Bucks’ Middleton: When he’s(Antetokounmp) rolling sometimes like he was these last two games, you’ve just got to give him the ball’

Milwaukee Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo had another big-time performance in the NBA Finals, and this time, it translated to a victory. The two-time MVP had his second straight 40-point game in this series and scored 41 points, including 13/17 from the free-throw line, to go along with a team-high 13 rebounds and six assists as the Bucks routed the Suns 120-100 in Game 3 of the NBA Finals at Fiserv Forum on Sunday night.

Antetokounmpo, who had 42 points and 12 rebounds in Game 2, and Shaquille O’Neal are the only two players in NBA history with 40-plus points and 10-plus rebounds in back-to-back Finals games.

“When he’s rolling sometimes like he was these last two games, you’ve just got to give him the ball, give him his space and allow him to go to work,” Khris Middleton, who had 21 points, seven assists, and six assists on Sunday, said about Antetokounmpo. 

Bucks head coach Mike Budenholzer added on Antetokounmpo: “He’s just doing whatever it takes to help his team, to help us. He’s in an aggressive mindset. He always plays that way. But I thought he played with the pass well. He made some great reads, found guys, played against the zone. He just did a little bit of everything. Offensive boards, putbacks. We need a lot from him, and that’s what he does.”

Phoenix still leads the series 2-1, and Game 4 is on Wednesday night in Milwaukee.

Game 3 was a must-win situation for Milwaukee. The Bucks were down 0-2 against the Nets in the second-round, but won the series in 7.

Milwaukee did what they needed to do on Sunday night, which Antetokounmpo discussed postgame.

“We know what kind of game this was going to be,” Antetokounmpo said. “We knew that if we lose the game, you are in the hole, 3-0 or whatever the case might be. We knew that we had to come here and play great basketball, so I knew that.”

The Bucks shot ten more free throws(26-16) than Phoenix in Game 3, and Suns C Deandre Ayton, who had 12 of his 18 points in the first quarter and nine rebounds on Sunday night, was saddled with foul trouble. While he did not want to complain about the officiating, Suns head coach Monty Williams pointed out the free-throw disparity. 

“I’m not going to get into the complaining publicly about fouls. Just not going to do that,” Williams said. “But you can look — we had 16 free throws tonight. One person had 17.”

Devin Booker struggled with his shot in Game 3 and was 3/14 from the field with 10 points, but the two-time All-Star expects to bounce back in Game 4.

“It wasn’t well, obviously,” Booker said. “But there’s nights like that. The most important part to me is winning the game, and we didn’t do that, so I’m more frustrated about that. But we have a few days off here. We’re going to get back right and going to go over film and be ready Wednesday.”

This effort was expected out of Milwaukee in Game 3. It should be interesting to see Phoenix’s response in Game 4. However, the Bucks, who are 8-1 at home this postseason, are back in this series.

Notes:

-Jrue Holiday had his best performance of the series on Sunday night. Holiday had 21 points, nine assists, and five assists. 

-Chris Paul led the Suns with 19 points and nine assists in Game 3. With the loss on Sunday night, Paul is now 0-12 when Scott Foster officiates his games in the playoffs.

Suns’ Williams on Saric: ‘It’s just one of those situations that literally breaks your heart’

The Phoenix Suns won Game 1 of the NBA Finals against the Bucks on Tuesday night, but it came with a price; forward/center Dario Saric sustained a torn ACL in his right knee, the team announced on Wednesday.

Saric, 27, will miss the rest of the series. The fourth-year player injured his right knee in the first quarter of Game 1.

“It’s just one of those situations that literally breaks your heart,” Suns head coach Monty Williams said on Wednesday. “Dario is a guy that I’ve been with twice. I coached him in Philly, and to get a chance to be with him here, he’s what Suns basketball is about. Hard worker, unbelievable guy, and he was so looking forward to playing in these Finals. And to play a few minutes and have that kind of injury, it was a tough thing to hear this morning when I talked to the staff, and they told me what was going on.

“I spoke with him, and obviously, he was shocked and just felt pretty bad. So I just told the team today to check on him and Karla. He’s got a road ahead of him, but he’s a diligent worker, and we know he’ll be back and better. But it was a shock to see him go down like that.”

