Monty Williams has a lot of wonderful traits as a coach, but his best is that he doesn't mess around. In the first two games of the Finals he's played his starting lineup in 52 of the total 96 minutes played. That's over half of the total minutes of the series. Even with Dario Saric and Torrey Craig injured, the Phoenix Suns don't have to do this. They are one of the NBA's deeper teams. They do it because it's the Finals and playing anything besides your best lineups should be viewed as a last resort.
It usually takes Mike Budenholzer a little while to get that memo. He's played his five starters together only 21 total minutes thus far in this series, less than half as many as Phoenix has. Their starters have won those minutes by nine points, suggesting that the best version of the Milwaukee Bucks can keep up with the Suns. Budenholzer just hasn't used the best version of his roster enough. The good news for Milwaukee is that the same story played out in the second-round series against the Brooklyn Nets. The Bucks played their starters in only 27 total minutes in the first two games of that series -- both losses -- but used it for 25 minutes in a must-win Game 3 and turned the series around.
|Game (Series vs. Nets)||Minutes (Bucks' starters)||Plus-minus|
The Suns are killing the Bucks when Antetokounmpo goes to the bench. Some of that will normalize as the shooting numbers do, but the simplest solution for the Bucks is just keeping their best players on the floor longer so the Suns don't have as many of those opportunities. Yes, Giannis is still recovering from an injury, but he'll have three days of rest after every game until a possible Game 7, and this is the Finals. If ever there was a time to go all-out, it's now. If the Bucks play their best groups more, they have a chance to win this thing. Whether they can do so for five games remains to be seen, but for now, let's focus on Game 3. Here are Sunday's best bets.
All lines via William Hill Sportsbook
Milwaukee Bucks vs. Phoenix Suns
- If the Bucks do follow the pattern of the Nets series, they're going to play their starters together more often in Game 3. That's not a card the Suns still have left to play, and if Torrey Craig is indeed out, Phoenix will have to lean on Frank Kaminsky for the minutes Deandre Ayton rests and likely Abdel Nader to spell Mikal Bridges and Jae Crowder. Nader missed most of the season due to injury and hasn't played much in the postseason. Kaminsky is an enormous defensive liability. Phoenix is still very much in control of this series, but returning home with a sense of urgency should favor the Bucks. The pick: Bucks -4
- The Suns are shooting 9 of 13 from 3 and 16 of 25 from 2 when Giannis Antetokounmpo leaves the game. Some of that is due to his absence weakening Milwaukee's defense, but even if he doesn't play more minutes, some of it is unsustainable shooting. No team in history is that good on offense, so expect a lower-scoring affair as that normalizes. If we're sticking with the Nets series as a blueprint, remember, Game 3 of that matchup gave us only 169 total points. The pick: Under 222
- Antetokounmpo probably isn't going to score 42 again. He won't draw 18 free throws and he's probably not going to be quite as consistent on those turnaround jumpers. The key here is volume. Giannis grabbed the reins of the Milwaukee offense for the entire third quarter because his teammates didn't look up to the task. Athletically, he looked much closer to his typical self than he did in Game 1. Give Giannis the ball that often and he's going to put up points. The pick: Giannis over 31.5 points