Photo: Jeff Hanisch/USA Today Sports
A FedEx colleague mentioned to me about home-court advantage helping players the other day when he was asked about the Milwaukee Bucks’ chances of being swept. I asked him if the opposing team’s player such as Devin Booker keeps shooting well, does it really matter?
The NBA Finals shifted to Milwaukee on Sunday night with the Suns taking a 2-0 lead. Maybe there was something to home-court advantage helping the home team and getting the road team out of sync. In Game 3, it certainly did.
The Bucks hit 14 3-pointers while the Phoenix Suns shot nine 3s, and that’s why the Bucks won 120-100 to cut the Suns’ series lead to 2-1. A far cry from Game 2 when the Bucks hit nine 3s and Suns hit 20 3s in the Suns’ 118-108 victory over the Bucks at Phoenix Suns Arena.
Maybe it was the rims. Maybe it was the crowd. Maybe it was the lighting. Whatever it was, both teams looked different in this game than in the last game.
Giannis Antetokounmpo led all scorers with 41 points. Jrue Holiday scored 21 points on 8-of-14 shooting, including five 3-pointers, and Khris Middleton added 18 points. Compared to the Suns, Devin Booker scored only 10 points on 3-of-14 shooting and Chris Paul scored a quiet 19 points. The Suns took a 2-0 series lead because their frontcourt combined to score 113 points in the first two games compared to only 29 points on 11-of-28 shooting in Game 3.
Here’s the difference with the Bucks from Game 3 to their first two games: They shot from outside. They slashed to the basket. They pulled up. They passed the ball. Holliday defended Paul much better. P.J. Tucker made Booker look ordinary. It was like the Bucks played the role of the Suns this time around.
There’s no question the Bucks needed this game at home. A loss, and not only do they have a tough task to recover from a 3-0 deficit, but they would likely be swept. They needed to show they were worthy of being in the NBA Finals stage after being ridiculed on national television these last few days.
The Bucks dug deep. They showed it by being a physical team. They found a way to get in the free-throw line by having 26 attempts and making 20 of them. They outrebounded the Suns 47-36. They scored 54 points in the paint. Most importantly, they made Paul and Booker earn their points this time around.
Something about home cooking that does wonders for a desperate team playing at their homecourt.
Also something about home cooking that makes other team’s great shooters look ordinary. It turned out to be the case for Paul and Booker. With the way Booker shot the first two games of the Finals, I wondered what difference it would make if the series shifts to another court. It turned out that’s exactly what happened.
It’s a credit to the Bucks defense for sure, but it was also part of it that Booker just did not have it going. It started on his first shot of the game when it did not come close to the basket. It foreshadowed the night he would have.
For Holiday and Middleton, they fed off from the crowd and the crowd’s confidence emboldened them to keep shooting. It sure beats getting heckled and mocked at by the opposing crowd.
Maybe this gives the Bucks hope. Maybe this gets them going.
The Suns did their job winning their first two games at home. The Bucks did their job winning their home game to survive. We now see what awaits in Game 4. The Suns bounce back after losses like this, and they are capable of winning at least one in Milwaukee. The Bucks only lost one home game this postseason, and that was in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals.
Something has to give. Suns coach Monty Williams set things in motion after the game when he complained about his team getting 16 free throws only while Antetokounmpo had 17 free throws. He knows the home teams always get calls in getting to the free-throw line as the Bucks received 26 free throws. He wanted to get the refs’ attention through campaigning in the media. A tactic that Pat Riley and Phil Jackson used to do in the postseason. Maybe this gives the Suns some spark here.
The series does not start until the road team wins a home game as the saying goes.
In Game 4, the home team either restarts the series or the road team likely ends the series altogether.
For the Bucks, they can only hope for the former.