Devin Booker added on Saric: “It hurts. It hurt our whole group. Dario is our guy. He’s our energy in the locker room that you guys don’t get to see, but we love him, and we are here with him. Obviously an unfortunate turn of events, but we’re going to reach out to him; we’re going to make sure he’s mentally right and that he’s in the right spirit, and we’re on the road to recovery. As far as the court goes, obviously, we’re going to be missing his presence and the things that he does out there, but everybody is going to have to give a little bit more.”

Saric averaged 8.7 points and 3.8 rebounds per contest in the regular season. 

Without Saric, Frank Kaminsky will get more time, but this is a blow for the Suns. Hopefully, for Saric, he can get himself right for next season.

Suns’ Paul: ‘I just kept thinking, if we do what we’re supposed to do, I get the last laugh’

Phoenix Suns point guard Chris Paul has made it to the NBA Finals! Paul scored 31 of his game-high 41 points in the second half, including 19 points in the fourth quarter, as the Suns defeated the Clippers 130-103 in Game 6 of the Western Conference finals at Staples Center on Wednesday night. With the win, Phoenix will make the NBA Finals for the first time since 1993.

According to ESPN Stats & Info, Paul’s 31 points in the second half is the most he’s scored in the second half in his career(regular season and playoffs). 

In addition, the 36-year-old Paul, who scored 37 points in a series-clinching win against the Nuggets in the second round, became the oldest player in postseason history with 35 points in consecutive close-out games within a postseason, according to ESPN Stats & Info.

The 16-year veteran struggled with his shot in the team’s Game 5 loss against the Clippers, but Suns head coach Monty Williams knew that Paul could have a breakout performance in this series, and it came at the right time.

“I’ve told you guys from the jump I wanted to stay out of his way,” Williams said postgame. “There were questions about his production before tonight, and in my heart, I felt like it was a matter of time. I didn’t know it was going to be like that, but that’s who Chris(Paul) is. He was tired, and he was still making those kinds of plays — getting to the basket, the threes, orchestrating everything.”

Paul, who spent six seasons with the Clippers, broke Los Angeles with his performance in the second half, and the Suns knew that when Patrick Beverley shoved Paul in the back after a Clippers’ timeout in the fourth quarter. Beverley would get ejected, and Phoenix continued to pour it on.

“Over the years, people talk junk to me, and a lot of times I usually say something back, but I done changed a little,” Paul said. “A little. A little. And I just kept thinking, if we do what we’re supposed to do, I get the last laugh. So you stay the course long enough, you break ’em, and that’s what we did.”

Jae Crowder, who scored 19 points in Game 6, added on Beverley’s shove: “They broke. We know we broke them. There’s no better sign of defeat than knowing that moment, that moment where it’s like competition meets and we just — you can’t do anything else to help your team overcome that situation. He just broke. That’s what we were trying to reach.”

Paul, who was traded to the Suns by the Thunder last offseason, getting to this point was not easy. He’s suffered untimely injuries in past years during the playoffs and had untimely injuries this postseason(shoulder, COVID), but according to Paul, he knew his chance to make it to the Finals would come.

When asked if he ever thought this moment would not happen, Paul said the following:

“No. No. I ain’t built like that. It’s just get to work,” he said. “Get to work. What was it, Game 3, I find out I tore some ligaments in my hand. I said, oh, here we go. But you just — I got an unbelievable team around me.”

Not many people had the Suns in the NBA Finals, but guess what? They’re here, and with home-court advantage in the Finals, injury issues with both the Hawks and Bucks, and based on the way they’re playing, Phoenix has an excellent chance to win a championship.

Watch below as Paul talks making NBA Finals:

Ayton on game-winning dunk: ‘I wasn’t too sure if it counted; I didn’t want it to be a blooper or none of that’

With 8.2 seconds left and the Suns trailing the Clippers 103-102 in Game 2 of the Western Conference finals, Paul George, who led Los Angeles with 26 points, had a chance to put the Clippers up by three, but he missed both free throws.

After Mikal Bridges missed a corner three and ball went out of bounds off the Clippers, it appeared Phoenix’s eight-game postseason winning streak was about to end.

