Even with Giannis, Bucks fail to outwork Suns in Game 1

Published July 8, 2021, 9:00 AMRenee Ticzon

The Milwaukee Bucks had Giannis Antetokounmpo back, but they just couldn't hold off the Phoenix Suns in the series opener.

Before the NBA Finals began, the Milwaukee Bucks were wondering how they would survive a seven-game series without their best player. It was a legitimate concern after Giannis Antetokounmpo suffered a hyperextended knee in the Eastern Conference Finals against the Atlanta Hawks. The injury sidelined Antetokounmpo for a week.

A few moments before Game 1, though, news came out that Giannis would play. But he didn’t suit up just for the sake of playing. His chasedown block late in the second quarter was a clear testament to his health status. 

Giannis ended the match with a double-double of 20 points and 17 rebounds, making 6-of-11 field goals in the 35 minutes he played. 

“It was tough. Obviously, I had to do my best to get back. Listen to my medical staff. I did the right treatment. Took care of my body and supported my teammates, and now I'm back,” he said.

His effort wasn’t enough as the Phoenix Suns went on to win Game 1, 118-105, but at least for the Bucks, there’s a sense of security knowing that the two-time MVP is healthy and available to play.

Jrue Holiday’s involvement seemed to be a more pressing concern for the Bucks. He could not get into a rhythm, making only four field goals on a 28.6 percent shooting clip. Holiday ended up with just 10 points and seven rebounds but had nine assists.

To bounce back, Milwaukee needs Holiday to be a more aggressive scorer and a reliable offensive option.

“I think I had a bad shooting night. I had a lot of opportunities to make layups and shots and they weren't falling. Again, I think I do a little bit more than scoring, just getting people plays and threes and driving to the basket, but me personally, I didn't shoot well tonight.” said Holiday.

Another adjustment the Bucks can make to even out the series is to earn more trips to the free throw line (Milwaukee only made nine compared to Phoenix’s 25). They also need to limit Devin Booker and Chris Paul’s scoring and playmaking. The two combined for 59 points and 15 assists as six Suns players finished in double figures. The Bucks need to ramp up their defense, especially on these two.

“I think they executed well offensively. I think we can be better defensively, make things a little more difficult. I think that's the thing,” said Bucks head coach Mike Budenholzer.

Ultimately, the Bucks need to play with more energy. It’s understandable why the team looked so tired after just a short amount of time to rest. But Milwaukee cannot afford to let the Phoenix dictate this series. Let’s see how the Bucks respond in Game 2.