Just when the Phoenix Suns thought the route to its first championship would be an easy one, the Milwaukee Bucks came back with a revenge game.
One of the reasons why the Bucks were able to get a 120-100 win in Game 3 was because of their size. Milwaukee has a tall lineup -- Giannis Antetokounmpo, Bobby Portis, and Brook Lopez all stand above 6’10”. That’s three players in their rotation tall enough to play center on any other team. Even their main shooting guard, Khris Middleton, stands at 6’7”.
For context, the only guy for the Suns above 6’11” who sees significant minutes on the floor is Deandre Ayton. The Bucks are huge, so going up against the smaller, guard-dominant Suns already has its physical advantages.
In Game 3, Ayton saw limited minutes on the floor due to foul trouble. The Bucks saw this as the perfect opportunity to exploit their weakness. With Ayton off the floor, Milwaukee made it a mission to take the game inside the paint.
“There's a lot of ways you can spin it, but they played with a great deal of aggression for longer stretches than we did,” head coach Monty Williams said. “We knew it was coming. We did not respond to it well tonight, especially in the second and third quarters.”
Without their primary rebounder and rim protector on the court, the Suns lost the battle in second-chance points, 20-2. Ayton’s absence weakened the defense, and the Bucks took advantage, knowing Phoenix’s smaller guys wouldn't be able to keep up with the brute force of Antetokounmpo.
When the Bucks were going hard to the basket, nobody was stopping them, so they did it repeatedly. So much so that Antetokounmpo scored all of his 41 points from the line and in the paint.
“The second-chance points was a struggle for us. We know that's what they want to do. So we got to come up with the 50/50 balls,” Williams said. “We got to box out better. That's on us. We can't blame anybody else for that. That's us,” he later added.
The current lack of frontcourt options also doomed the Suns. When Ayton takes breaks, the Suns usually go to Saric. Unfortunately, Saric isn’t playing in this series because of a knee injury. Frank Kaminsky, meanwhile, didn’t even see heavy minutes before the Finals.
Not having their go-to defensive big man led to a total defensive breakdown on the part of the Suns. Every time Phoenix's defense collapsed on Antetokounmpo in the paint, outside shooters like Jrue Holiday were left wide open.
In Game 3, Ayton was close to hitting a double-double with 18 points and nine rebounds. However, Phoenix had to go for about 17 and a half minutes without him.
That’s just too long to not have him in the game against a frontcourt dominant team. If the Suns want to create some distance in this series, Ayton needs to be on the floor.
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