Phoenix, AZ — —Nothing changes the fact that the Bucks beat the Suns last year in the NBA Finals but the victory eases some of the last year’s pain.
Deandre Ayton poured in 27 points, Mikal Bridges added 18 and the Suns now have the NBA-best record to 45-10 in a rematch of last season’s title series. Chris Paul chipped in 17 points and 19 assists while Devin Booker also scored 17 points in the 131-107 win over the Milwaukee Bucks.
The Suns led by as many as 27 in the fourth and received a standing ovation from the home crowd in the final minutes when the starters checked out of the game.
Paul finished with his 500th career double-double. He’s just the fourth guard in NBA history to accomplish that feat.
“I’m grateful that I still get a chance to play,” Paul said. “And not just play, but I feel like I play at a high level every night. It’s cool.”
The Suns are playing their best brand of late, Phoenix has won 15 of its past 16 games.
“They’re the defending champs — we still hurt,” Suns coach Monty Williams said. “But from a confidence standpoint, for sure, it was a big game for us. I can admit it now.”
The Suns had a difficult time in slowing the Bucks’ offense, especially in the first three quarters. Milwaukee has scored at least 120 points in every game over their past six contests. Giannis Antetokounmpo made 15 of 23 shots from the court, including 15 of 19 from inside the arc, finishing the night dominating in the paint.
Phoenix utilized a 12-4 run to end the second quarter and took a 64-56 lead into the break. Ayton led the Suns with 15 points before the half while Drue Holiday scored 17 points for the Bucks.
Milwaukee had a four-game winning streak snapped. Khris Middleton and Holiday led the Bucks with 21 points apiece. Antetokounmpo had 18 points, eight assists and seven boards.
“They came out and executed,” Holiday said. “We missed a couple of shots. Our defense, I know my defense personally starting in the third quarter was really bad, really bad. They came out and took care of business.”
The game was close throughout most of the first half but the Suns slowly eased away in the third, building a 97-77 advantage going into the fourth quarter. Ayton had an great night shooting the rock— going 12 of 14 from the field displaying his array of moves.
Phoenix took their first lead of the second half at 104-101 when Paul made a deep trey with 11 minutes left in the fourth. Frank Kaminsky made another long ball less than a minute later to push the Suns ahead 107-101.
Booker made a 3-pointer with 2:30 left in the contest to put the Suns up 124-116 but the Bucks pulled to 124-122 with a minute left on Middleton’s three. Antetokounmpo slammed down a dunk on the next possession to tie it at 124 with 50 seconds left.
Booker made a free throw with 32 seconds left that proved to be the difference in the outcome.
“It’s a big win for us,” Suns coach Monty Williams said. “We don’t take wins like this for granted.”
The teams fought to a 32-all tie in the first quarter before the Bucks caught fire from 3-point range and scored 39 points in the second. Milwaukee took a 71-59 lead into the break after shooting 13 of 24 (54%) from long range.
Bucks: Backup forward Bobby Portis scored 10 points and nine rebounds in the first half. Antetokounmpo made 17 free throws, which was a season high. He also shot 17 of 21 on his free throws, which is much higher than his 61% season average.
Suns: The Suns shot 61% from the field in the first quarter. The Suns are expanding ticket capacity to 3,000 fans starting with Tuesday’s game against the Nets. They’ve allowed up to 1,500 fans in the arena for the past three games. Jae Crowder had 14 rebounds. Kaminsky added 14 points, eight rebounds and eight assists.
Bucks: Host the Trail Blazers on Monday.
Suns: Host the Magic on Saturday.