MILWAUKEE — Devin Booker scored 42 points to set an NBA record for most points scored by a player during their first playoff run, but the Bucks made the key plays down the stretch to capture a 109-103 victory over the Phoenix Suns Wednesday night at Fiserv Forum to even the NBA Finals 2-2.
The Suns led by seven with less than nine minutes to play and held a 95-90 advantage when Cam Johnson hit a bank shot with 5:52 to play. But then Milwaukee staged a 7-0 run, capped by a Pat Connaughton 3-pointer, to take a two-point lead. Khris Middleton (40 points, six rebounds, four assists) later broke a 99-99 tie by scoring eight consecutive points, a stretch that also included Giannis Antetokounmpo going airborne for a brilliant block on a potential game-tying alley-oop finish by Deandre Ayton with 1:14 to play.
Booker scored 20 points in the first half and then a blistering 18 points on 7-of-7 shooting in the third quarter alone. He reached his final total while navigating foul trouble, sitting a five-minute stretch in the fourth quarter after picking up his fifth.
Suns coach Monty Williams pointed to the Suns' 17 turnovers for 24 points and the Bucks' 48-42 rebounding advantage as the aspects that most hurt the Suns. The Bucks took 19 more shots than the Suns and had a 19-7 edge in second-chance points.
Game 5 is Saturday in Phoenix, before Tuesday's Game 6 in Milwaukee.
WHAT THEY ARE SAYING:
Monty Williams on what led to the loss: "The turnovers just crushed us tonight. We shot 50 percent from the field, but they got 19 more possessions. Over the course of the game when you just give it up that many times the turnovers and offensive rebounding was a bit of a hill for us to climb."
Devin Booker on his 42-point performance: "It doesn't matter at all. I said that after last game too, when I struggled shooting it. The main objective is to win the game. So anything that goes on throughout the game, it doesn't matter, for real."
Cam Johnson on the series: "You got to love it. You got to embrace it. This is what we all dreamed of being in this situation, right? There's no time to hang your head. There's no time to pout. This is 2-2 in the NBA Finals. We have an opportunity to do something really special and one thing Coach has said in the past is each game takes on a life of its own in the playoffs. And from a distance it's like a seven-game series, oh if a team beats you one time. No, every game takes on a life of its own. We got to be ready to capture the next one."
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Devin Booker: 42 points, 2 assists, 1 rebounds, 1 block
Jae Crowder: 15 points, 8 rebounds, 3 assist, 3 steals, 3 blocks
Chris Paul: 10 points, 7 assists, 4 rebounds
Cam Johnson: 10 points, 1 rebound, 1 assist, 1 block
Cam Johnson: 9 points, 1 rebound
Deandre Ayton: 6 points, 17 rebounds, 5 assists, 3 blocks
The Suns are led by two of the most vocal players in the NBA in Jae Crowder and Chris Paul. But as this thrilling season unfolded, many other Suns began to find their own voices and are now encouraged by Monty Williams to speak out and speak up.
"We all do it to a certain extent,” Devin Booker said. “Anybody can do that anytime on this team … Nobody takes it personal. Nobody gets mad at somebody for doing anything like that. I think it just brings our team together even more."
“Locked in” is a popular phrase used across sports at all levels to describe being singularly focused on the immediate task at hand. After a grueling 72-game regular season and three thrilling playoff series, it has never been more important for these Suns to exercise that mental approach. They will open the NBA Finals Tuesday against the Milwaukee Bucks, embarking on their last stretch toward the ultimate summit.
The Suns are locked in on a formidable opponent. They are locked in on maintaining their style of play and everyday habits that got them this far. They are locked in on seizing four more wins, and clinching the first NBA title in franchise history.
After the lengthy officials’ review, the crowd’s roar upon confirmation that his finish was legal and the endless hugs from teammates and coaches, Ayton emphatically agreed when asked if that was the best play of his life. The “Valley-oop” to beat the Los Angeles Clippers 104-103 to take a 2-0 lead in the Western Conference Finals is already an iconic moment in Phoenix Suns history.
It was also the latest reminder that Ayton’s consistent — and often dominant — play unfolding bit-by-bit during this electrifying postseason run has rapidly vaulted him into the conversation surrounding the NBA’s top-tier centers.
Johnson and Bridges are now known as “The Twins,” a nickname coined by Deandre Ayton because they are always around each other and play a similar position and style. After forming their initial bond heading into the 2019-20 season, Johnson’s and Bridges’ relationship flows from the locker room onto the court and epitomizes the Suns’ necessary trust, togetherness and overall synergy that has led them to the Western Conference Finals.
On June 20, 2019, Jones helped launch the construction of the Suns’ roster now up 2-0 in the Western Conference Finals. And on June 20, 2021, Jones was named NBA Executive of the Year. What a difference two years can make.
