Rapid reaction to Milwaukee’s 109-103 Finals win over Phoenix …
- Final stat line for Khris Middleton: 40 points (on 15-of-33 shooting), six rebounds, four assists (against just one turnover) in a grueling 43 minutes of work. The Middleton-Devin Booker duel was not the one we expected at the beginning of the playoffs. But it’s the one we got, and we now know there will be at least two more of them. There was a time Middleton was perceived as an All-Star largely because of the success of his team. The Bucks—often at or near the top of the conference in recent seasons—had to have more than one All-Star, right? These Finals have firmly established Middleton as one of the top two guards in the NBA.
- The good for Booker: a game-high 42 points. The bad: 38 of them came in the first three quarters, when Booker was sizzling from midrange (he attempted just three three-pointers) and carving the Bucks up in the paint. The turning point in Game 4 unquestionably came in the opening minute of the fourth quarter, when Booker picked up his fifth foul, forcing him out of the game until just under the six minute mark—and taking him completely out of rhythm.
- Do yourself a favor: Check out Giannis Antetokounmpo’s block of DeAndre Ayton with 1:14 to play in the fourth quarter. It was everything great about Giannis defensively: the quickness to recover after helping on Booker on a pick-and-roll and the length and strength to swat away a dunk attempt by a seven-footer at the rim. That was a LeBron James-level block by Booker that prevented Phoenix from tying the game in the closing minute.
- Giannis, by the way, saw his streak of 40-plus point Finals games end at two, but his 26-point, 14-rebound, eight-assist, three-steal, two-block effort is the kind the Bucks will take every game. This truly is a breakout postseason for one of the NBA’s top players.
- Are we worried about Chris Paul? Paul followed up a quiet Game 3 (19 points, nine assists) with a dreadful Game 4 (10 points, seven assists with five turnovers). Credit Jrue Holiday: Holiday has been all over Paul the last two games, picking him up before he reaches half court and using his strength and length to hound him all over the floor. The Suns have firepower but Paul is the engine. He will need to figure out Holiday’s defense as this series shifts back to Phoenix.
- Speaking of Holiday, the Bucks win took the spotlight off of what was a brutal offensive effort. Holiday finished with 13 points on 4-of-20 shooting, marking the third time this series he has shot 34% of lower. Holiday is still incredibly valuable defensively but Milwaukee isn’t deep enough offensively to survive too many more bad nights.
- Monty Williams went with an eight-man rotation in Game 4, and with Dario Saric out I’d expect that to continue for the rest of this series. After tinkering with expanded minutes for Frank Kaminsky in Game 3, Williams stayed small in the minutes Ayton sat, and Phoenix had some success. The real test will be if Ayton gets into foul trouble again, as he did in Game 3. The Suns simply aren’t deep enough with big men Williams trusts.
I’m generally pro referee—these men and women take a lot of hits, but they make the right calls more often than they don’t— but the NBA has some explaining to do after what the world saw late in this one. With 3 ½ minutes to play and the Bucks up three, Jrue Holiday went in for a transition layup and was mauled by Booker. Mauled. There’s simply no way a referee could look at that play and not call a foul. Booker actually fouled Holiday twice.
Here’s how crew chief James Capers—who was the closest official to the play—explained the no call to a pool reporter after the game.
“During live play, I saw a clean sweep of the ball and thought it was a no call,” Capers said. “However, after seeing the replay, I now realize that I missed Booker’s right arm around the waist of Holiday, and it should have been a defensive foul on the play.”
OK. Except it was not a clean sweep of the ball. Not even close. Booker raked Holiday’s arm after he grabbed him around the waist. The reflexive reaction: Capers knew the foul would be Booker’s sixth and didn’t want to knock him out of the game. Watch the replay—it’s hard to look at it any other way. If I’m the NBA, I find a way to get out in front of this one, quickly. Because that was a bad, bad look.
- Hey USA Basketball fans: Don’t expect Booker, Middleton and Holiday to be heavy contributors in Tokyo in a couple of weeks. I wonder what any of them will have left in the tank when this series is over.
More NBA Finals Coverage:
• Bobby Portis Is the Bucks’ Unsung Hero
• Suns' Synergy in Its Starting Unit Propels Finals Run
• Suns’ Development Program Mines Another Gem in Cam Johnson
• Giannis Antetokounmpo’s Latest Rite of Passage? The Superstar Who Needs Help