The right to be called world champs is on now that the NBA Finals is all knotted up at 2-2 with the Phoenix Suns and the Milwaukee Bucks in a virtual dead heat in the best-of-seven series. Game 4 was a good example of what the series has become.
While the Suns led for the majority of the game, the Bucks eventually edged them out in the end, securing a 109-103 win and sending the series back to Phoenix for Game 5.
“It’s tough but I think we, the group that was out there was holding it down, defending at a high level,” Phoenix guard Devin Booker said after the game. “It’s just, we have to close possessions and that’s obviously something that hurt us tonight.”
It was a game full of hard fouls, gritty defense and high octane offense with Booker having a game-high 42 points and Milwaukee’s Khris Middleton close behind at 40 points. Booker would prefer to trade those 42 points he scored for a win.
“It doesn’t matter at all,” Booker said about his scoring onslaught in Game 4. “I said that after last game too, when I struggled shooting it. The main objective is to win the game. So anything that goes on throughout the game, it doesn’t matter, for real.”
The Suns started the game looking to go to center Deandre Ayton before quickly switching it up and running a high pick and roll for Booker for the majority of the game thereafter. The most impressive part of the entire game was Booker’s 42 points coming solely from the mid-range, the paint and free throws.
In an era focused on the three-ball, Booker reminded us all how deadly shots inside the perimeter can be. 24 of Middleton’s 40 points also came from the mid-range and painted area, as these two shot creators ended up going blow for blow down the stretch with Middleton and the Bucks eventually coming out on top.
The Bucks started this series down 0-2, dropping both games in Phoenix. Now they head back to Phoenix for a crucial game five, one that could potentially secure them the series.
“We kept telling ourselves you’re always in the game no matter what,” Middleton said. “What we do here we gotta do there.”
Both teams had important players in foul trouble for the majority of the game. Booker ended up with five fouls, some of which kept him on the bench during key minutes of the game. Jae Crowder had five fouls as well as did P.J. Tucker, which meant the seventh and eighth men in their shortened lineups played important minutes in this game.
Booker ended the first half with 20 points, then proceeded to have an incredible third quarter, scoring 18 points on 7-7 shooting despite sitting out a few minutes due to foul trouble. His consistent scoring kept the Suns in the game, but he could not do it alone.
While Booker had an off Game 3, Chris Paul had a bad game 4, making just 5 of 13 shot attempts and scoring only 10 points. Paul also had four turnovers, some coming during key momentum-shifting moments for the Bucks. Paul’s poor night could be attributed to the tough defense Milwaukee guard Jrue Holiday played on him.
“I think it’s just making him uncomfortable,” Holiday said. “Always keeping bodies behind him, two and three people and not really just getting a clear view of what he wants to do. It’s not me by myself. It’s definitely a team effort.”
During the time Booker spent on the bench due to foul trouble, Cameron Johnson came up with some important baskets for the Suns. He ended the game with only 10 points, but they were a very important 10 points from a very important young player.
Phoenix head coach Monty Williams made sure to let his team know in the locker room that while they let the Bucks tie up the series, they were still in the race.
“We’re in this situation because we put ourselves in this situation,” Williams said. “We got three games to win two, that’s how you gotta look at it. You can’t have your heads down, you gotta stay together.”
The Bucks started the game going to Giannis Antetokounmpo in the post and his usual tactic of overpowering matchups at the rim, but the Greek Freak did not have the same intensity as the prior two games.
While Antetokounmpo ended the game with 26 points and 14 boards, Middleton and the supporting cast really stepped up in important moments of this game. Everyone from Jrue Holiday to Brook Lopez ran the break effectively and often, making precision outlet passes and finishing strong at the rim.
Speaking of Middleton, his performance in game four and in these playoffs in general should be enough for the constant Internet Middleton slander to halt. Without Middleton, the Bucks would not be in the position they are in these playoffs, and he deserves the respect of being called a reliable second option in the NBA.
Holiday had a tough shooting game, ended the game 0-5 from deep and 4-20 shooting on the night. He has struggled for the majority of this series on offense, but has tried his best to make up for his shooting woes with ball movement and effort on defense and on the boards.
He ended the game with 13 points, seven assists, seven rebounds and three steals while doing his best to keep up with a red-hot Devin Booker for the majority of the game.
The most controversial moment of the game came late in the fourth quarter with a controversial no-call on Booker as Jrue Holiday attempted a fast-break layup. This would have been Booker’s sixth and final foul and the no-call leaves some wondering if the refs missed the call on purpose to keep Booker in the game.
Fans want to see Booker play, and if any conspiracy theorists need potential evidence of the NBA having the refs keep an agenda that will make the league more money, they could use this clip.
The night ended with the Fiserv Forum chanting “Bucks in 6.” While this series can easily go seven games, there is no doubt that the momentum is currently on the side of Milwaukee.
Can home court advantage tip the scales back in the favor of the Suns? Game 5 is Saturday at 6 p.m. Pacific time and can be the tipping point of the series for either team.