NBA

NBA Finals 2021: Antetokounmpo's 41 points help Bucks beat Suns in Game 3

By Sports Desk July 11, 2021

Giannis Antetokounmpo's 41-point outing saw the Milwaukee Bucks to an important 120-100 win over the Phoenix Suns in Game 3 of the NBA Finals.

With the Bucks trailing 2-0, they needed a response at home at Fiserv Forum and Antetokounmpo helped them deliver.

Antetokounmpo finished with 41 points on 14-of-23 shooting, along with 13 rebounds and six assists.

He was the first player to score 40-plus points in back-to-back NBA Finals games since LeBron James in 2016.

The dominant win halved the Suns' series lead ahead of Game 4 in Milwaukee on Wednesday.

Jrue Holiday (21), Khris Middleton (18), Brook Lopez (11) and Bobby Portis (11) also had double digits in points for the Bucks.

Milwaukee put together powerful runs to finish the second and third quarters which set up their win.

They went 16-3 to finish the first half and 16-0 to end the third quarter.

The 15-point deficit marked the first time in these playoffs the Suns had trailed by more than seven at half-time.

Phoenix were unable to get much going as Chris Paul finished with 19 points, while Devin Booker was three-of-14 from the field for his 10 points.

Cam Johnson had 14 points off the bench for the Suns, including a huge dunk in the third quarter.

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  • Can the Cowboys survive without Demarcus Lawrence? Can the Cowboys survive without Demarcus Lawrence?

    After 2020, in which injuries and poor defensive play doomed Dallas to another season without playoff football, the Cowboys are already dealing with significant losses on both sides of the ball in 2021. 

    Wide receiver Michael Gallup is on injured reserve and out until at least October because of a calf issue, but a more impactful injury came in practice this week as defensive end Demarcus Lawrence suffered a broken foot. 

    Lawrence has since had surgery and will be sidelined for six to eight weeks, robbing the Cowboys of one of the more versatile defensive ends in the NFL. 

    Last season, Lawrence was the only edge defender in the NFL with a pressure rate of at least 20 per cent to cross that same threshold in terms of run disruptions. Lawrence's pressure rate was 20.1 per cent in 2020, when he disrupted a run 22.7 per cent of the time. 

    His absence leaves a massive void for a defense that gave up the 10th-most yards per play (5.87) last year and conceded 6.73 per play to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in their thrilling Week 1 loss. 

    The NFL is an offensive league and the evidence from Week 1, which saw Dallas rack up 451 net yards on Dak Prescott's return, indicates the Cowboys have the firepower to compete in the NFC. 

    But without Lawrence making a huge impact against both the run and the pass, can the defense do enough to make sure that impressive offensive production is not wasted, as was the case when Prescott was healthy? 

    Lawrence's potential replacements

    With Randy Gregory on the reserve/COVID-19 list, the options immediately behind Lawrence on the depth chart are not particularly intriguing ones. 

    Former Indianapolis Colts third-round pick Tarell Basham has just 7.5 sacks in his career and his pressure rate of 14.9 per cent for the New York Jets last season was below the average for edge rushers (16 per cent). 

    Should the Cowboys stick to their depth chart, he will likely split time with Bradlee Anae, who played in only three games in his rookie year before featuring on 10 snaps against the Buccaneers. 

    Though not the most impressive athlete for the position, Anae did produce during his time in college with Utah, his 2019 pressure rate of 21.4 per cent third among edge rushers with at least 100 snaps in the Pac-12. 

    But for a player of such limited experience to step into Lawrence's shoes is a tall ask, and the Cowboys may need to shuffle the personnel to be effective without arguably their premier defensive player. 

    The Parsons project

    First-round pick Micah Parsons is already drawing significant praise one game into his NFL career, already looking like the player best placed to challenge Lawrence for the title of Dallas' top defensive star. 

    Yet the Cowboys have depth at linebacker with Leighton Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith also in the mix at the spot, leaving some to question whether Parsons could be deployed more frequently on the edge in Lawrence's absence. 

    Dallas experimented with Parsons in a designated pass rusher role in the offseason and he had the chance to soak up some knowledge from Lawrence during his preparations for his rookie year. 

    "Last week we were watching film of pass rush and D-Law came up to me and was like, 'You pass rush like that, rook?'" Parsons said back in June. 

    "I was like, 'Yeah, I used to be a defensive end.' He was like, 'All right, tap in with me.' Me and him have been getting closer." 

    And the Cowboys may be very tempted to use Parsons off the edge, the ex-Nittany Lion having prospered in that role across a small sample size in 2019. 

    In 33 edge snaps for Penn State two seasons ago, he registered a pressure rate of 24 per cent and a run disruption rate of 23.5 per cent, comfortably above the averages of 14.6 per cent and 8 per cent for those respective metrics for Power 5 players with at least 50 edge snaps. 

    To make the decision to ask Parsons to deliver similar production in the pros on a more consistent basis is a risky move, one that could backfire in two different areas if the rookie cannot rise to the challenge and Vander Esch and Smith prove ineffective at linebacker. 

