NBA Finals: Suns handle Bucks, 118-105, to take 1-0 series lead

Khris Middleton lead the Bucks with 29 points, but it wasn’t enough to topple the Phoenix Suns. Image via Bucks Instagram. (@Bucks)

The excitement and joy Milwaukee Bucks fans had been flying high on, quickly dissipated during a Game 1 loss to the Phoenix Suns in the NBA Finals.

A scroll through “Bucks Twitter” would have you believing the series was lost. Some folks couldn’t believe that a returning Giannis, who missed the last 2 games with a hyperextended left knee, wasn’t enough to thwart the Suns.

Forget the fact Milwaukee has lost their last three Game 1’s and have learned from those losses. (For the most part.) Forget the fact they have recovered from those slow starts, to win every one of those series. The Finals were over in some of the fan’s minds.

I wasn’t happy with some elements of Milwaukee’s gameplan, but I definitely wasn’t calling the Finals over, either. For as much as Phoenix took advantage of the Bucks on defense, Milwaukee’s offense wasn’t that bad.

Khris Middleton got off to his usual slow start, but turned it up in the second half. He ended up leading the Bucks in scoring. (29) Giannis, who everyone was nervous about, put up 20 points and 17 rebounds, in his NBA Finals debut. Milwaukee also found their groove from distance, going 16-for-36 from 3. One of their better long-distance shooting nights of the postseason. If the Bucks make a few more of the point-blank and wide open looks they had in the first half, it’s a different ballgame. They didn’t and still scored over 100.

There is positivity to be taken from the offensive side of the Bucks. Frustration with missed shots is understandable, but not much can be done about that. Defensively, though, is a whole other story.

Milwaukee has faced a tremendous amount of pick-and-roll conundrums, the last 2 rounds of the playoffs. The Bucks made Kevin Durant work for his points off the PNR, with a physical P.J. Tucker, in the semifinals. They weren’t going to stop him, but the physical defense wore on him.

In the Eastern Conference Finals, Trae Young consistently put Milwaukee in a pickle off the PNR. With Brook Lopez playing off the initial action, Young would have room to hit a floater or lob it to a Hawks big. Mike Budenholzer made the adjustment to play up on Young in the initial action and it made the difference in the series.

Faced with two elite guards, Devin Booker and Chris Paul, and deciding to switch off on PNR with Lopez, the Bucks put themselves in a constant disadvantage. Both Booker and Paul can easily drop a midrange jumper over Lopez, take him off the dribble, or drive and kick for others to get involved. Booker ended up with 27/6 assists, while Paul caught fire and went for 32/9 assists. Phoenix took advantage of the Bucks, repeatedly.

Milwaukee has done this before. Some may not want to give Bud credit, but he’s made game-to-game adjustments that have worked. The same will be true for Game 2.

Look, folks, this was never going to be easy. The Suns won their conference. They’re one of the final two teams standing. They’re every bit of a tough out as the Bucks are. The series isn’t over, so what are you so mad at now?

It was a fight for the Bucks to get here. It will be a fight for Milwaukee to be the last team standing. This was only round 1, there’s a lot of fight left. Knuckle up and get ready.

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