The Bucks got themselves on the board in the 2021 NBA Finals on Sunday night with an impressive 120-100 win over the Suns in Milwaukee, bouncing back from a pair of losses in Phoenix where they simply looked outclassed. There were a number of differences in Game 3, most notably the Suns going cold (aside from Jae Crowder’s 6-of-7 night) from three-point range and Devin Booker scoring just 10 points, while Milwaukee saw Jrue Holiday and Khris Middleton finally get it going offensively to support another monster 41-point effort from Giannis Antetokounmpo.
A contributing factor to the Suns’ woes was Deandre Ayton getting into foul trouble after dominating the early portion of the game. Ayton had 12 points in the first quarter to lift Phoenix to a three-point lead going to the second, but picked up his fourth foul early in the third quarter and sat the rest of the way. From that point forward, Antetokounmpo and the Bucks absolutely dominated offensively, and Ayton quickly added a fifth foul after returning to start the fourth and wouldn’t play another minute.
There were a couple 50/50 calls on Ayton, but the fourth, in particular, was simply a mental mistake of grabbing Giannis on a second-chance opportunity when he just needed to let him go for a layup given the circumstances of the moment. Ayton not being out there led to lots of Frank Kaminsky minutes, which went disastrously, and small-ball lineups that scored better but likewise stood no chance of containing the Bucks and, especially, Giannis. There were certainly some calls that the Suns could’ve had gripes with, but not to the point of it being decisive in the game.
However, that didn’t stop Monty Williams from pointing out that Giannis attempted more free throws (17) than the Suns did as a team (16) — funnily, seconds after insisting he wouldn’t publicly complain about officiating.
Suns coach Monty Williams on Deandre Ayton’s foul trouble, and the free-throw discrepancy between the Suns and the Bucks pic.twitter.com/ausWiegG0h
— Mark Medina (@MarkG_Medina) July 12, 2021
There were a couple 50/50 calls that went Giannis’ way in Game 3 — most notably an instance when it seemed he crashed into Jae Crowder going to post up and Crowder got hit with the foul — but that was also just a product of Giannis, by himself, being as aggressive as the entire Phoenix team.
Phoenix attempted 16 shots in the restricted area all night and GIannis attempted 12 by himself. Just based on that you'd expect them to have similar FT volume. https://t.co/pkuamPcdcm
— Anchorage Man (@SethPartnow) July 12, 2021
The Suns’ love of the midrange jumper is an advantage in that it’s the shot most defenses are willing to give up, but it’s also just not a shot you get fouls called on very often. Not getting to the rim was the biggest issue in the Suns not getting calls, whereas Giannis was moving downhill all night. On top of that, when Giannis goes downhill, the book on him is to try and foul him to make him take free throws instead of getting layups and dunks, which the Suns did plenty of to willfully accept a foul in exchange for stopping a layup — Giannis just happened to hit 13-of-17 from the stripe.
That doesn’t really matter to Williams, who knows a lot of these things but is still hoping to get a couple of those 50/50 calls to go in the direction of the Suns in Game 4. Still, there are far bigger things for the Suns to correct going into Game 4 than worrying about calls, most notably that if they’re doing what they need to and being more assertive and attacking, the whistles are likely to come.