|Time||9 p.m. ET|
|Odds as of Tuesday night and via PointsBet.|
The Bucks returned home and stormed back with a convincing victory in Game 3 of the NBA Finals to narrow the deficit to two games to one versus the Phoenix Suns.
Milwaukee looks to match the Suns’ efforts and secure a victory in their second home game while evening up the series before returning to Phoenix for Game 5. Can Giannis and Co. keep the pressure on and secure a critical victory or will the Suns take a commanding 3-1 lead in the NBA Finals with the opportunity to close out at home in Game 5?
Let’s break it down.
Suns’ Shooting Finally Goes Cold
The Phoenix Suns finally were met with some shooting variance and a free throw disadvantage at the same time in Game 3. They were outscored by 15 from 3-point range, 9 from the free throw line, and only scored 100 points in the game.
So what happened?
The Suns have shot better than expected this entire postseason, with a 55%, eFG% compared to an expected mark of 53.2%, per Cleaning the Glass. Much of this has to do with their incredible efficiency from midrange, a shot most people agree is a “low value” shot, but when you have elite midrange scorers such as Chris Paul and Devin Booker, it raises the value of this shot.
The Suns averaged 45.9% shooting from midrange throughout the postseason. The Suns are actually shooting even better against the Bucks this series, hitting 50% of their shots from midrange, and an incredible 40.2% from 3, both of which are the best shooting numbers against the Bucks throughout the entire postseason. Even in the Game 3 loss, the Suns still shot 54.5% from midrange, but they were limited from 3 point range (32.1%).
The thing is, this is typical variance. In Game 1 they had an incredibly favorable whistle, and in Game 2 they shot 50%(!!!) from 3-point range. The Suns shot better than their average from midrange and worse from 3 and they lost by 20.
A problem that the Suns are running into is Devin Booker. He’s averaging just 22.7 points per game on 38.3% shooting. He basically was benched in the fourth quarter of Game 3 after scoring just 10 points in 29 minutes, and he struggled immensely when guarded by Jrue Holiday.
The Bucks are putting the pressure on Booker and they’ve swarmed him this entire series. Booker likely won’t be that bad again but the Suns need him to step it up if they want to bring home the Larry O’Brien Trophy.
Bucks Find Success in the Paint
The Bucks won Game 3 in dominant fashion by absolutely decimating the Suns in the paint. They outscored Phoenix by 14 in the paint and generated a 24.4 Free Throw Rate. This number is definitely higher than their regular season stats but the Bucks made it a priority to attack the interior and it was successful.
Now that the Suns are even more undersized without Dario Saric, their one line of defense is Deandre Ayton. By blitzing the paint and forcing Ayton into foul trouble, the Suns only defense was to hack Giannis, which lead to a game-high 17 free throw attempts (one more than the Suns had as a team). Coach Monty Williams complained about an uneven whistle, but when your strategy seems to be putting Giannis on the line rather than allow easy dunks, it’s certainly a questionable argument.
This attack on the interior is something the Bucks will look to continue. It opens up their offense and allows Giannis to play more minutes at the 5 without the laborious task of defending Ayton if he gets into foul trouble. Even if Ayton does not pick up quick fouls, the Suns will likely try to pack the paint to try and stop Giannis from tallying a third consecutive 40-point performance. If this happens, it should open the perimeter.
The Suns are interesting. Throughout the Playoffs, they have the fourth best allowed eFG% (50.7%), but their expected is the worst (55.4%). They allow the highest percentage of looks at the rim (34.4%) and one of the highest from 3 (37.8%) while locking down the midrange jumper.
The problem with this is the Bucks are the best team in the entire playoffs at the rim and although they’ve struggled to nail 3s in the postseason, they were the sixth best in the league from deep during the regular season (38.8% — coincidentally, the same 3 point percentage they had in Game 3).
If the Suns try to pack the paint in an effort to limit Giannis, it likely frees up the 3-point line. This is something the Bucks have the personnel to capitalize on between Khris Middleton, Jrue Holiday, and even Pat Connaughton or Brook Lopez.
Suns vs. Bucks Pick
Although the Suns are up 2-1 this series could very easily be Bucks 2-1 had the Suns not shot the lights out from 3-point range in Game 2. Heading into Game 4 at home, I will be backing Milwaukee to even up this series.
The Suns are excellent, however, Giannis has been by far the best player in the series and in the NBA Finals that absolutely matters. The Suns are in a position where they must change what they do in order to limit Giannis because they cannot bank on another game of shooting 50% from 3-point range. And the adjustment they need to make (packing the paint) may help open up the Bucks’ offense even more.
If you believe in the Bucks, then you should look not only at their series price, but the odds for Giannis to be MVP. If you believe they will win Game 4 then you likely will not get a better number than right now down 2-1. The discrepancy between the Bucks to win (+225) and Giannis Finals MVP (+240) just does not make sense after consecutive 40 point games — those two prices should be closer, or even identical.
In Game 4, I expect Milwaukee to continue their strong play and attack the interior unless they’re forced to spread the floor otherwise. Some of the shooting percentages may even out, but the Bucks have a clear rebounding advantage, having rebounded 51.4% of the opportunities in this series. And these extra looks can be the difference in the game.
Pick: Bucks -4