The NBA Finals is now a best of three.
Khris Middleton erupted for 40 points as the Milwaukee Bucks staged a late fourth-quarter comeback to overcome a 42-point performance from Devin Booker and come away with a 109-103 victory over the Phoenix Suns Wednesday to even the NBA Finals up 2-2.
Giannis Antetokounmpo had another strong performance for Milwaukee, with a 26-point, 14-rebound, eight-assist line on 11-of-19 shooting.
Phoenix looked to be in control of the game entering the fourth quarter, carrying a six-point lead heading into the final period, which quickly ballooned to nine points after Cameron Johnson drilled a triple to open the frame.
After that Johnson three, though, the Bucks would go on a 25-16 run to eventually take the lead with 1:28 left to play and never look back.
The series will now shift back to Phoenix for Game 5 on Saturday with at least a Game 6 also to play in Milwaukee on Tuesday.
Here are a few takeaways from an entertaining Game 4 of the NBA Finals Wednesday night.
Middleton comes up clutch
After a solid Game 1 performance, Middleton hasn’t been up to the standard Milwaukee’s needed of him in these Finals.
Until Wednesday night that is.
It’s not just that he went off for 40 points on efficient 15-of-33 shooting, it was the timeliness of Middleton’s scoring during Game 4.
Booker had it going early and often for Phoenix, going for 20 alone in the first half — double his Game 3 output — and 18 in the third quarter.
However, his impact was mitigated because Middleton was going shot-for-shot with him during part of the third quarter, allowing the Bucks to keep within striking distance. Then, in the fourth, Middleton took over, scoring 14 in the period as part of Milwaukee’s big comeback that included a stretch that saw him score six straight for the Bucks that tied the game up, gave Milwaukee the lead and then put the Bucks up by four after an incredible Antetokounmpo block (more on this later) to, essentially, seal the deal for Milwaukee.
For as great a player that Antetokounmpo is, Middleton is the Bucks’ best overall shot-maker and is their best option in clutch moments when they need a bucket.
Wednesday was a good reminder of this fact.
THE BLOCK. pic.twitter.com/ZzzRJ2f6MI
— Milwaukee Bucks (@Bucks) July 15, 2021
An all-time block
Despite the television broadcast apparently not deeming it all that important this block from Antetokounmpo on an attempted Deandre Ayton alley-oop with just about a minute left to play in the game was probably the singular most important play of the game as it setup Middleton’s dagger lay-up on the other end.
It was also just plain incredible.
The amount of ground Antetokounmpo covers to even get to Ayton, let alone to cleanly turn his dunk attempt aside — and keep it inbounds so Milwaukee can go on a fastbreak — is simply astounding and borderline impossible.
Unless you’re Giannis Antetokounmpo that is.
The man is appropriately nicknamed a freak in the best way possible.
Humans simply don’t make this play.
Foul trouble spoils Booker’s huge night
Booker was on one in Game 4.
He exploded for 42 points on 17-of-28 shooting and didn’t even make a single three-pointer.
Unfortunately for him and his Suns, his effort was all for naught and a big reason for that was because of the foul trouble he was in all night Wednesday.
He picked up his fifth foul with 10:50 left to play in the fourth quarter and didn’t return to the game until the 5:55 mark when it was clear that all momentum was shifting Milwaukee’s way.
And, in all honesty, Booker probably should’ve been called for a sixth foul multiple times the rest of the way but the officials appeared to swallow their whistles for him to close the game.
Still, the damage was done. Booker was on an incredible roll and he took himself out of the game by often being too aggressive on defence.
Yes, Suns coach Monty Williams could’ve tried to trust Booker to play with five fouls, and probably should’ve got him back in earlier than he did, but that all would’ve been a moot point had Booker been just a little smarter.
The Point God looks very mortal
There’s something really weird going on with Chris Paul right now.
In Game 4 he was poor, scoring just 10 points on 5-for-13 shooting, but what was most head-scratching was the five turnovers he committed.
Historically, Paul has been a sure, low-turnover player but during these Finals he’s been very uncharacteristic in the amount of times he’s coughed the ball up.
Including the five he committed in Game 4, Paul has now turned the ball over 17 times in this series. And to put that into context, Paul committed just 22 turnovers through the first three rounds of the playoffs combined.
A major reason behind Phoenix’s success is this is a team that doesn’t make too many mistakes and beats itself. However, that trend has fallen by the wayside during these past two games in Milwaukee with Paul and his whole team turning the ball over a lot with the Suns turning it over 17 times Wednesday to follow up Game 3’s 14 turnovers.
Of course, there should be some credit given to the Bucks’ defence and the pressure their length appears to be putting on Phoenix, but it shouldn’t be to this degree, especially for a Hall-of-Fame calibre point guard like Paul.
Over the next two days, this will be something the Suns have to clean up.