    However, given the depth of talent the Cowboys have on offense, it is a gamble they may have the wiggle room to take. 

    Maintaining offensive pace

    The Cowboys' offensive performance in Week 1 was a spectacular continuation of what Dallas had going for the opening four weeks on that side of the ball in 2020 before Prescott was lost for the season. 

    Dallas put up 509.5 net yards per game between Weeks 1 and 4 last year and their efforts against Tampa hinted they can again operate at a similar pace. 

    Their hopes of doing so will be aided by their upcoming schedule. Having hung over 400 net yards on a defense that was sixth best in the NFL in yards per play allowed (5.12) in the opener, the Cowboys should be confident of doing similar to the opponents on the horizon. 

    Using the most optimistic timescale, Lawrence could be back to face the Denver Broncos on November 7. 

    Of the six defenses the Cowboys will face before that game, only the New York Giants (9th) finished in the top 10 in yards per play allowed. The Giants gave up 30 points to Taylor Heinicke and the Washington Football Team on Thursday. 

    History suggests the Cowboys should succeed moving the ball and scoring points consistently in the coming weeks, meaning the defense is unlikely to be in a position where it has to put the team on its back. 

    Prescott and the offense producing at early 2020 levels can help the Cowboys as they look to remain in a position to emerge from the NFC East without Lawrence at their disposal on defense. 

    And, when Gregory returns, if defensive coordinator Dan Quinn can harness the best out of him as well as Basham and Anae while intelligently using Parsons' pass-rushing prowess to an extent that does not have a detrimental impact on the play at linebacker, then the Cowboys may be able to welcome Lawrence back while sitting in an excellent position to push for a first postseason berth since 2018. 

  • Australia 30-17 South Africa: Ikitau and Koroibete lead Wallabies to victory Australia 30-17 South Africa: Ikitau and Koroibete lead Wallabies to victory

    Australia got the better of South Africa for the second week running as Len Ikitau and Marika Koroibete led the Wallabies to a 30-17 victory in the Rugby Championship.

    Having triumphed 28-26 over the Springboks on the Gold Coast last week, Australia came out on top again in Saturday's tussle in Brisbane.

    The victory takes Australia to within one point of the second-place Springboks on 10 points, who are five behind leaders and reigning champions New Zealand, who face Argentina in the later game.

    Quade Cooper was the star for Australia last time out, converting eight kicks, though he missed his first two-pointer here after Ikitau had crossed following Faf de Klerk's early booking for knocking the ball from Nic White's hands.

    Handre Pollard pulled the 'Boks to within two points with a long-range penalty, though Australia swiftly struck again, Ikitau once more finding the gap and this time Cooper hit his mark from the conversion.

    Pollard hit another two penalties either side of a Cooper three-pointer as, back to their full count, South Africa attempted to turn the screw, yet even with Lachlan Swinton seeing yellow (after initially being given a red card for a high tackle) the visitors could not prise Australia's defence open before the break.

    Lukhanyo Am finally managed to do so just after the break to nose South Africa ahead for the first time, but it was a short-lived lead, Cooper winning a penalty and converting it before Koroibete steamed in for his first.

    Cooper made no mistake and, five minutes later, Koroibete helped himself to his second to wrap up the result – Jasper Wiese's late yellow adding more frustration for the Springboks.

    No place like home

    Australia are now undefeated in their past seven men's Tests against South Africa on home soil (W6, D1), although Saturday is the first time they have won by a margin of seven points or more in that span. It is also the first time the Wallabies have earned back-to-back wins in men's international rugby since October 2019.

    South Africa's resistance stutters

    Heading into the match, South Africa had conceded just 13 points in the final quarters of games in the tournament, fewer than any other team. However, Australia had scored the most points (27) in the last 20 minutes, and they took that tally to 39 with their 12 points scored between the 62nd and 68th minutes, breaking the Springboks' resolve in the process.

  • Juventus v Milan: Szczesny and defences in spotlight as Serie A history beckons Juventus v Milan: Szczesny and defences in spotlight as Serie A history beckons

    For so long, Juventus dominated Serie A and Milan. 

    Juve won nine successive Scudetti before being dethroned by Inter last season. Gianluigi Buffon was involved in eight of them. 

    But it's a period of change in Turin, where Wojciech Szczesny is well and truly under the microscope after an error-riddled start to the 2021-22 season. 

    As Juve struggle defensively, form could hardly be more contrasting heading into Sunday's blockbuster showdown in the northwest of Italy. 

    Milan have continued to be a solid defensive outfit, winning their opening three league fixtures, and the resurgent Rossoneri could strike an early dagger to the heart of the Old Lady.

     

    Woeful Woj as Allegri tries to avoid unwanted record 

    "I think Juventus will regret not signing Donnarumma for a long time." 

    That was Mino Raiola – the agent of Paris Saint-Germain goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma – speaking to Rai Sport on Friday. Based on what has transpired so far, he is right. 

