no different now that we're in the Finals."
Game 3 is scheduled for Sunday at 8 p.m. ET on ABC.
Antetokounmpo scored a game-high 42 points on 15-for-22 shooting (11-18 FT) and added 12 rebounds. Bucks co-stars Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday combined to shoot just 12 for 37 from the field (32%).
Phoenix made a franchise playoff-record 20 3-pointers on 40 attempts. Six Suns made multiple triples, led by Booker's seven. Mikal Bridges added 27 points. Crowder (11 points, 10 rebounds) and DeAndre Ayton (10 points, 11 rebounds) both logged triple-doubles to help collectively counter Antetokounmpo's punch.
"Paul and Booker attract a lot of attention, and particularly in the first half I think they made us pay a little bit for that extra attention on them," Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said after the loss. "Bridges hit some shots. Crowder hit some shots. They make 20 3s tonight. And then they made some tough ones, too."
Holiday dialed up his much-needed aggression at the start, attacking the basket and accepting Paul as his defensive assignment. The Bucks outscored Phoenix 20-0 in the paint in the first quarter. Milwaukee committed no fouls and just one turnover in the opening frame. It was Bucks basketball at its best. Yet, the Suns only trailed 29-26, because five of them combined to make eight 3-pointers in the first 12 minutes.
They added three more in a 30-point second quarter that turned the tide. Seven Suns scored in the stanza, and Mikal Bridges led them with 13 points in a half they led 56-45. The Bucks shot 36% entering the break.
Antetokounmpo dominated the third, scoring 20 of his team's 33 points — his most in a single quarter in his playoff career — and assisted on six more, but Milwaukee gained little ground. Flaming-hot Phoenix got 22 points combined from Booker and Paul in the frame on 9-for-14 shooting (4 for 5 from 3-point distance).
Antetokounmpo's 20-point quarter is the first in the Finals since Michael Jordan hit that mark in 1993.
On the strength of Antetokounmpo, the Bucks trimmed the deficit to five with 8:45 left in the game, but he landed awkwardly on a blocked shot, exited for 58 seconds, and the Suns pushed their lead back to 10. Booker's seventh 3-pointer of the night gave Phoenix a 103-90 lead midway through the fourth quarter.
"Those are the moments he lives for," Suns coach Monty Williams told reporters after the victory. "He doesn't run from it. I've seen it from him for two years. He just steps up and makes big plays. ... The thing about Devin, he shoots the same way — first quarter, fourth quarter, it doesn't matter. His shot looks the same. That's a guy who has put a ton of work in his shot, but the mentality, he's calm in those moments."
Antetokounmpo, Middleton and Holiday made one final push, responding with a 7-0 run that brought the Bucks back within two possessions. Milwaukee reserve Pat Connaughton got a clean look at a 3-pointer that would have made it 103-100 just inside of five minutes left. Instead, his miss dashed the comeback.
Two offensive rebounds on Phoenix's next possession ultimately landed the ball in the steady hands of Paul, who drilled a 3-pointer to make it a nine-point game. Milwaukee never again climbed within eight.
"It was huge," said Paul. "It was probably the play of the game. ... I told [Ayton] if he doesn't get that offensive rebound and find me there in the corner, that was probably the biggest play of the game."
The loss spoiled a remarkable effort in Antetokounmpo's second game back from a hyperextended knee. Home cooking better serve other Bucks some scoring, because they cannot ask more of their superstar.
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