The Milwaukee Bucks buckled down to work, stringing up 3 consecutive wins to suddenly move up in the race to 4 wins for the coveted NBA championship crown. Trailing 0 – 2 after going winless in the first 2 games in Phoenix, the Bucks roared back with 2 hard-fought wins in Milwaukee, before finally breaking the visiting team’s curse with a come-from-behind victory at the Phoenix Arena last July 18.
With the series going back to Milwaukee for Game 6, the Bucks are now slightly favored to win the crown over the on-again-off-again Phoenix Suns.
The well-rested Suns had appeared like a well-oiled offensive juggernaut in the first 2 games, winning with double-digit leads in both clashes. Their backcourt duo of Chris Paul and Devin Booker showed devastating form, totally outclassing their Bucks’ counterparts, Jrue Holiday and Kris Middleton. While the Bucks consistently outrebounded the Suns with Giannis Antetokounmpo leading the pack, it was the Suns’ impeccable shooting that turned the tide for the smaller, but speedier and wilier Suns. To many, the 2-0 Suns lead seemed almost insurmountable. After all, of 434 NBA playoffs face-offs that started off with a 2-0 slate, only 30 teams or 6.9% have recovered from the deficit to win their series.
But then, this year’s edition of the Milwaukee Bucks has checked in as 1 of the rare unflinching 30; having come back from a similar 0-2 deficit recently against the Brooklyn Nets. Armed with that never-say-die attitude, the Bucks fashioned out another return-from-the-grave and turned the tables on their Western Conference rivals.
What were the key stats and significant changes after Game 2?
First, in a team game such as basketball, sometimes less is more. The Bucks’ offense has become less Giannis-centric. Previously, Giannis would simply try to carry the team on his own. He would force his offensives, oftentimes resulting in offensive fouls, errors and turn-overs. In Games 3 to 5, Giannis has scored 6 or more assists, which means that he is now more comfortable passing the ball when his driving lanes are clogged by the double-team. This has translated to more points and more participation from Buck teammates Kris, Jrue, PJ Tucker, Brook Lopez and Pat Connaughton.
Games 3 to 5 actually saw the Bucks’ scoring distributed equitably among the Bucks’ Big Three of Giannis, Middleton and Holiday. Added to that, the Bucks also won the assists battle in those 3 games, manifesting better ball distribution and an offensive effort anchored on more teamwork and patience. With the Big Three taking turns at the helm of the Bucks’ offensives, the Suns were left guessing as to who to focus their defense on.
Next, the Bucks have a versatile line-up that has somehow confused the Suns’ defensive rotation. In order to keep up with the Suns’ dazzling plays, the Bucks threw in their own version of small ball. The Bucks’ small ball line-up – led by Holiday’s tenacity – was able to negate the Suns’ speed advantage. This has somehow been able to stymie the Suns’ transition offense as well as Chris Paul’s inside forays. With Chris reduced to less-than-MVP form for Games 3 to 5, the Suns’ offense has been anemic at best.
The Bucks have also thrown an occasional tall-ball line-up to unhinge the Suns’ offensive and defensive mindsets as well. This “Team All Length” would ultimately lead to their supremacy in the rebounds. The Bucks outrebounded the Suns in Games 3-5. And this mastery of the rebound was crucial as it provided the extra possessions to offset the Suns’ perennial advantage in the Field Goal percentages.
But the changes and the adjustments were not seen solely on the Bucks’ side. The Suns are equally at fault for showing up ill-prepared for Games 3 and 4 of this series. Devin’s scoring was conspicuously absent in Game 3; while Chris’ scoring deserted him in Game 4. Crucial miscues in the closing minutes by both Chris and Devin sealed the Suns’ losses in Games 4 and 5 respectively. The Suns simply relaxed their guards in game 3, allowing the Bucks to regain their composure, and ultimately, get enough confidence back to mount a massive fightback.
Hence, the Bucks are now just a game away from the NBA crown. The crucial Game 6 will be held in their home arena at Fiserv Forum in Milwaukee. The momentum has changed hands now. It is now with the Bucks, as they gallop toward the finish line. Which team will respond with a greater sense of urgency? Which team will execute their offense and defense patterns successfully? Which team will the cage gods bless? Hang on to your seats, gentlemen. It looks like we have a dramatic ending coming up.
For a closer look, just click on the pics. Cover pic courtesy of thegameday.com. Other photos courtesy of: syracuse.com, azcentral.com, nytimes.com, libertyballers.com, arizonasports.com, dknation.draftking.com, bworldonline.com, thespun.com and arkansasonline.com.