However, something amazing happened with 0.9 seconds left. Jae Crowder threw a beautiful lob pass from underneath the basket to Deandre Ayton, who dunked the ball to give the Suns a 104-103 victory over the Clippers at Phoenix Suns Arena on Tuesday night.

Phoenix has a 2-0 series lead, with Game 3 on Thursday night in Los Angeles.

Cameron Payne, who got his second straight start due to Chris Paul(health and safety protocols) being out, led the Suns with a career-high 29 points and nine assists with zero turnovers, and Devin Booker added 20 points.

The Suns extended their postseason win streak to a franchise-record nine consecutive wins. It ties for the 10th-longest win streak in NBA playoff history. Phoenix is 10-2 this postseason and has not dropped a game since Game 3 against the Lakers on May 27.

Ayton, who recorded his 8th double-double of the postseason with 24 points and a game-high 14 rebounds, gave all the credit to Crowder.

“Well, I’ll start off by saying that’s definitely Jae’s (Crowder) game-winner, making a great pass for a seven-footer,” Ayton said after the game. “Other than that, Coach drew up a great play where I was in the best position. My teammates trust me and my coaches trust me, and Book(Devin Booker) set a great screen that freed me up into the lane to at least gather my feet and go for the ball, and the rest is just off my athleticism and my talent. Jae set it up right there perfectly.”

Suns head coach Monty Williams added: “Credit to Jae, we were trying to get a lob for DA, and he had the awareness to put it up there where DA could only get it. Book sets a great screen, Jae makes a great pass. It’s just one of those things that happens where you’re just grateful for.”

According to Ayton, this was the best play of his career.

“I wasn’t too sure if it counted,” Ayton said. “I didn’t want it to be a blooper or none of that. I just wanted to get to the next play, or the refs confirm what it is. I was just so anxious. I was really stressed. It was a lot. I’m looking at the fans; I’m looking at the environment. It was a lot, but that was my best play, and I tried to embrace it.”

The Clippers have been in this spot before. Los Angeles has been down 0-2 in every series in these playoffs, and according to Patrick Beverley, who got the start in Game 2, the Clippers will find a way to get back into this series.

“I don’t think you like to start two games in the hole,” he said. “I don’t think that’s our plan. This game, I’ve played a lot of games in this league, this one’s hard. This one goes up there. This is a hard game to kind of swallow because you look at this game, I mean, we got this game won, you know. But we’ve been in the trenches before. We respond well in the trenches. We’ll respond well. We always do.”

This series is not over because we know how resilient the Clippers have been in the playoffs, but they will have to make up another 0-2 deficit, and they will probably have to do it without Kawhi Leonard, who missed his third straight game with a sprained knee.

With the possibility of Paul coming back in this series, Phoenix has the advantage. However, Los Angeles has been here before. Let’s see if it matters going forward.

Notes:

-Cam Johnson scored 11 points off the bench in 24 minutes of action tonight. Johnson has scored in double figures in both  games against the Clippers this series after scoring 10-plus points just three times in Phoenix’s first 10 games this postseason. 

-Dario Saric scored 11 points tonight, the most points he’s scored this postseason. Saric added 3 rebounds and 2 assists in 13  minutes of action off the bench.  

-After taking a four-point lead into the fourth quarter tonight, the Suns moved to 9-0 this postseason when leading after three quarters of play. The Suns were 41-7 in such games during the regular season.

 

Suns’ Williams on Paul: ‘What could you say other than he was darn-near perfect all night long’

When the Phoenix Suns acquired Chris Paul from the OKC Thunder in the offseason, they got a veteran who can guide a solid collection of young talent, and based on what’s going on in these playoffs, the Suns made the right move.

On Sunday night, the Phoenix Suns defeated the Denver Nuggets 125-118 in Game 4 of the Western Conference semifinals to sweep the series and advance to the Western Conference finals.

Paul was remarkable in this game. The 11-time All-Star scored 37 points on 14/19 shooting and seven assists. He was exceptional in the third quarter. Paul was 6-6 from the field with 12 points, and as they have done in every game this series, Phoenix outscored the Nuggets in the third quarter and took a 95-83 lead into the fourth quarter.

