Bucks make NBA Finals a series again on strength of Giannis Antetokounmpo's 41 points

In the heart of America's Dairyland, for once home cooking in Milwaukee tastes pretty sweet.

The Bucks dominated their first home NBA Finals game since 1974, defeating the Phoenix Suns 120-100 in a must-win Game 3 on the strength of Giannis Antetokounmpo's 41 points, 13 rebounds and six assists in 38 minutes. Following a 42-point effort in Game 2, Antetokounmpo joined LeBron James, Shaquille O'Neal and Michael Jordan as the only players in the last 50 seasons to log back-to-back 40-point Finals games.

Jordan holds the record with four straight 40-point games in the 1993 Finals.

"I'm not Michael Jordan," Antetokounmpo said Sunday, "but all I care about right now is getting one more."

The Suns still lead the series, 2-1. The Bucks host Game 4 on Wednesday at 9 p.m. ET on ABC. Milwaukee is now 17-3 at home in the playoffs over the past four seasons, the one constant in a complicated history.

As a sign of how well Fiserv Forum served the Bucks after two straight double-digit losses in Phoenix, Antetokounmpo made 13 of his 17 free-throw attempts. Only once in his playoff career had he shot such a high percentage on at least 10 free throws. He was even more effective in the paint, where he made 14 of 18 field-goal attempts. This was all-time level stuff from a player long criticized for his postseason play.

Unlike Game 2, Antetokounmpo got efficient help from co-stars Jrue Holiday and Khris Middleton, who combined for 39 points, 15 assists and 12 rebounds on 14-for-28 shooting (8 of 17 from 3-point range). Just as important, they led a perimeter defensive effort that held Chris Paul, Devin Booker and Mikal Bridges to 33 combined points three nights after that Suns trio torched the Bucks for a total of 81 points.

Milwaukee ran a layup line in the second quarter, scoring 22 points in the paint and outscoring Phoenix 35-17 in the frame. The floodgates opened when P.J. Tucker corralled an offensive board on the baseline and found a cutting Antetokounmpo for a raucous dunk that gave the Bucks a 39-38 lead and forced a timeout.

Suns coach Monty Williams opted to give rising star center Deandre Ayton a breather after the 75-second break, and with only Frank Kaminsky available to play backup, Ayton could merely watch from the bench as Antetokounmpo scored the game's next five points on two layups plus one foul shot. By the time Ayton checked back in with 3:44 remaining in the opening half, Milwaukee led 50-42 and the home arena was rocking. In total, the Bucks closed the second quarter on a 22-7 run to take a 60-45 lead entering halftime.

Worse for Phoenix, Ayton picked up his second and third fouls in the final 92 seconds of the first half and his fourth 95 seconds into the third quarter. This time, Williams turned to wiry second-year forward Cam Johnson in a small-ball lineup, and Johnson responded with 10 points to help the Suns pull within 74-70.

"Sometimes you're going to get a good whistle, sometimes you're going to get a bad whistle," Paul said of Ayton, who scored 16 of his 18 points in the first 15 minutes. "But he's playing hard. That is a talent in itself. And then it's tough, man, Giannis coming at you full speed like a running back, you know what I mean?"

A pair of Holiday 3-pointers turned the tide against Phoenix once again, and Milwaukee closed the third quarter on a 24-6 run (featuring more Kaminsky) to take a 98-76 advantage into the fourth. Antetokounmpo was a monster throughout both Bucks runs, scoring 27 of his 41 points in the second and third quarters.

Whether the condensed seasons are finally catching up to their 36-year-old floor general or his charges were too comfortable on their 2-0 cushion in the series, the Suns were outworked for the first time in the Finals.

"We know that we have to play with an unreal amount of aggression and energy for 48 minutes," said Williams, whose Suns lost on the road for just the third time. "That's the deal. All of our guys know that we didn't. We have had this happen to us before in the playoffs, and so I expect our guys to bounce back."

Paul and company have one more chance in Game 4 to take a commanding 3-1 lead back to Phoenix or face the frightening reality of a three-game set against Antetokounmpo — a growing legend whose confidence in both his hyperextended knee and his extraordinary talent is gaining steam by the second.

"I feel like I've come a long way just to be able to sit here, being interviewed by you guys, playing in this game, being with my teammates, thinking I'm going to be out for a year, coming back," Antetokounmpo told reporters. "It's been a long journey, and I'm trying to enjoy every single moment of it. I've said in the past, I know I'm going to be doing this for a while, for the next 10, 12, years, whatever my goal is. So, I just try to enjoy each day and try to take as much as possible from each day and try to be in the moment. ...

"Being down or up or whatever the case may be in the series, 20,000 fans outside the arena, cheering your name, cheering for the team and just happy to have NBA basketball at this time of the year with two of the last teams standing 50 years after the last time we had an NBA Finals game, that's amazing. So, I don't worry about the outcome as much as I want to enjoy the game. I want my teammates to enjoy the game, and I know that by enjoying the game I'm going to compete as hard as possible and I'm going to do the right thing to help my team be in the right position and have the opportunity to win any game we play."

The last thing the Suns want is the two-time NBA MVP getting so close to a championship he can taste it.

Milwaukee Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo logged a career-defining outing in Game 3 of the NBA Finals. (Justin Casterline/Getty Images)
Milwaukee Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo logged a career-defining outing in Game 3 of the NBA Finals. (Justin Casterline/Getty Images)

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Ben Rohrbach is a staff writer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at rohrbach_ben@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @brohrbach

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