PHOENIX — The Milwaukee Bucks continued their march to the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference by winning for the fifth time in six games with a 116-104 victory over the Phoenix Suns on Tuesday night at Footprint Center.
The Bucks are the first NBA team to reach 50 wins this season and earn a playoff berth.
“We made the playoffs?” Giannis Antetokounmpo asked facetiously with a smile. “No way! We did it? Man! For real? Oh man, that feels good. Yeah, that feels good.
“I have to keep playing, keep trying to compete, develop good habits. I think the last three games we’ve played in a playoff atmosphere, that’s really good for us. It’s really good for us from losing a game, being down by 10, coming back into play, being ahead by 10, they came back and we kept our cool and won the game by 10. It was good.
“It makes him stronger. I’m happy that we are able to win and be the first team to clinch the playoffs.”
The Bucks remain three games ahead of the Boston Celtics in the loss column with a 50-19 record. The Suns fell to 37-32.
The Bucks are the first to clinch a playoff berth
The Bucks have kept their eyes on the long-term goal all season, which has been playoff basketball. Every step of the way, from roster changes to injury management to playstyle adjustments, has been made with this in mind. After advancing to first place in the Eastern Conference, they were asked about seeding and home-court advantage, questions they acknowledged but largely dismissed with an eye to the bigger picture. .
But on Tuesday, one piece of the bigger picture fell firmly into place as the Bucks became the first NBA team to officially secure their ticket to the 2022-23 playoffs.
“We just mentioned it in the coaches’ locker room to appreciate that,” Bucks head coach Mike Budenholzer said. “Making the playoffs in this league is tough. You should never take anything for granted.
“We have a special team and our focus, effort and desire to keep improving, sometimes I just forget to celebrate and I have to improve and I have to improve.”
THE SCORE OF THE BOXDollars 116, Suns 104
There are still 13 games left in the regular season, and the focus is indeed a bit more on consolidating home-court advantage. It’s the next step in the process of getting to the playoffs on a roll.
“I think we played well,” said Jrue Holiday. on the section.
Wesley Matthews accepted.
“Keep improving every day,” he said of what’s next for the Bucks. “Don’t take anything for granted, don’t take health for granted, take care of your body, take care of your mind and be ready to show up for work.”
Giannis Antetokounmpo posts consecutive dominating matches
Antetokounmpo returned to the field for the first time since March 5 Monday night in Sacramento and scored 46 points in 34 minutes, and he backed that up with a 36-point night against the Suns on Tuesday. It was the fifth straight streak he’s played, and the Bucks are 10-0 in those games. (He’s missed one or both games of four others, and the Bucks are 3-1 in Game 2 of those sets).
Phoenix struggled to slow Antetokounmpo on the defensive end, especially when he fould Suns center Deandre Ayton twice in the first quarter. This forced the Suns to put smaller players on the 7-footer, and they did about as well as expected.
Antetokounmpo scored 20 points in 15 minutes of the first half as the Bucks took a 57-48 lead at the break, making 7 of 11 shots and 6 of 10 free throws. He also had nine rebounds and five assists, all of which led to three points.
He scored 14 points in the second half and helped the Bucks hold off a late Suns charge by assisting a Wesley Matthews three-pointer and then scoring five straight to tie the game at 92.
Antetokounmpo nearly recorded a triple-double with eight assists to go along with his 11 rebounds, but he was just 14 for 24 from the free throw line.
Second chances and triples are key to Bucks win
Phoenix entered the game as the seventh-best offensive rebounding team in the league, an area the Bucks have fallen victim to at times throughout the year — even as recently as their loss to Golden State (18 for 24 second chance points) to begin the road trip.
Suns head coach Monty Williams said it had become a priority for his team over the past two years, and before the game he said it was an important part of what they had to do offensively. And the Suns were active in that area, but the Bucks matched that intensity as defensive rebounders and kept Phoenix from possessing an edge in that area.