At one point, Paul made eight straight midrange jumpers. According to StatMuse, Paul scored 37 points without taking a three-point shot, which ties Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for the most points ever without a three-point field attempt by a 36-year old or older in a playoff game.

According to Suns head coach Monty Williams, Paul played a relatively perfect game.

“What could you say other than he was darn-near perfect all night long,” Williams said. “Scoring the ball, managing the clock, he and I had communication throughout the game on what was working.”

Paul, who got a sweep for the first time in his career and is back in the conference finals for the first time since 2018, showed the world that he still has a lot of basketball left in him. In this series, he averaged 25.5 points and 10.2 assists per game, with only five turnovers.

“A couple years ago, they were writing me off,” Paul told TNT’s Chris Haynes after the game. “You can’t do this.’ This ain’t about me; it’s about us. Shows what you can do when you come together as a team. We’ve got a great team over there, and it’s a lot of fun to be a part of it.” 

Paul was not the only guy that stepped up for Phoenix in Game 4. Devin Booker had another big closeout game. Booker scored 34 points and grabbed 11 rebounds on Sunday night. In the first-round series against the Lakers, Booker scored 47 points in the series-clinching win. Also, Booker and Paul became the first Suns’ teammates to score 30-plus in a playoff game since 2005.

The Suns now focus on the Western Conference finals, and after winning seven straight in the playoffs, it’s clear this team has a great rhythm, and if Paul stays healthy, Phoenix will be a tough out for the Jazz, Clippers, or anybody in the NBA. 

With size(Deandre Ayton), and excellent guard play, Phoenix can win an NBA title; it’s just that simple.

Suns’ Williams on Paul: ‘He’s putting guys in position to score the ball, but again, he’s done that his whole career’

The Phoenix Suns are one win away from getting to the Western Conference Finals after defeating the Denver Nuggets 116-102 at Ball Arena on Friday night.

Phoenix has a commanding 3-0 series lead with an opportunity to sweep this second-round best-of-seven-series in Game 4 in Denver on Sunday night. 

The Suns have not been to the conference finals since 2010.

All five Suns’ starters scored in double figures, led by Devin Booker’s 28 points, six rebounds, and four assists, Chris Paul’s 27 points, eight assists, and six rebounds, and Deandre Ayton had 10 points and 15 rebounds.

Nikola Jokic, who received his MVP trophy on Friday night, had a triple-double and led the Nuggets with 32 points, 20 rebounds, and 10 assists—joining Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Wilt Chamberlain as the only two others players in NBA history to have a 30/20/10 game in the playoffs.

The Suns had another big third quarter in Game 3 and outscored the Nuggets 31-21 on Friday night. In total, Phoenix has outscored Denver by 29 points in the third quarter this series.

The moment Paul got right from the shoulder injury was the moment Phoenix started to take off in these playoffs. The Suns have won six straight in the playoffs by an average of 17 points per game. Paul has 34 assists and three turnovers in this series against the Nuggets. Also, Paul has been magical in the fourth quarter in this series against Denver; Paul has scored 30 points, including eight points on Friday night, on 12-13 from the field, with eight assists and zero turnovers. 

“He an unbelievable basketball player, but he has an unbelievable mind and will to play the game,” Suns head coach Monty Williams said about Paul. “So, I’m not even sure he even thinks about the turnovers. I think he’s just trying to make the right plays. He’s putting guys in position to score the ball, but again, he’s done that his whole career.

Despite being down 3-0, Denver Nuggets head coach Michael Malone, whose team came back from 3-1 twice in the playoffs last season, hopes his team can be the first to overcome a 3-0 deficit in the playoffs in NBA history.

“As far as the 3-0 deficit, yes, history is not on our side,” Malone said. “But you know what? We have rewritten history the last couple of years. When we were down 3-1 twice last year, it was never about trying to win three more games. It was about winning the next game, winning the first quarter, winning the second quarter, and that’s got to be our mindset.”

Denver appears to be a team that has run out of gas. They are without their second-best player in point guard Jamal Murray, which puts more pressure on Jokic, who can’t do any more than what he did on Friday night. 

This series probably over. No one has come back from 3-0 in NBA history, and barring a miracle, it probably does not happen in this series.

Suns’ Monty Williams letter on death of George Floyd

Protests have rocked the United States after the death of George Floyd, who died after an altercation with police in Minnesota.

