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Bucks’ Antetokounmpo has been dominant, now he needs help

FINAL: Suns 118, Bucks 108
Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker, right, dribbles against Milwaukee Bucks forward Khris...
Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker, right, dribbles against Milwaukee Bucks forward Khris Middleton during the second half of Game 2 of basketball's NBA Finals, Thursday, July 8, 2021, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)(Ross D. Franklin | AP)
Published: Jul. 8, 2021 at 10:49 PM CDT
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PHOENIX (AP) — Giannis Antetokounmpo and his bum left knee bulldozed through the Phoenix Suns defense for most of Thursday night, once again giving the Milwaukee Bucks more than they could have dreamed in these NBA Finals.

The problem for Milwaukee is he’s not getting enough help.

Antetokounmpo finished with 42 points, 12 rebounds and three blocks but couldn’t push the Bucks past the Suns, who took a 2-0 series with their 118-108 win. The one-man gutsy show was impressive, but ultimately for naught.

Milwaukee’s two-time MVP missed the final two games of the Eastern Conference finals with a hyperextended left knee. He made a quick recovery and surprisingly played in Game 1, finishing with 20 points and 17 rebounds.

In Thursday night’s Game 2, he was even better.

Antetokounmpo finished with his usual array of athletic moves around the basket. In the third quarter, he nearly single-handedly kept the Bucks in the game, scoring 20 points while aggressively crashing the offensive glass. That was the most points for one player in a quarter in a finals game since 1993, according to Elias.

“I think he wants us to learn on him hard,” Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said. “He wants as much responsibility as we can give him. That’s part of what makes him great.”

But the box score was pretty ugly for the rest of the Bucks.

Jrue Holiday scored 17 points but needed 21 shots to get there. Khris Middleton was non-existent for much of the night, finishing with 11 points on 5 of 16 shooting. Brook Lopez had a quiet night. Other than Pat Connaughton’s 14 points, the Bucks bench didn’t contribute much.

Budenholzer said he isn’t down on Holiday and Middleton, even if their first two games have been mediocre.

“You always give credit to the defense,” Budenholzer said. “Those guys do a good job. There’s probably a few looks that they’ve got to go in, when you’re playing a good defensive team and you get a good clean one. Jrue was getting to the paint a lot. I liked his aggressiveness. I think we need all 3 of those guys. I think they just keep working, they’ll be good.”

There were too many moments for Milwaukee like one late in the fourth quarter: Middleton drove to the basket for a layup, only to be denied by Deandre Ayton. Middleton helplessly tumbled to the ground and watched forlornly as the the Suns grabbed the ball and sprinted downcourt.

It became apparent that if Antetokounmpo wasn’t making it happen, it probably wasn’t going to happen for the Bucks.

When Antetokounmpo was on the court, the Bucks outscored the Suns by 3. In the eight minutes he didn’t play, Milwaukee was outscored by 13.

While the Bucks were struggling, the Suns’ role players were difference-makers.

Mikal Bridges had 27 points. Jae Crowder had 11 points and 10 rebounds. Cam Johnson hit two 3-pointers. All five starters scored at least 10 points.

Phoenix’s balance is beating the one-man heroics of Antetokounmpo.

That almost certainly has to change if the Bucks want to make this a series. Game 3 is on Sunday in Milwaukee.

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