The Phoenix Suns are two wins away from their first-ever championship after defeating the visiting Milwaukee Bucks 118-108 in Game 2 of the NBA Finals on Thursday.
Phoenix put on an offensive clinic, making 20-of-40 three-pointers and dishing 26 assists. Six players made at least two three-pointers, with the team's leading scorer, Devin Booker, hitting seven from beyond the arc en route to 31 points.
Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo was sensational in defeat, posting 42 points on 15-of-22 shooting (11-of-18 from the free throw line) and 12 rebounds.
However, his teammates largely struggled, with Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday notably combining for 28 points on 12-of-37 shooting.
Phoenix took a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven series.
Suns SG Devin Booker: 31 points, 6 assists, 5 rebounds
Suns SF Mikal Bridges: 26 points, 7 rebounds
Suns PG Chris Paul: 23 points, 8 assists
Bucks F Giannis Antetokounmpo: 42 points, 12 rebounds, 3 blocks
Bucks F Khris Middleton: 11 points, 8 rebounds, 2 steals
Bucks G Jrue Holiday: 17 points, 7 assists, 2 steals
Suns' Three-Point Barrage and Clutch Play Too Much for Bucks
Phoenix has put on two offensive clinics in this series. The first one resulted in Paul, Booker and Deandre Ayton combining for 81 points in a 118-105 Game 1 win.
The second one happened Thursday on a night where Phoenix destroyed Milwaukee with adept outside shooting and phenomenal teamwork.
Milwaukee got off to a hot start, taking a 21-12 lead after seven minutes. However, Phoenix was able to keep pace with eight three-pointers, nearly matching an NBA Finals record for a single quarter.
Those threes enabled Phoenix to stay within striking distance, and Milwaukee led just 29-26 after one.
The second quarter was all Suns, though, as they outscored the Bucks 30-16 to take a 56-45 halftime edge.
The three-point shot wasn't as prominent in this frame, but it served as a backbreaker right before half.
With the Suns up 48-43, Holiday delivered an incredible block on Ayton, meeting him at the rim to prevent the easy bucket:
However, the Suns retained possession, which ended with a Mikal Bridges three-pointer for an eight-point edge.
And then the Suns channeled the early-to-mid 2010s San Antonio Spurs with some fantastic team-wide ball movement, which ended with an Ayton bucket and a 55-45 advantage:
In the second half, the Suns had to withstand an all-time performance from Antetokounmpo after he scored 20 third-quarter points.
However, the offense kept rolling in the second half thanks largely to Booker, who delivered five threes after halftime.
He also delivered a clutch assist on a three from Chris Paul, who beat the shot clock to give the Suns a 74-66 third-quarter advantage:
Oculus <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/UnbelievablePlay?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#UnbelievablePlay</a> from Booker to CP3 to beat the buzzer for one of the Suns 17 threes!<br><br>7-point game in the 4Q.. <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/NBAFinals?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#NBAFinals</a> on ABC <a href="https://t.co/r2vLS9Foa5">pic.twitter.com/r2vLS9Foa5</a>
But Booker's finest moment occurred in the fourth, when he scored nine points on a trio of three-pointers in an 11-2 run. This one put Phoenix up 98-88:
The Bucks showed great resolve in keeping up with the Suns, and they even had a chance to cut the lead to 103-100. A three from Bucks guard Pat Connaughton with 4:41 left was no good, leading to a back-breaking sequence.
Paul and Booker missed shots on the other end, but the Suns grabbed the offensive rebound each time. CP3 then delivered a huge blow, nailing a triple to put Phoenix up nine:
"Ayton the rebound.. Paul for 3.. BANG!"<a href="https://twitter.com/Suns?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@Suns</a> up 11 under 2 to play on ABC. <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/NBAFinals?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#NBAFinals</a> <a href="https://t.co/KYXlKAJ9Pf">pic.twitter.com/KYXlKAJ9Pf</a>
The Suns led by eight or more points for the rest of the game, putting them two wins away from their first title since their NBA debut in 1968.
Giannis Great, But Rest of Bucks Largely Struggle in Game 2 Loss
Nine days ago, Antetokounmpo suffered a hyperextended left knee that forced him to miss two-plus playoff games and put the rest of his postseason in doubt.
That injury is apparently long forgotten as Antetokounmpo was nothing short of spectacular Thursday.
For starters, he scored 20 third-quarter points, putting him on a list that includes just him and NBA legend Michael Jordan:
He also stands alone on a Bucks franchise list, a remarkable feat considering that all-time great and NBA leading scorer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar played in two NBA Finals for the team:
The Bucks entered halftime down 11 points, and Phoenix's offense didn't let up in the second half.
It was up to Antetokounmpo to give Milwaukee any semblance of a chance at winning this game, and he proceeded to score 20 of the Bucks' 33 third-quarter points to keep pace with the Suns.
He did it all in the third quarter, even nailing a three-pointer early on:
Antetokounmpo also went to work in the paint on Ayton for two:
He excelled defensively as well, blocking a Paul shot that led to a Connaughton three-pointer:
The Bucks survived the Suns' offensive onslaught and trailed by 10 going into the fourth. Milwaukee got it going in the final frame once again thanks to Antetokounmpo, who got another block that led to a bucket, this time from Brook Lopez:
He still went to work on the other end and nailed a one-legged fadeaway jumper on Ayton to cut the Suns' lead to six:
But the Bucks simply didn't do enough around him offensively to get the win.
Outside of Connaughton, the Bucks shot just 5-of-22 (22.7 percent) from beyond the arc. The Bucks' bench, excluding Connaughton, combined for just three field goals.
Connaughton deserves much credit for contributing 14 points and seven boards in 33 minutes, and he was clearly the second-best Buck on Thursday.
The Bucks ultimately need more from their starters, though. Holiday has been very impressive defensively, but he hasn't fared well shooting. Statmuse provided this comparison between Holiday and his point guard predecessor, Eric Bledsoe.
He has shot 11-of-35 from the field in the NBA Finals.
It wasn't Middleton's night either, as he hit just 5-of-16 shots and finished with 11 points, or fewer than half of his postseason average (23.7 PPG entering the night). He had just two points in the final 18 minutes of the game and none in the fourth quarter.
The Bucks need far more from Middleton, Holiday and the rest of the Bucks around Antetokounmpo to stay in this series.
The good news is that Antetokounmpo is looking unstoppable, so the Bucks could very well manage to claw back in this matchup so long as they start making a few more shots around him.
Milwaukee will host Phoenix for Game 3 on Sunday at 8 p.m. ET.