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NBA Finals Game 4: Bucks vs Suns

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Milwaukee looks to even the series at home

NBA: Finals-Phoenix Suns at Milwaukee Bucks Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Bucks -5 vs Suns

8:00pm CST

ABC

I am so, so excited for this game. Zach Lowe brought it up on his latest podcast, but 2-1 Game 4’s really set the tone for a playoff series, and I think tonight is going to set the tone for a long NBA Finals.

The Suns took Games 1 & 2 at home, and the Bucks answered with a dominant Game 3 performance to keep the series interesting. It is ridiculous just how different Jrue Holiday and Khris Middleton play at home compared to on the road, but as long as that trend continues, we will see this series tied at 2-2 heading back to Phoenix.

I know I broke out the numbers in the last preview, but I want to update them after Game 3. This postseason, at home, Middleton is averaging 23.3/7.7/5.4 vs 2.4 turnovers on .471/.381/.857 shooting, compared to 22.4/7.9/5.0 vs 3.8 turnovers on .404/.315/.939. He basically gets “his” regardless of where the game is played, but he is dramatically more efficient at home. Similarly, Holiday is at 19.6/5.6/8.4 vs 2.4 turnovers on .468/.328/.688 shooting at home, compared to 15.5/5.6/8.4 vs 2.4 turnovers on .375/.283/.667. So, Holiday isn’t exactly lighting the world on fire anywhere, but the shooting is still significantly worse on the road.

Luckily for Milwaukee, they’re at home tonight, so the odds that they get solid performances from Holiday and Middleton are much higher. It turns out that sometimes, the biggest difference in a series is simply which teams players are playing better.

I’m excited to see how Giannis Antetokounmpo follows up his back-to-back 40/10 games, which put him in elite company.

Whatever questions we had about Giannis heading into the postseason have been answered. He is that dude.

There are two big questions for Phoenix, and they both in some way come back to “being that dude.”

I said it before, and it sounds simplistic, but at this point most adjustments and wrinkles have been thrown into a series and it’s simply about which team executes better and gets more from their best players.

Well, Phoenix needs more from Devin Booker.

Granted, these numbers are skewed from the ghastly 3-14 Game 3 performance, but he’s only shooting 38.3% from the field and 33.3% from 3 in these finals. He was outstanding in Game 2, but hasn’t been his sensational self aside from that. He needs to be more efficient, and I think a lot of it has to do with getting him in position to make quicker decisions. The ball-pounding isolations haven’t been great for him.

While I want to believe Booker will find it tonight, he has the same issue as Middleton and Holiday. For the postseason, Booker is shooting just .398/.283/.881 with 3.7 assists to 3.6 turnovers on the road. A turnaround from him would make things much easier for Phoenix tonight, clearly.

The other obvious point for Phoenix is keeping DeAndre Ayton out of foul trouble. He’s the only guy on Phoenix’s roster who truly stands a chance at slowing down Giannis. Jae Crowder had success in Miami last year against him, but that job is a lot more manageable when Bam Adebayo, Jimmy Butler, and Andre Igoudala are your helpers. Phoenix is a good defensive team, don’t get me wrong, but they don’t have the bodies to throw at Giannis to form the same type of “wall” that the 2019 Raptors or 2020 Heat had. The Suns are in a much better spot with Ayton on-ball and Crowder and Mikal Bridges digging in as opposed to sending Ayton into the help-side role, and if Ayton’s off the court altogether the Suns quite literally have no shot.

In case you couldn’t tell, while Milwaukee is down 2-1, I still feel like they’re in an okay spot. They’ve started to find some advantages that work for them, and the defense is rounding into elite form again. The Suns have given themselves some margin for error, but it isn’t much, and I would be surprised if the series wasn’t tied after tonight.

I’ll take the Bucks 112-104.