In fact, it was the Bucks who crushed the stronger offensive glass and scored 19 second-chance points. The Suns meanwhile had just eight offensive rebounds for seven second-chance points.
“That was the game plan,” Jae Crowder said. “Just try to get some extra possessions. These guys do a good job crashing into the corners. They killed us at home doing that and we were aware of that, so we just wanted to try and clean that up and try to keep making those guys on that side pay on the offensive glass.”
And while the Bucks didn’t have a great night shooting from behind the three-point line (12 for 39), they still made four more than the Suns, an advantage that no midfield shot count -distance of Devin Booker and Chris Paul could not overcome. The Bucks are one of the best teams in the league in three-point percentage from the opposition, but the Suns just didn’t put that many (23) to increase their chances of taking an overall lead after taking some delay of 15.
The game of the game was Pat Connaughton’s third corner quarterback
The Bucks wing started in place of Khris Middleton and scored eight points on 2-of-6 shooting, but his second field goal was huge With the game tied at 97 with 6:32 to go, Connaughton salvaged an assist from Joe Ingles cornered and knocked down a three-pointer to put the Bucks up for good at 100-97. It kicked off an 8-0 run, which allowed the Bucks to put the Suns out for good.
9-1 Bucks record in second straight game.
“You could say it’s a secret recipe for playing better or winning two games in a row, but it’s not,” Antetokounmpo said. “Our bodies are tired. Arriving at the hotel at 2:30 a.m. Playing one of the best offenses in the league the night before, one of the fastest teams in the NBA that you have to sit down and keep and you have to move your feet It’s not easy.
“Then you wake up and you don’t have an easy game. You’re playing the Phoenix Suns, which to me is probably one of the top three, one of the best teams in the West. You know that they always play hard and they always have It’s not easy.
“It’s an effort now. It’s all in our minds. Are we going to go in there and try to fold and give up the game because we’re tired and in a bit of pain? Or are we going to try and fight for and put ourselves in a position to win the game? This year with the squad we have, we are still trying to fight for that.”
17 Third-quarter points for Devin Booker, on 7-of-10 shooting. He helped bring the Suns from 14 points early in the quarter to just an 85-84 deficit going into the fourth. The Suns put the ball in his hands as Deandre Ayton was sent to the bench with five fouls. Booker finished with 30 points.
23-3 Bucks record since Jan. 16.
16,000 Career points for Antetokounmpo when he picked up his 12e overnight in the second trimester. He became the 115e player in NBA history to reach that plateau.
02/16/23 Date of Wesley Matthews’ last game. He suffered a sprained calf against the Bulls that night and missed the next 10 games. Matthews returned against the Suns on Tuesday night.
“It was long. Longer than I expected,” Matthews said. “But we have a good team, everyone helped me. And keeping my mind straight was the most important thing. Keeping my mind straight and staying ready, staying on point and going out there without thinking about it.”
Video of the match is Giannis’ 16,000th point
Only 115 players in NBA history have scored that many career points, and Antetokounmpo joined this club on Tuesday night with a second-quarter free throw. He is the all-time leading scorer in franchise history.
Khris Middleton held on
The Bucks held Ingles in Sacramento for left knee injury management, as head coach Mike Budenholzer said “for him, long term, and what we’re doing was important (retaining him ).”
The natural follow-up was if the move worked in tandem with Middleton, who played against the Kings, sitting in Phoenix.
“Yes,” Budenholzer said emphatically.
Middleton is yet to play in a straight this season.
Who do the Bucks play next?
Milwaukee returns home and hosts Oshkosh star Tyrese Haliburton and the Indiana Pacers at 7 p.m. Thursday at Fiserv Forum. With Haliburton (20.8 points, 10.4 assists), the Pacers get points from big man Myles Turner (18.0) and sniper Buddy Hield (17.1). Former Bucks player Jordan Nwora is averaging 12 points off the Pacers bench.
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