MILWAUKEE – Giannis Antetokounmpo started with the same answer to three questions in a row.
“I’m not Michael Jordan,” he kept saying.
With Antetokounmpo concluding his second straight 40-point performance on Sunday leading Milwaukee’s 120-100 victory over Phoenix in Game 3 of the NBA Finals, the post-game question line naturally shifted to comparisons to Jordan’s four straight 40-point outings in 1993. Finals against the Suns.
Cleverly, Antetokounmpo resisted the hook.
“All I care about right now is getting one more [win], that’s all, he said.
This singular goal is exactly how Antetokounmpo and the Bucks positioned themselves to tie this series to the best of seven ahead of Wednesday’s Game 4 at the Fiserv Forum (9 ET, ABC), and why Kia’s two-time MVP tops the list. list in today’s episode of Race to the NBA Finals MVP Ladder.
Relentlessly attacking the rack – the same way he played in Game 2 – Antetokounmpo became the second player in league history to total over 100 points and over 40 rebounds in his first three career final matches, according to Elias Sports. Antetokounmpo also joined Shaquille O’Neal, who accomplished the feat in Games 1 and 2 of the 2000 NBA Finals, as the only players to have accumulated over 40 points and over 10 rebounds in consecutive outings. finally.
“He’s doing whatever it takes to help his team, to help us,” Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said. “He’s in an aggressive state of mind. I thought he was playing well with the pass. He did some good reads, found some guys, played against the zone. He just did a bit of everything: offensive boards, backhands. We need a lot of him, and he does.
Although Milwaukee lost Game 2 to Phoenix, it became clear as the night wore on that Antetokounmpo could reach the edge at just about any time. Antetokounmpo scored 42 points to go with 12 rebounds in that Game 2 loss, and in Game 3 all of his points were either from inside the paint or from the free throw line, where he struggled. during the first two games in Phoenix as Suns fans kicked in from his focus, raucously chanting a count with each attempt.
By relentlessly attacking the paint in Game 3, the Bucks superstar forward achieved a few goals. First, Antetokounmpo’s indoor activities led to Suns center Deandre Ayton experiencing early foul issues. Ayton only played 24 minutes, racking up three fouls at half-time before scoring his fourth just 1:35 into the second half.
Antetokounmpo knocked down 13 of his 17 free throws in Game 3. The 13 marks scored his best since 2019.
Antetokounmpo also created open looks for guards Jrue Holiday (21 points) and Khris Middleton (18 points), who shot a total of 12 for 37 from the field in Game 2. The Bucks are 11-2. in the playoffs when Middleton scores 18 or more points. .
“When he rolls sometimes, like he was the last two games, you just have to give him the ball, give him his space and allow him to go to work,” Middleton said. “At the same time, we both know what we can do. He knows what we can do. He trusts us with the ball in our hands.
“Just being able to trust yourself knowing that Giannis is going to be consistent and that he’s going to do what he does, but we can also make the game easier for him,” Holiday added. “I think cutting and bringing guys and trying to give him space to work allows him to make plays for us and be able to reverse those open shots. Even cutting us off and stuff, I feel like it opens up a space for him to go to work. I think it’s a pace that we’ve kind of got into and able to figure things out, and we’ve done a good job tonight. “
This must continue for Milwaukee to become the second team in this year’s playoffs to overcome 2-0 deficits in multiple playoffs in a single playoff series.
The Bucks are now 4-0 in the playoffs in Games 3.
“We got better from Game 1 to Game 2, and now we got better from Game 2 to Game 3,” Antetokounmpo said. “Keep trusting each other, keep trusting winning habits, keep making winning games, keep competing hard and keep doing it together. But we have to be better.
And now, the Top 3 of our 2021 NBA Finals Race MVP ranking:
1. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks
Final statistics: 34.3 ppg, 14.0 rpg, 1.3 ppg, 1.3 bpg
Antetokounmpo’s performance in Game 2 gave us all a glimpse of what he would do in Game 3. So the Suns knew what was coming, they just couldn’t stop him. Led by Antetokounmpo, the Bucks finished with a 54-40 point lead in the paint and they won the Second Chance battle scoring 20-2. “You know what was going to happen, but [we] just haven’t done it regularly enough to withstand their paint attack, whether it’s a penetration [or] offensive rebound, ”said Suns coach Monty Williams. “We gave them so much property. So we lost a shot and then they scored. It was a double whammy. “
2. Chris Paul, Phoenix Suns
Final statistics: 24.7 ppg, 8.7 ppg, 1.0 ppg
Paul finished with 19 points in Game 3, which marked his lowest score since Game 4 of the Western Conference Finals. Paul also committed four turnovers, which tied Mikal Bridges for a record-breaking game, with all turnovers occurring in the first three quarters (two in the deciding third quarter) in which Milwaukee built a 22-point lead after that Phoenix reduced the lead to four points. closing on a 24-6 run. “Me and Jae [Crowder] were just talking about it in the locker room, ”Paul said. “It’s something we’ve talked about all of the playoffs. So, especially on the road, you have to manage the game. You have to manage these end of quarters.
3. Devin Booker, Phoenix Suns
NBA Finals Statistics: 22.7 ppg, 4.7 ppg, 1.0 ppg
Booker recorded playoff lows in points (10), field goal percentage (21%) and minutes (29) in Game 3. Williams permanently took Booker out of the game at the end of the third quarter. “There are nights like this,” Booker said. “The most important part for me is winning the game, and we didn’t. So, I am more frustrated about it. We will go back to the right. We are on the road and we must show energy and effort. The 50-50 balls, the offensive rebounds, protect the paint – just the details we talked about. But that’s what the playoffs are. That’s why it’s a series, and we have some room for improvement.
And two more:
Jrue Holiday, Milwaukee Bucks
Final statistics: 16.0 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 8.3 ppg
In Games 1 and 2, Holiday scored a total of 27 of 11 of 35 from the field and 1 of 7 of 3 points before racking up 21 points in Game 3 to tie a career-high playoff record. playoffs by knocking down five 3-pointers. . When Phoenix moved closer to four in the third quarter, Holiday broke through a pair of 3 points as Milwaukee closed the quarter on a 24-6 streak.
Deandre Ayton, Phoenix Suns
Final statistics: 16.7 ppg, 13.0 rpg, 2.0 ppg
Ayton’s troubles played a major role in Antetokounmpo’s big night in Game 3. Without their starting cross on the ground, the Suns have no way of protecting the Bucks wing. Ayton racked up 16 of his 18 points in the first half on a 7-on-9 shot until foul issues disrupted everything.
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Michael C. Wright is editor-in-chief for NBA.com. You can email him here, find his archives here, and follow him on Twitter.
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