Basketball

Game 3 should make Bucks believe

Photo: Aaron Gash/AP

What a difference a game makes. What a difference home-court advantage makes.

After thinking the Milwaukee Bucks would get swept, here they are. They are back in the NBA Finals with a 120-100 Game 3 victory over the Phoenix Suns. They cut their series deficit to 2-1 over the Suns.

Not only did the Bucks show a pulse in the NBA Finals, but they now believe they can play with the Suns and beat them. All they needed was a win. Being at home helps get their mojo back.

Jrue Holiday and Khris Middleton proved to be competent players by combining to hit eight 3-pointers and score 39 points, and P.J. Tucker made his presence felt by making Devin Booker ordinary to the tune of 10 points. Even seldom-used Bobby Portis contributed to the win by scoring 11 points off the bench. Giannis Antetokounmpo finished with 41 points, 13 rebounds and six assists after coming off with 42 points in the Bucks’ 118-108 Game 2 loss to the Suns.

You figure the Suns play much better in Game 4. They can’t be any worse, and they had two days by then to get acclimated in Milwaukee. But the Bucks may have been awakened by the home crowd that they desperately needed. Remember they only lost one postseason game this season at Fiserv Forum.

If the Bucks can even the series on Wednesday night, who’s to say they can’t win Game 5 at Phoenix? They are capable of winning at least one on the road. They demonstrated that against the Brooklyn Nets in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals.

So yes, the Bucks are in this all of a sudden. Now, it’s time for the Suns to answer back. They have bounced back in Game 4 after every Game 3 playoff loss so far.

If Antetokounmpo plays like Antetokounmpo by scoring 40 or more points, maybe the Bucks can just win this thing.

Yes, momentum is on the Bucks’ side here. They finally showed up to play, so it’s game on.

It’s funny how beleaguered Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer looks like a genius now that his players showed up to play. Much has been made about his inability to make adjustments, but it comes down to the players. They need to step up as they did in Game 3. If they do their job, they can win the series.

Aggressiveness has been the cliche of both teams in the Finals. Both cited it for them to win their games and the series. So now this series comes down to which team is the most aggressive.

If Tucker can frustrate Booker the way Patrick Beverley did, maybe the Bucks got something. That is the key to the series.

The Suns obviously are not going to let this loss get to them. They have been too good all season to let a loss dictate what they are going to do.

But the Bucks likely feel good about themselves now that they unlock their potential. All they needed was one game and being at home. Now, they have to duplicate this effort to have a chance now to win the series. Their chances are much better now than last week.

I still think the Suns win this in 5, but this won’t be easy anymore.

If the Bucks can win on Wednesday night and make this the best-of-3, a chance of this series going to seven is something that has to be considered seriously. The Bucks can certainly win a Game 6 at home if it gets to that.

It’s funny that one game can change the perception of this series. Now everyone is thinking this could go as far. It’s the home-court advantage that has had the Bucks believing now that the series shifted at their court.

Of course, this could be moot if the Suns win on Wednesday night.

This makes Game 4 more pivotal than Game 5. If the Bucks win, we got ourselves a potentially long series. If the Suns win, well this could be curtains in Game 5 out at Phoenix Suns Arena.

You can bet ABC and the NBA wants this to be as long as possible to maximize ratings and revenue. Short series does nothing for both entities’ bottom line.

With the Bucks Game 3 win, maybe they can translate it into something big.

It’s funny what one win and home court shift can do to a desperate team.

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