NBA Finals 2021 – Five big takeways from Phoenix Suns’ Game 2 win


By now you have probably heard about the tattoo Devin Booker has on his arm, “Be Legendary,” which was inspired by the advice the late Kobe Bryant wrote on his shoes after a game during his final season.

Booker idolized Bryant. Wanted to learn everything he could from him. Then he wanted to be like him. A lot of players his age did.

But the only way to credibly put himself into the same sentence as a Hall of Famer like Bryant is to have a lot more games like he did Thursday night, when he scored 31 points to lead the Phoenix Suns to a 118-108 win over the Milwaukee Bucks in Game 2 of the NBA Finals.

Phoenix leads the best-of-seven series, 2-0, and a very healthy discussion can commence on whether Booker or his backcourt mate, Chris Paul, is the leading contender for Finals MVP at this point.

Paul followed up his sublime 32-point Game 1 with 23 points and 10 assists in Game 2 despite the full attention of Milwaukee’s defensive stalwart, Jrue Holiday.

Giannis Antetokounmpo, who finished with 42 points and 12 rebounds, had willed Milwaukee through a sluggish three quarters and was finally getting some production out of role players. But whenever the Bucks inched close in the fourth, the Suns would find a way to push them back.

Booker did so by nailing seven of the Suns’ 20 3-pointers on the night, including three straight during a 2 minute, 23 second stretch in the fourth quarter to stem a Bucks surge that had cut the lead to 90-84 with 9:41 to go. Paul would nail a three of his own, along with finding open shooters for clutch buckets, effectively putting the game out of reach.

Booker and Paul seized the moment, helping Phoenix inch closer to the ultimate prize.

— Ramona Shelburne

Giannis is back, but where are his running mates?

Though the Bucks made a solid push in the fourth quarter, the game’s telling stat came at the end of the third: Giannis Antetokounmpo, 32 points; the rest of Milwaukee’s starters, 32 points.

With the context of his injury in the Eastern Conference finals looming over everything he does, the way Antetokounmpo has responded is the mark of a truly great player. He isn’t 100% — but he still is the same matchup nightmare for any defense. Posting 42 points in a Finals game, on 15-for-22 shooting, plus 12 rebounds, is the kind of thing an NBA legend does.

His third quarter was one of spectacular force, charging at the Suns with his trademark downhill sprints and dominant, overpowering paint play. His 20 points in the third quarter alone are the most since Michael Jordan posted 22 in a quarter in the 1993 NBA Finals.

Still, it wasn’t nearly enough. By the end of the third quarter, the Bucks turned an 11-point halftime deficit into … a 10-point deficit.

When Khris Middleton has struggled on offense during the postseason, the Bucks usually have lost. Middleton averages eight fewer points in Bucks losses, and with just 11 points on 5-for-16 shooting in Game 2, there was a cutting secondary edge missing in the Milwaukee offense. Middleton tried all angles — forcing shots, playing decoy, attacking the rim to draw fouls. None of it worked. Holiday finished with 17 points on 7-for-21 shooting, and Brook Lopez was a non-factor with 8 points in 28 minutes.

For the Bucks to get back in this series, they simply need more from players not named Antetokounmpo. They’re not designed to be the Giannis show.

One more telling stat, this one available at the final buzzer: Antetokounmpo was a plus-3 for the game; the rest of the Milwaukee starting five? A combined minus-24.

— Royce Young

The 10 passes that epitomized the Suns

On the Suns’ final possession of the first half, Milwaukee’s rotations and recoveries couldn’t have been much better for the first nine passes, the last of which Khris Middleton deflected right back into Jae Crowder‘s hands. The Suns finally gained an advantage on the next pass, which ended up being a hockey assist after Mikal Bridges flashed to the elbow to catch the ball and quickly redirected it to Deandre Ayton cutting to the basket.

Ayton muscled over a too-late-arriving P.J. Tucker for the layup. All that effort by the Bucks ended in and-1 for the Suns.

That possession, which stretched the Suns’ lead to double digits and delivered a blow to the exhausted Bucks’ psyche, exhibited a lot of the traits that have fueled Phoenix’s run to the Finals: poise, patience, intelligence, execution, connectivity and a little bit of luck.

Phoenix has stars capable of carrying the team, as Chris Paul did in the previous two games and Devin Booker has done on multiple occasions during his first postseason. But the Suns’ individuals rarely, if ever, try to do too much. The trust on this team is apparent, a testament to coach Monty Williams’ guidance, Paul’s leadership and the young core’s maturity.

The result: a beautiful brand of basketball that has the Suns two wins away from a title.

— Tim MacMahon

Where did Milwaukee’s outside shooting go?

Game 2 represented a major math problem for the Milwaukee Bucks.

The Bucks…

Read More:NBA Finals 2021 – Five big takeways from Phoenix Suns’ Game 2 win

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