The Milwaukee Bucks and Phoenix Suns squared off on Thursday night in Game 2 of the NBA Finals and after four hard-fought quarters of play, it was Chris Paul and the Suns who managed to come out on top with a 118-108 win to take a 2-0 lead in their best-of-seven series.
While Giannis Antetokounmpo put up numbers for the Bucks in the loss -- 42 points, 12 rebounds, four assists -- it was no match for the production that the Suns received from their top players as Chris Paul, Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton finished the win combining for 81 points to lead Phoenix to a 2-0 series lead. With the win, the Suns own all the momentum as the series now shifts back to Milwaukee for Game 3 at Fiserv Forum. That matchup will take place on Sunday night with the opening tip scheduled for 8 p.m. ET on ABC.
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Here are four key takeaways from the game:
1. Suns now two wins away from their first title
The Phoenix Suns entered the league back in 1968 and in those 53 years, they have not won a single championship. In fact, prior to this season, they had only even made it to the Finals twice. They own the third-longest title drought in the league and are the longest-standing team to have never won it all.
At long last, it might just be their time. On Thursday night, they held off the Bucks to defend homecourt and take a 2-0 lead in the series. Now all that stands between them and the first championship in franchise history is two wins, and they have five chances to get them.
2. Booker and Paul dominate the second half
There were plenty of reasons why the Suns won this game, but perhaps the biggest was that their two best players stepped up when it mattered most. In the second half alone, Booker and Paul combined for 36 points and seven assists on 14-for-26 from the field. Of the Suns' 21 field goals in the second half, Booker and Paul either scored or assisted on 18 of them.
It wasn't just that they put up the numbers, either. They each showed a knack for making timely plays to prevent the Bucks from ever truly getting back into the game. Each time the Bucks tried to make a run and put a dent in the Suns' lead, Booker or Paul was right there with a little burst to push them away.
- 6:14 of the third quarter
Middleton hits a 3-pointer to cut the deficit to five. Paul comes down and responds with a 3 of his own, then Booker drains a jumper and it's back to double-digits.
- 10:03 of the fourth quarter
Connaughton converts a putback to give the Bucks some life early in the fourth. But that six-point deficit is immediately nine again after Booker answers with a 3-pointer.
- 8:45 of the fourth quarter
Lopez scores inside to make it a five-point game again. Paul gets Ayton a lob, then Booker cans back-to-back 3s and all of a sudden it's a double-digit game again.
- 5:15 of the fourth quarter
Giannis hits a fadeaway to get the Bucks within six. A few possessions later, after multiple offensive rebounds, Paul knocks down a huge triple to effectively seal the game.
3. Giannis' historic performance not enough
After Game 1, Giannis admitted that when he first went down with a knee injury in the Eastern Conference finals, he thought he was going to be out for a year. Instead, a week later he's not only back in action, but flat-out dominating Finals games. He was the best player on the floor in Game 2, registering a playoff career-high 42 points, 12 rebounds, four assists and three blocks in 40 minutes.
While he was on the floor, the Bucks were plus-three. In the eight minutes he sat, they were minus-13. Sometimes single-game plus-minus can get a little wonky, but it paints a perfectly clear picture from this game. When Giannis plays, the Bucks are, at the very least, just as good as the Suns. However, they don't have the depth or secondary production to keep it together when he sits.
While he was great all night long, Giannis' third-quarter burst was historic. He poured in 20 points in the frame to singlehandedly keep the Bucks within striking distance. That was the most points anyone has scored in a single quarter of a Finals game since a guy named Michael Jordan put up 22 points in 1993. Coincidentally, that was also against the Suns.
There's never a good way to lose, but this one had to be particularly painful for Bucks fans. They wasted an all-time Giannis game because no one else on the team stepped up. Bucks players not named Giannis were 27-for-71 from the field in this game, which just isn't going to get it done.
Khris Middleton, in particular, had a game to forget. He finished with just 11 points on 5-for-16 from the field. No offense to Pat Connaughton, who had a solid game, but if he's scoring more than Middleton, that's a major problem for the Bucks. The supporting cast is going to have to step up when the series shifts back to Milwaukee for Game 3.
4. Suns set a franchise playoff record for 3-pointers
The Suns might not qualify as an elite 3-point shooting team, but they're certainly very good. They made 37.8 percent of their attempts in the regular season to finish seventh in the league, and in the playoffs, they've kept it going by shooting 37 percent. Aside from Deandre Ayton, everyone in their rotation is a threat to make a shot from behind the arc, and that makes it very difficult for teams to defend.
In Game 2, the Bucks found that out firsthand. The Suns hit eight 3-pointers in the first quarter alone and finished 20-for-40 from downtown in the game. That set a new franchise playoff record for 3s in a game and also set the mark for the third-most made 3-pointers ever in a Finals game. And as if to prove the depth of their 3-point attack, six of the eight Suns players who saw meaningful minutes hit at least one shot from beyond the arc.
There were certainly some defensive mistakes by the Bucks that gave the Suns wide-open attempts, but there was also a lot of incredible shotmaking. On nights like this, there's really nothing else the Bucks can do besides tip their caps. When a team shoots like this, it's hard to beat them.