NBA Finals 2021

Aggressive bucks trim suns' lead

Antetokounmpo scores 41 pts as Milwaukee capitalise on home form to stay in title hunt

Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo becoming only the third player after Shaquille O'Neal in 2000 and LeBron James in 2016 to notch back-to-back 40-point, 10-rebound games in an NBA Finals.
Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo becoming only the third player after Shaquille O'Neal in 2000 and LeBron James in 2016 to notch back-to-back 40-point, 10-rebound games in an NBA Finals.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

MILWAUKEE • Giannis Antetokounmpo powered Milwaukee to a crucial 120-100 victory over Phoenix on Sunday in the NBA Finals, reviving the Bucks' chance of winning their first title in 50 years.

The 26-year-old Greek forward scored 41 points and grabbed 13 rebounds to spark the Bucks, who pulled within 2-1 in the best-of-seven championship series ahead of Game 4 tomorrow in Milwaukee.

"To give ourselves an opportunity to win this series, we've got to stay aggressive," Antetokounmpo said. "It's all going to be mental from here."

The two-time National Basketball Association (NBA) Most Valuable Player, who had 42 points and 12 rebounds in a Game 2 loss, joined Shaquille O'Neal in 2000 and LeBron James in 2016 as the only NBA Finals players with back-to-back 40-point, 10-rebound performances.

Antetokounmpo hit 14-of-23 shots from the floor and 13-of-17 from the free-throw line to lead them to a key victory, as no team have ever rallied from 3-0 down to win an NBA play-off series.

Jrue Holiday added 21 points and nine assists while Khris Middleton had 18 points, seven rebounds and six assists.

"I was trying to drive and open things up. I knew I had to get Khris and Jrue involved," Antetokounmpo said. "My teammates want me to be aggressive."

The Bucks, hosting their first NBA Finals game in 47 years, improved to an NBA-best 8-1 at home in the play-offs by beating the Suns, who had a 6-2 record on the road in the play-offs before the game.

"We knew what we had to do. We knew what this game meant to us, to the city," Holiday said. "It was about us coming out hard and being able to execute."

The Bucks won their only NBA crown in 1971 while the Suns are chasing a first title in their 53-year history.

"It was a tough lesson for us to learn," Suns coach Monty Williams said. "We know we have to play with an unreal amount of aggression for 48 minutes and all our guys know we didn't. I expect our guys to bounce back."

Holiday went 8-of-14 after struggling in the first two games, Antetokounmpo drawing defenders to ease his outside shooting efforts.

Suns guard Chris Paul, in the first NBA Finals of his 16-year career at age 36, led the Suns with 19 points while Deandre Ayton and Jae Crowder each added 18. Phoenix guard Devin Booker went 3-of-14 from the floor, 1-of-7 from three-point range, and had only 10 points.

Williams would not talk about the officiating but noted: "We had 16 free throws. One person (Antetokounmpo) had 17."

Antetokounmpo scored nine in a 20-6 spurt to give Milwaukee a 50-42 edge. The Bucks closed the first half on a 10-0 run for a 60-45 half-time advantage.

"They played with a great deal of aggression for longer stretches than we did," Williams said.

"We knew it was coming. We did not respond to it well, especially in the second and third quarters."

The Suns began the third quarter by hitting nine-of-10 shots from the floor and pulled within 74-70, with Crowder hitting three 3-pointers. But Milwaukee battled back, scoring the final 16 points of the third quarter to grab a 98-76 lead.

Holiday said: "I felt like the momentum was going their way before that. I got the momentum going back on our side."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 13, 2021, with the headline 'Aggressive bucks trim suns' lead'. Subscribe