The Milwaukee Bucks took care of business in Game 3 of the NBA Finals to secure their first win of the series as they dominated the Phoenix Suns 120-100. The Bucks went on a 30-9 run to blow the game wide open in the final minutes of the third quarter off of some big plays from Jrue Holiday and Giannis Antetokounmpo. Devin Booker shot 3-14 from the field and sat the whole fourth quarter, a sign that perhaps Phoenix was willing to take this one on the chin and look forward to Game 4 as early as the end of the third quarter.
Giannis was fantastic once more, as he led the Bucks with his second consecutive game with at least 40 points and 10 rebounds, joining Shaquille O'Neal as the only player to accomplish such a feat in the NBA Finals. Once again, though, the game's story was at the foul line, which Coach Monty Williams addressed in the postgame press conference.
"We had sixteen free throws as a team and one guy on their team (Giannis) had seventeen."
Monty Williams, postgame press conference
Giannis shot 17 of the Bucks' 26 free throw attempts (and made 13 of them) last night, which means that Milwaukee went to the line 10 times more than Phoenix. No one outright mentioned why this might have been the case, but if you have been following the Suns' playoff journey and, more importantly, Chris Paul's, there is an explanation that might do some fans justice.
"We need to try and limit their free throws… If I was a betting man, eleven games in a row, eleven games in a row, we'll see what happens… eleven in a row is tough"
Chris Paul, Lakers vs. Suns Game 3 postgame Interview.
Last night's loss means that Chris Paul has yet to win any of the previous twelve playoff games he's played that were officiated by veteran referee Scott Foster. However peculiar this might be, there seems to be no objective basis to any claim that Scott Foster simply wants Chris Paul to lose and is trying to influence the outcome of Paul's games just to satisfy that. The numbers actually tell a different story.
In the last 10 playoff games that Scott Foster has officiated and Chris Paul has played, the numbers might surprise you:
Free throws per game
Chris Paul's team: 26.3
Opposing team: 27.4
Fouls per game
Chris Paul's team: 22.6
Opposing team: 23.2
The stats above suggest that the concern on Paul's end is unwarranted. Chris' teams shoot one less free throw than their opponents when Scott Foster is officiating despite being called for more fouls. If Foster was imposing his will on the game trying to get Paul's teams to lose, it is fair to assume that these numbers would look very different. How then do we explain Coach Monty's concerns? How do we also make sense of CP3's terrible record with Scott Foster officiating? Is he just plain bad luck for Paul?
Giannis was an absolute monster tonight as he dropped 41 points, 13 rebounds and 6 assists on 60% from the field and 76% from the foul line. He had similar numbers in Game 2, but how he attacked the Suns on offense was pure brilliance. Giannis went to work in the paint almost exclusively last night, punishing Phoenix's defense and forcing them to go into a small lineup in hopes of moving the big men of Milwaukee out on the perimeter. When Phoenix went small, Giannis lived even deeper in the paint, and when he tried to get the ball on the perimeter, court general Jrue Holiday would remind him to get better position inside.
This concerted effort by the Bucks to attack the small lineup of the Suns caused numerous trips to the foul line for the Greek Freek, whereas Phoenix was kept out of the paint and forced to take mid-range jumpers as Milwaukee's bigs lorded over the shaded area. Ultimately, this is why Phoenix shot fewer free throws than Milwaukee. They did not play Ayton and Booker as much, causing them to live on the perimeter for most of the game. Not to mention, the game plan of every team to stop Giannis is to send him to the line. The statement from Monty is a little surprising since this was likely also a part of his game plan.
As for the CP3-Scott Foster duel, Foster's presence in the game does not affect the game's outcome, and it is time to put this narrative to the rest. If there is any frustration on Paul's end, perhaps it is because of the sheer nature of Scott as a veteran NBA referee and his unwillingness to reward the antics by Chris Paul, which are often considered to be "tricks of the trade."
We know that Paul is the ultimate competitor and will take every advantage available to him to will his team to victory; perhaps Scott is someone who wants to keep the game as honest as possible by indulging Paul's need to control the game in all aspects. True or not, Chris will get another chance to break the curse in Game 4, as both he and Scott Foster will be suited up as Milwaukee looks to tie the series on their home floor.
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