After Game 2, the Suns had all the confidence in the world. They had just dismantled the Bucks in 2 consecutive games and were red hot. Chris Paul and Devin Booker were firing on all cylinders and showing us why their team got there in the first place. What happened next I don’t think anyone could have seen coming.
All Credit Goes to the Victors
It’s pretty simple why the Bucks were able to take Games 3 and 4 in Milwaukee: they just outplayed the Suns. Their defense was suffocating, and Jrue Holiday was not giving CP3 anything easily. It seemed that they wanted it more, playing with heart, knowing that a 3-1 lead would be an insurmountable hurdle. Milwaukee’s comeback in Game 4 also set the tone during crunch time for the rest of the series.
Had it not been for the play of Holiday and Khris Middleton, the Bucks would have been swept in this series. These were their glue guys, the ones whose play was essential to win games, not Giannis. That doesn’t take away from what the Greek Freak did, however. What we just witnessed from him was one of the greatest Finals performances of all time. His absolute dominance on defense, unstoppable scoring in the paint, and much improved free-throw shooting led to him easily taking home Finals MVP. He won a championship for the team that drafted him and the team that he committed to long-term when no one thought he should have. The basketball world may have a new best player, and the most humble and liked too:
All the Giannis love aside, you can’t say that the Suns didn’t expect his performance at all. He had been incredible all of the playoffs until his hyperextended knee in the Hawks series and even amped it up when he returned, showing why he was the back-to-back MVP in 2018-2019 and 2019-2020. The Suns knew exactly what they were up against but didn’t play well enough to combat it. That’s why this loss is completely on them and why Middleton and Holiday’s performances were that much more meaningful.
So, What Exactly did Phoenix do Wrong?
Chris Paul wasn’t Himself
When examining why the Suns lost 4 games in a row, the first thing you have to consider is the play of Chris Paul. The future Hall of Fame point guard and leader of this team was terrific in the first 2 games. Then, Mike Budenholzer did something that changed the course of the series. He took advantage of the 36-year old Paul by putting Jrue Holiday on him 75 feet down the court. Additionally, he mixed it up by sticking P.J. Tucker and Khris Middleton on him occasionally. This led to very inconsistent playing from CP3 and the only negative +/- in the starting lineup for the series.
Some may look at that and say, “But Chris Paul put up 26 on 11-for-19 shooting in Game 6, it’s not his fault!!”. This loss isn’t just on him. However, he didn’t do much to help his team win in Games 3 and 4, where he finished with a double-digit negative +/- in each. Despite his greatness, there’s something about his teams being unable to finish the job. It would be unfair to call him a choker, but it’s important to point out that this has happened to him before. That doesn’t necessarily correlate with his teammates not playing well, though.
Booker and Ayton’s Woes
The other major issue was when Paul was on, his 2 other stars were not. Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton just did not do enough to help the Suns win this series. This lack of cohesiveness not usually seen from them was ultimately their downfall.
Booker had one of his worst games of the season in Game 6, going 8-for-22 with 19 points in 46 minutes. If he plays well, there’s no question we’re looking forward to a Game 7 tomorrow night. Ayton played just as underwhelmingly last night, scoring 12 points on only 33% shooting. He also happened to be Giannis’s primary defender, who dropped 50.
Each year, the finals bring clutch performances and high intensity, which contribute to nervousness felt by all the players involved, as the NBA on ABC crew alluded to last night. As a result, Booker and Ayton, just 24 and 22 years of age respectively, underperformed in big moments. These guys are still extremely young and have a lot to learn about playing important games. They’ll continue to grow as players and will use this series to motivate them in the future. As Ayton said to Booker last night, “[this loss] was just the beginning.”
Lack of Depth
Throughout the series, besides Jae Crowder at times, the Suns’ supporting pieces were not as efficient as they had been in previous rounds. Their bench was atrocious, which forced Booker and Paul to play most of each game. They were also missing Dario Saric due to a torn ACL, which forced Monty Williams to have to play Frank Kaminsky more. This was also a contributing factor to their loss.
When it all comes down to it, the Suns were completely stunned by Milwaukee’s stifling defense. They allowed this to affect their offensive play. Their ball movement wasn’t great, and they weren’t playing like a team. In the end, they certainly had enough to beat this Bucks team but couldn’t put it together. Individual performances aside, this loss falls equally on every member of the Suns for not being consistent enough to win. That’s the bottom line.
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