In a wild Game Four of the NBA Finals, the Phoenix Suns came up short against the Milwaukee Bucks 109-103 despite star Devin Booker having a big-time night. Booker, who struggled shooting in Game Three, finished with 42 points on 17/28 shooting from the field. However, Bucks sharpshooter Khris Middleton had 40 points of his own, pushing the Bucks back into a tie making it a best of three series.
“They’re putting a lot of pressure on us” said Coach Monty Williams “We’re two good teams and tied 2-2. That’s what’s going on.”
With a crucial Game Five on the line to decide what team will go up 3-2, what are some of the keys the Suns have to look at in order to set themselves one game closer to the title?
During the regular season, the Bucks ranked second in rebounds per game and first in offensive rebounds per game. On top of that, during the playoffs, Milwaukee ranks first in second-chance points with 16.3 per game. Although the Bucks have been out-rebounding the Suns during the entirety of the series, Sunday night’s Game Three and Wednesday’s Game Four were blowouts on the boards.
In the first two games of the series, the Bucks only outrebounded the Suns by an average of three. However, in Game Three’s dominating performance by the Bucks, Milwaukee’s 47 rebounds compared to Phoenix’s tally of 36 made the game much more difficult for the Suns to compete in.
In Game Four, although the total difference in rebounds was not as big, Milwaukee destroyed Phoenix on the offensive glass, especially in the fourth quarter. The Bucks managed to grab an incredible 17 offensive rebounds, counting for 35% of their total rebounds in the game. This compares to the Suns who only grabbed five.
“17 offensive rebounds, that’s on us as a team,” said Booker, “we have to close out possessions and that’s something that hurt us tonight.”
For the Suns to have any shot of closing out the series, they have to account for every player on the court on the glass. Five players for the Bucks tallied multiple offensive rebounds, including guards Jrue Holiday and Pat Connaughton.
The Suns have to box out every player. The Bucks attack the glass like no other team in the league. It seems every player crashes the glass at any time for Milwaukee. Phoenix almost has to hit them before anyone gets into the paint. This will allow DeAndre Ayton to grab the rebound as uncontested as possible.
“We have to be physical,” said Booker “they are coming at us full speed and we understand that.”
Especially in Game Four, turnovers killed the Suns. They have been great all season long being able to hold onto the ball and limit their mistakes, ranking fourth in lowest turnovers per game in the regular season. On Wednesday, however, the Suns turned the ball over 17 times, including five from Chris Paul, whose turnover numbers throughout the year were very low.
“The thing that is on my mind the most tonight is how many possessions we gave up tonight,” said Williams, “they scored 24 points off it…. that was pretty much the game.”
A lot of it has to do with the Bucks’ pressure defense. They are guarding the ball handler tough as soon as they pass half-court and keeping the pressure on for the entire shot clock. For the Suns, they have to get back to what they’ve done all season, hold onto the ball. They can’t feed into the pressure caused by Milwaukee’s intensity, they have to play in control and make sure to make the right play every time. If they don’t, the Bucks will break out in transition and put up similar points off turnover numbers as tonight.
The Suns will be in front of their home crowd for the first game of this best of three. According to NBA.com, the team that wins Game Five in a best-of-seven series has won the Finals 84% of the time. Based on that stat, whoever wins Game Five will be the heavy favorite to bring home the Larry O’Brien trophy. Game Five will tip-off on Saturday at 6 p.m. Arizona time.
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