Bucks Drop Game 2 Of NBA Finals Despite 42 Points From Antetokounmpo

Game 3 Is Sunday In Milwaukee

Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo, middle, shoots between Phoenix Suns forward Mikal Bridges, left, and center Deandre Ayton (22) during the first half of Game 2 of basketball’s NBA Finals, Thursday, July 8, 2021, in Phoenix. Ross D. Franklin/AP Photo

The Milwaukee Bucks will have lots of work to do when the NBA Finals come to Wisconsin on Sunday. The Bucks have lost the first two games of the series to the Phoenix Suns after dropping Game 2, 118-108, on Thursday.

The Bucks were also down 0-2 in their semifinal series against the Brooklyn Nets before coming back to advance to the conference finals in seven games.

Giannis Antetokounmpo opened Game 2 with a dunk. His dominance in the paint was a theme that would carry throughout Thursday’s game. But it wasn’t enough to overcome the sharpshooting Suns.

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Antetokounmpo and the Bucks got off to an aggressive start after struggling on defense in Game 1. Milwaukee had 20 points in the paint during the first quarter of Thursday’s game, leading by as many as 9 points. Meanwhile, the Suns made eight 3-pointers to stick around early.

But the Suns pulled ahead in the second quarter, outscoring the Bucks 30-16. In the first half, Phoenix shot 46 percent from behind the arc, while Milwaukee struggled to make shots.

“I think both first quarters, we’ve been pretty good, or we’ve been in a good place. The second quarter tonight stands out. The last four, five minutes of the second quarter, they were able to get some separation,” said head coach Mike Budenholzer.

The Bucks held the Suns to just one free throw during the first half — a big improvement over Game 1, where they allowed Phoenix to score 25 points from behind the line — but the Suns entered the locker room with a 56-45 lead.

That’s despite strong defense from Brook Lopez and Jrue Holiday, who opened the third quarter with a much-needed 3-pointer. From there, it was Antetokounmpo who’d take over for Milwaukee. He scored 13 points in a row for the Bucks, finishing the quarter with 20 points.

“I think he wants us to lean on him hard. He wants as much responsibility as we can give him. That’s part of what makes him great,” Budenholzer said of the two-time MVP.

Several times in the second half, Milwaukee pulled within 5 points — but that’s as close as they’d get. The Suns shot too well for the Bucks to finish the comeback, especially with Khris Middleton and Holiday combining for just 28 points.

“I think Jrue got some good looks. I actually think there’s some opportunities where he could be even more aggressive,” Budenholzer said.

Antetokounmpo led the Bucks in scoring with 42 points. And Pat Connaughton added 14 off the bench. Meanwhile, Devin Booker had 31 points for the Suns, who finished Game 2 with 20 3-pointers.

Milwaukee Bucks forward P.J. Tucker, center, shoots as Phoenix Suns forward Mikal Bridges, right looks on during the first half of Game 2 of basketball’s NBA Finals, Thursday, July 8, 2021, in Phoenix. Ross D. Franklin/AP Photo

Thousands gathered inside Fiserv Forum in Milwaukee to watch Thursday’s action on the Jumbotron, while even more watched outside on the plaza. Fans have packed the Deer District throughout these playoffs.

Next, the series heads to Milwaukee on Sunday for Game 3, where standing-room-only tickets are available for almost $400. The Bucks have lost just one home game this postseason.

The Suns won Game 1, 118-105, on Tuesday in Phoenix. Before tipoff, Antetokounmpo was listed as doubtful, but he played despite a knee injury suffered in the Eastern Conference finals. He had 20 points and 17 rebounds, while Middleton tallied 29 points.

The Suns are led by Paul, who had 32 points on Tuesday, helping Phoenix pull away in the third quarter. He’s in his 16th NBA season, but he has never won a league championship.

The Bucks last played for an NBA championship in 1974, but haven’t won a title since 1971. That team was led by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Oscar Robertson. The Suns have never won an NBA championship.