It takes talent, relentless drive and togetherness to become one of the NBA’s final four teams remaining in the postseason. But the Suns’ ability to reach this level of consistent, confident and clinical execution, particularly while winning a franchise-record seven consecutive playoff games, can be directly tied to their willingness to embrace the belief that everything counts. That attention to detail becomes even more critical with an NBA Finals berth on the line when Phoenix’s series against the Los Angeles Clippers begins Sunday afternoon, especially with Paul missing at least Game 1 while in health and safety protocols.
RIGHT PLACE, RIGHT TIME
Craig is a versatile defender and willing rebounder on both ends. He will dive for 50/50 balls and flash his athleticism via deflections and blocks. He has gotten more offensive opportunities with the Suns as an outside shooter and authoritative finisher off cuts and in transition. Now, Craig is showcasing all of those attributes during a playoff series against his former team while providing a jolt to the Suns’ championship aspirations.
‘THERE’S NOTHING LIKE IT’
That electric crowd is goosebumps-inducing in person and takes television viewers aback, prompting local pride and national attention. It has been praised by young Suns experiencing the postseason for the first time and veterans who have been through countless playoff games alike. That’s why it’s reasonable to wonder if — or conclude that — the Suns have quickly created the NBA’s best home-court advantage during these playoffs.
The formal definition of the word “relentless” is “oppressively constant; incessant.” That descriptor has followed the Suns throughout this season, applying to their on-court style of play and their everyday habits while navigating this unique season. Knocking off the defending-champion Los Angeles Lakers in the playoffs’ first round required a relentless approach, which now carries the Suns into the Western Conference Semifinals against the Denver Nuggets.
“It’s just how the guys are built, individually and as a collective group,” Booker said. “If you go down the list of all the players, there’s nobody that’s scared of the moment. There’s nobody that hasn’t prepared for this moment. This isn’t new. This is how we’ve been playing for most of the season. We’ve had ups and downs, but we’re a confident team and we play hard all the way through.”
Now in his third season as general manager of the Phoenix Suns, James Jones has taken his knowledge of what it takes to win a ring and is building a roster of like-minded players with high-IQs, unselfish personalities and relentless attitudes both on the court and behind the scenes. The result is Phoenix’s dramatic rise over the past two seasons. The Suns went 51-21 during the 2020-21 regular season, finished second in a loaded Western Conference and enters Tuesday with the opportunity to take a 3-2 lead in their first-round playoff series against the defending-champion Los Angeles Lakers.
Cameron Payne plays with a fiery passion that somehow looks both free and furious, prompting some to compare him to the “haboob” dust storms that disrupt the Valley air during the summer monsoon season. It’s a fitting style for Payne, a former lottery draft pick who had his NBA career stripped away in early 2019 and is now savoring his shot on a Suns team with championship aspirations.
“To be on the road and have your fans cheering for you, especially when you make a run, is pretty cool," head coach Monty Williams said. "We’re thankful, grateful and we’re fighting our tails off to make those fans that we have in this environment have something to cheer for.”
Whether traveling from Phoenix or different parts of California, Suns.com gathered personal stories from six Suns fans making the trip and cheer on their favorite team.
LIVING UP TO THE MOMENT
Devin Booker, Deandre Ayton, Mikal Bridges and Cameron Johnson showed consistent effort all season, preparing them for the bright lights. They lived up to the moment in Game 1 and, in some cases, churned out historic stat lines — even during an intense game complete with the magnitude of the franchise’s first playoff game since 2010, a jarring injury to their Hall of Fame point guard and a scuffle that resulted in a teammate being ejected.
There are enough “Montyisms” for Monty Williams to write a compilation book — which Devin Booker has publicly and privately suggested to his coach. Even while repeating them to players, Cam Johnson said, Williams will preface by acknowledging some might call them “corny” or “goofy” or “coach speak.” Yet Johnson says those mantras are “big-time anchors” that have kept the Suns emotionally centered during the franchise’s emphatic rise to the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference. They create personal connections with players by instilling belief and relaying constructive advice. They provide reminders that resurface in the head and heart when one least expects it, and can apply to both basketball and life.
RALLY THE VALLEY
Suns.com gathered personal stories from 13 people connected to the organization. Some are longtime fans, and others are long-time employees in behind-the-scenes roles. Some are community partners who work with the Suns to make residents’ lives a little brighter. Some are natives, and some have returned home.
“You look around the league at some teams, and not everybody has a vibe like this or an energy like this throughout,” Booker said. “I always say it’s a great environment to get better in. When you have everybody supporting you, everybody being honest with you — those are the same people that can give me constructive criticism at any point in the game, and I’m listening to them — that’s the name of our group, man.”
Culture, chemistry and overall spirit are intangible qualities that cannot be measured by traditional stats or advanced analytics. But players and coaches know it — feel it — when those attributes have manifested within a team.