    The star Italy goalkeeper had been tipped to swap Milan for Juve in the off-season before moving to the French capital on a free transfer. Juve must be shaking their heads after watching Szczesny's torrid start to the season under Massimiliano Allegri. 

    Allegri has had his hands full since returning to Allianz Stadium after two seasons away, replacing Andrea Pirlo. The title-winning boss is trying to navigate the exit of superstar Cristiano Ronaldo. If the departure of the almost-irreplaceable Ronaldo was not hard enough, Szczesny has made life even more difficult. 

    The former Arsenal keeper has been in the headlines for all the wrong reasons, his two howlers against Udinese and Napoli the catalyst for Juve's winless start to the campaign. 

    The Bianconeri could go without a victory in their first four Serie A seasonal matches for the fourth time in their history, after 1961-62, 1955-56 and 1942-43. In those campaigns, Juve did not go on to win the title. They have never lost three of the first four Serie A games in a season. 

    They have conceded five goals in three matches and are yet to keep a clean sheet domestically, shipping goals in each of their past 17 league games – only twice have Juve conceded in more consecutive Serie A fixtures (19 in 2010 and 21 in 1955). That 17-game run is the worst of its kind across the top-five European leagues since March. 

    Szczesny's numbers do not make for pretty reading.

    Since 2018-19, the Poland international has conceded 90 goals in 90 Serie A appearances with expected goals against (xGA) of 99.88, suggesting he should have let in nearly 10 goals more. For some comparison, Buffon's xGA-goals conceded difference – goals he prevented, in other words –was 2.62 from 17 matches, so Szczesny holds his own there.

    The numbers do not get much better, though. A maligned figure from his days at Arsenal, Szczesny has shipped 99 goals in 107 Serie A games for Juve. Since 1994-95, his average of 0.93 goals conceded is worse than ex-Juve goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar (0.70 from 46 goals conceded in 66 games), Buffon (0.76 from 373 conceded in 489 matches), Michelangelo Rampulla (0.85 from 33 conceded in 39 fixtures) and Angelo Peruzzi (0.85 from 120 conceded in 141 appearances).

    Szczesny – with a save percentage of 72 and an average of 2.49 stops per 90 minutes – has committed three errors leading to goals during his time with Juve in Serie A. Since 2004-05, only Buffon managed more (13), albeit in 391 games.

    This season, Szczesny's expected goals against is 5.86 through three matches. Milan counterpart Mike Maignan's figure stands at 2.33.

    When Milan refused to meet Donnarumma's demands, they wasted little time turning to Maignan, who had just led Lille to a shock Ligue 1 title after upstaging PSG.

    Maignan has been a steady presence in Milan with a joint-league-high two clean sheets, while the France international tops the list in save percentage (90), well ahead of Szczesny (66.67).

     

    Kjaer spearheading Milan back to summit

    While Juve duo Leonardo Bonucci and Matthijs de Ligt lick their wounds, Simon Kjaer and Fikayo Tomori continue to flex their muscles at San Siro.

    In the era of three points per win, Milan have won each of their first four Serie A seasonal games only twice: in 1995-96 under Fabio Capello and last season with Stefano Pioli at the helm. The Rossoneri won the title in 1996, while they finished second to Inter in 2020-21.

    High-flying Milan are on the cusp of matching that feat thanks to the help of Kjaer and Tomori and perhaps even more than that as the resurgent powerhouse dream of a first Scudetto since 2011.

    Kjaer and Tomori have formed an unlikely but rock-solid partnership at the heart of Milan's defence. Pioli's side have only conceded one goal to start the Serie A season. Since last May, Milan have the most clean sheets in the big five European leagues (seven in eight matches).

    The pair's form has left captain Alessio Romagnoli sidelined and considering his future – not something you would have anticipated when Kjaer arrived following a brief spell at Atalanta, initially on loan in 2020.

    Kjaer has come into his own in Milan, establishing himself as a key member on and off the pitch under Pioli, tallying 178 clearances in the league since January 2020 – a number only behind Torino's Bremer (219), Omar Colley of Sampdoria (214), Fiorentina star Nikola Milenkovic (205), ex-Viola centre-back German Pezzella (191) and Lazio's Francesco Acerbi (190) among defenders.

    The 32-year-old Denmark international has also provided security in the air, with his 93 headed clearances the fourth most among defenders since January 2020, after Milenkovic (122), Bremer (119) and Colley (103).

    "It happens a lot with defenders that they kind of find their own style later on. That has happened with Simon," former Denmark international Jesper Olsen told Stats Perform.

    "You're playing at a top team and expected to do really well. We know your last game played doesn't count anymore, it's the next one. He just seems very settled."

    Tomori, who completed a permanent switch from Champions League holders Chelsea in July after impressing on loan, scored the last time these two teams met – a 3-0 victory in Turin in May.

    Milan have won two of their most recent three Serie A matches against Juventus, as many as in their previous 17 (D1 L14).

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