PHOENIX — The Milwaukee Bucks can’t ask for much more from Giannis Antetokounmpo than what he delivered.
The Bucks need to ask for more from guards Jrue Holiday and Khris Middleton.
Playing in his second game since missing the final two of the Eastern Conference finals with a hyperextended left knee, Antetokounmpo had 42 points, 12 rebounds, three assists, three blocks and one steal in the Phoenix Suns’ 118-108 victory against Milwaukee in Game 2 of the NBA Finals on Thursday.
Not that Antetokounmpo can’t do that in the next two games at home in Fiserv Forum. He can. But it feels like the Bucks squandered a tremendous performance from their two-time MVP and a chance to win on the road because Holiday and Middleton had poor offensive performances.
Holiday scored 17 points, Middleton had 11 and they were a combined 12-for-37 from the field and 2-for-9 on 3-pointers.
Holiday and Middleton were outscored 54-28 by Devin Booker and Chris Paul and have been outscored 113-67 by their backcourt counterparts in the two games.
“Knocking down some shots would make life a lot better for us,” Middleton said. “In the first half, I had more than a few go just in and out for me. So, that’s that. I’ll take them over and over again. Just didn’t hit them in the second half.”
In the 40 minutes Antetokounmpo played, the Bucks were three points better than the Suns. Even though Phoenix has led for six of the eight quarters, the Bucks in the fourth quarter were within two possessions in Game 2 and three possessions in Game 1. It’s hard to see down 2-0, but the Bucks aren’t that far from a 1-1 series.
And yet, 1-1 and 2-0 are miles apart — 2-1 narrows the distance and 3-0 is a galaxy away. The tone of the series depends on the outcome of Game 3 on Sunday (8 p.m. ET, ABC).
The Bucks struggled at the point guard position with Eric Bledsoe in the past two postseasons. They made a huge trade, sending three future first-round picks to New Orleans for Holiday and then investing in Holiday with four-year, $134.9 million extension.
It has been worth it. The Bucks reached the Finals for the first time since 1974, and after falling short with Antetokounmpo and Middleton the past two seasons. Holiday made a difference this season.
He delivered in earlier rounds, especially against Atlanta in the conference finals scoring 52 points, delivering 22 assists and playing great defense in the final two games of the series without Antetokounmpo.
Against Phoenix, Holiday is 11-for-35 from the field and 1-for-7 on 3-pointers. He’s still playing defense, but Milwaukee needs more offense from him.
“I’ll continue to be aggressive,” Holiday said. “It’s the only thing I really can do is put pressure on the rim and try to spread out for 3s.”
It’s a tough assignment for Holiday. On the other end, he has to guard multiple players, including Paul and Booker, who are gifted shot-makers from all over the court.
“Jrue got some good looks,” Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said. “I actually think there’s some opportunities where he can be even more aggressive. He’s got to be aggressive from the 3-point (line). He’s got to be aggressive getting to the paint, and he was. …
“Jrue’s got to play his game. He knows how to play. He and I will talk, but it will be more just keep being aggressive. Our spacing I think was better tonight. I think his opportunities were better. I think we’ve just got to keep doing that going into Game 3.”
Holiday started aggressive. He and Antetokounmpo combined for 12 of Milwaukee’s first 14 points, and Holiday drove to the rim for layups.
Antetokounmpo’s vocal leadership grows by the season, and he knows better than to put blame on one or two players.
“At the end of the day, it’s not about me. It’s not about him. It’s not about Khris. It’s not about Coach. It’s about all of us,” Antetokounmpo said. “At the end of the day, if there’s a game that you’re 3-for-12 or whatever the case might be and you can rebound the ball or get a steal or do something else to help the team win, that’s what it’s all about right now.
“I think he understands that. I know he’s going to be there when we need him the most and I don’t worry about it. He’s a great basketball player. He’s played great all year and he’s going to continue to play great for this team.”
Antetokounmpo is playing up to the moment. He needs Holiday and Middleton to do the same.
Follow Jeff Zillgitt on Twitter @JeffZillgitt.