On Sunday, Suns head coach Monty Williams wrote a beautiful letter about the death of Floyd and more. 

Read below:

I’m angry. I’m afraid. And I’m in pain.

“When I read those words, I feel like I’m channeling one of my kids. These are the words of a teenager lost and looking for direction in a messed-up world, not the sentiment of an NBA head coach and former player.

We’re supposed to have all of the answers.

We’re supposed to be seen as grace under pressure.

We’re supposed to lead by example.

Still, I am angry, afraid and in pain. I don’t have all the answers, but I know the solutions start with love, listening, compassion, service and defending those who can’t defend themselves.

And I have definitely lost my cool over the years in the face of abject racism – dating back to my earliest memories growing up in Colonial Virginia – and likely more in the days to come.

I woke up this morning to our country on fire, AGAIN, and decided the least I can do as so many of us are gripped by anger, fear and pain is to lead by example. Allow my voice – filled with as much conviction as uncertainty – to be heard so that others, whether they have a platform or not, will lift their voices as well.

I pray for those we have lost but more personally for those who have lost – the families of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd and so many before you. I know how it feels to get that call that someone you love isn’t coming home. The pit in your stomach. The unequivocal feeling of helplessness. Dropping to your knees and imploring God “why?” I feel your pain and can truly sympathize and empathize. I wish no one would ever have to receive that call again.

To my brothers and sisters from around the sports world, and in full transparency, help me. I’m looking for direction. I may not be the most profound or prolific – I know there are others with their own platforms out there telling yourself the same things – but we have an opportunity and I daresay, an obligation. How can we help each other find that direction?

I best sum it up in 1 John 3:17…

But whoever has the world’s goods, and sees his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him?”

We have earned positions of wealth and standing in society. We certainly cannot stand idly by.

I’m distraught as I look at my boys – two are African American and one is Caucasian – because too many people see them differently. None of them should have to think about how law enforcement will treat them if pulled over for rolling through a stop sign. None of them should be followed through a department store by security. None of them should feel the sweat rolling down their back when a cop follows them for blocks. Alas, their worlds are different, and something is wrong with that.

Don’t misread me. I have as much respect for most law enforcement as I do disdain for some of the would-be protesters.

To those who have sworn to protect and serve ALL people regardless of color, religion or sexual orientation, I say thank you. We have an institutional problem with pervasive racism. It must end now.

To those who are using the façade of a protest or march by choosing to destroy and tear down, I challenge you to be better. As I tell my players, I’m not calling you out, I’m calling you up. Destruction of property and life is NOT the answer.

“It IS time to raze the institutional foundations of racism and segregation within politics, law enforcement and society at large. It must happen NOW.

Borrowing from C.S. Lewis, “you can’t go back and change the beginning, but you can start where you are and change the ending.”

We must be the change now.”

Suns GM Jones: ‘Monty Williams and I are disappointed in the actions by Deandre Ayton’

On Thursday, the NBA announced that Phoenix Suns C Deandre Ayton was suspended 25 games for violating the league’s anti-drug policy. The former number overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft tested positive for a diuretic, which have been known to hide PED usage.

Phoenix Suns General Manager James Jones released the following statement on Ayton’s suspension:

“On behalf of the Phoenix Suns organization, Monty Williams and I are disappointed in the actions by Deandre Ayton that led to his testing positive for a banned diuretic and subsequent suspension by the NBA. This does not uphold the standards and principles we have set for the team.”

“Deandre has expressed his deepest remorse. While he is suspended we remain committed to his growth and development on and off the court. His actions are not taken lightly, and we are committed to ensuring that Deandre understands the profound impact it has had on the team, organization, and Suns community.”

Earlier tonight, Deandre Ayton released the following statement:

“I want to apologize to my family, the entire Suns organization, my teammates, partners, our fans and the Phoenix community. This was an unintentional mistake and unfortunately I put something in my body that I was completely unaware of. I do understand the unfortunate impact that this has on so many others, and for that I am deeply sorry. I’m extremely disappointed that I’ve let my team down. I will continue to work with the Players’ Union (NBPA) to go through the arbitration process and am hopeful for a positive resolution.”