Two steps from heaven: the Suns subdue a heroic Giannis

A legendary second half of the Greek runs out of a prize on a horrible night for his squires. The Suns, two wins from the ring.

Two-steps-from-heaven:-the-Suns-subdue-a-heroic-Giannis

The Milwaukee Bucks found out overnight how he can beat the Phoenix Suns and why it is very likely that he will not beat the Phoenix Suns. The 2021 Finals go to Wisconsin (third game on Sunday night to Monday, 02:00 Spanish time) with a 2-0 that leaves the Bucks in intensive care, one bad night of disengaging completely. And the Suns (after this 118-108) to two victories from the championship ring. And one of stepping on uncharted territory: the Arizona franchise has never been within a title win. In his previous two rounds (1976 and 1993) he lost 4-2. It is before its last frontier. And quite frankly, it gives off an almost inevitable scent of champion.

Almost: the old playoff axiom goes that no series doesn't start until a team wins off their track. Meanwhile, that natural order of the court factor is followed that actually constantly jumps through the air. The Bucks return to their den, in Milwaukee, for two games that will tell us if we really have Finals. It will be the third, in fact: there is no way to imagine Mike Budenholzer's men coming back from 3-0. But there is a pattern for them to get fully into the series: they have to play like in this second game ... but better. They need more individual input from some of their best players. They need to make more shots. And let the fluctuation of the track change do your part: more aggressiveness, more arbitration permissiveness, more pressure on the opponent's shots ...

It's probably not even that worth it, finally, but the Bucks have to see the bottle half full or they'll be vented. They have already shown in these playoffs that they know how to suffer, hold on to life, get ahead. They did it, especially, in the third game against the Nets, also 2-0 against and before the injuries finish crunching the one who was then, still, the consensus favorite in the ring. And, in part, they did it in this second game in Phoenix, in which they did many things to win except the final one. Less win. They were much more aggressive, they collapsed the temperate zone so that Chris Paul and Devin Booker did not get fat, they made it easier for Jrue Holiday to harass Paul, they bricked up the paint, they gained the rebound, they penetrated with energy ... but they did not get enough shots. His excellent start (12-21) was ruined in a horrendous collapse in the second quarter: from 41-41 to 56-45 at halftime, 16 total points (30-16) in that quarter for a team unable to generate scores comfortable, sustainable, forced to live off attack rebound and individual actions, many times more due to stubbornness than talent.

The second part was actually a missed opportunity. For a moment, the Suns showed weak points. A 65-50 disappeared in a section in which the comeback did not stop hovering: 71-66, 93-88 and 103-07 in the absence of more than four minutes. There the end was staged. Connaughton missed his triple to put the Bucks to three and Chris Paul scored his after two offensive rebounds. It was a metaphor for a second half in which Paul and Booker responded to each attempt by an opponent that showed a healthy desperation and a worrying lack of offensive talent. Surgical shots, many very difficult, every time the marker could be definitively compromised. And mistakes in every capital stock of Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday. As much as the Bucks defend wonderfully, that Budenholzer did not stop proving something and that Giannis Antetokounmpo left exciting efforts, the Bucks cannot win if Middleton finishes with 11 points on 16 shots (5/16) and Holiday with 17 on 21 ( 7/21). There's no more. Sometimes it's that simple.

Because Giannis left a memorable match, which would have remained in Finals history if his team had consummated the comeback. The Greek left his heart on the court and was about to demolish logic less than two weeks later, it should be remembered, of nearly bursting his knee in Game 4 against the Hawks. He finished with 42 points, 12 rebounds, 4 assists and 3 blocks. A 15/22 in shots and a (he received a million sticks) 11/18 in free throws with a decent level of success in a second half full of superhuman energy: 30 points, including 13 in a row to support his team and reopen the game in a third quarter that closed with 20. The top of a Finals set since Michael Jordan's 22 in 1993. Also in a second game of the series… and also in Phoenix. Giannis played over 40 minutes and finished (I remember: he shouldn't be anywhere near 100% on that knee…) with a +3 on court. It is, in two games, a +4 for him. Which leaves his teammates at -19 in the less than 20 minutes in which he has rested.

The point is that, although the 2-0 is a horrible drag and the feeling of this second game is that the opponent is always a little further, no matter how far you go, the Bucks are one victory, a good third game , to feel that a lot can still happen in these Finals. They need Middleton at his best and they need Jrue to do something on offense, just enough not to get in the way and complement his level on defense (extraordinary this time). They do not have much beyond Giannis and the effort of Tucker, Brook Lopez and a Connaughton who made rude mistakes with one life left in the fourth quarter but killed himself at work, made four triples and finished with 14 points and 7 rebounds to contribute in a bench war that is being equaled by misfortunes: if Dario Saric fell in the first game, this time Torrey Craig did it, also with a (apparently) ugly knee injury. If, like the Croatian, he is left out of the series, the Suns will have hardly anything on the inside that is not a Kaminsky that Monty Williams would not want to see on court in any way, not in a Finals and in the two home battles that come now. An important factor because, to force hang, the Bucks bet is going to be muscle, strength and punching in the zones.

While the history of the party was in the defeated, in the contradictions that make it fearsome and docile in the same games, in its heroic reactions and its shots in the feet and how much is in its defeats of success in the adjustments and how much pure talent deficit, the Suns won. With a formidable merit and a game much more difficult than the first, with difficulties more similar to those that the Clippers presented in the West final. That's what this team does: it wins. Win and win and win. With a very tough defense that accepts all challenges, against large and small quintets; with the ability to melt rivals by hero ball (baskets of their stars) or circulation to connect the secondary. After their free throw overdose in the first game, they barely shot in the second (0/1 between Paul and Booker). From 18 assists they went to 26, and although they lost more balls and ran less in transition (7-17 for the Bucks) they converted their 11 triples on Tuesday into 20 with an unquestionable 50% (20/40). And they suffered in the rebound and the paint (28-54 for the visitor) but they were right there, in the trenches, in the decisive attacks.This is how they undermined the Bucks: with the toughness of Jae Crowder (11 points, 10 rebounds and a thousand blows to Giannis), the intelligence of Cam Johnson and a comprehensive, full performance of Mikal Bridges (27 points, 7 rebounds). Another great collective exercise edged by his two teachers, the professor and the pupil, Batman and Robin ... or two different and equally fearsome versions of Batman, rather. Chris Paul did not control this game like the first and added six losses, something very rare in him. But he made essential shots in very hot moments and finished with 23 points and 8 assists (15 + 6 in the second half). And Booker started with a failure and ended up hitting a super class basket, impossible to defend, the chloroform hits every time the Bucks set the alarm clock: 31 points, 5 rebounds, 6 assists, 7/12 in triples. And 21 points with a 5/7 from the line of three in the second half, when the game was really on the wing. More than what the final score says and what this 2-0 counts. The Bucks are not that far but it feels like they are far enough. And many times that is enough. They have to assault logic and for that, that is their advantage now that they return home, they have a warrior like Giannis Antetokounmpo, a leader with stripes and an unshakable faith. It is necessary that the others (Middleton and Jrue) accompany in attack. Or we will have little to scratch in these Finals that have the Suns two steps away from the ring. The last ones, almost always the most difficult to give.



Photos from as.com
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