PHOENIX — Put them against some of the best teams in the NBA and the Milwaukee Bucks have often looked like world-beaters. In fact, the Bucks have looked that way against essentially every opponent this season on the way to owning the league’s best record.
Apparently, though, the Phoenix Suns are their kryptonite.
The Suns, which entered Monday with the worst record in the NBA, pestered and outhustled the Bucks through most the night. They got behind by as many as 16 in the second quarter but chipped away and hung around.
Then, when the game got to crunch time, the Suns stifled the Bucks’ offense, made big shots and clutch plays and for the second time this season sunk the Bucks, 114-105, at Talking Stick Resort Arena to sweep the season series.
The loss marked the first time Milwaukee has lost consecutive games this season and made the Suns the only team in the league to defeat the Bucks twice. Milwaukee closed its five-game road trip with a 3-2 record.
Giannis Antetokounmpo led Milwaukee with 21 points, 13 rebounds and six assists but also had six turnovers and fouled out in a team-high 34 minutes and six other Bucks scored in double figures, but that didn’t mean they were all shooting well. In fact, Monday marked one of the team’s worst shooting nights this season. The Bucks went just 36.8 percent from the field in the loss, along with 28.6 percent on three-pointers.
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Khris Middleton had the most noticeably off night shooting, making his first shot and then missing his final 12 attempts to finish with six points. Eric Bledsoe was 5 of 15 and 0 of 6 on three-pointers while Nikola Mirotic sputtered to a 3 of 14 night, including 3 of 10 from long range.
After a strong first quarter that ended with an 11-point advantage, the Bucks offense never regained traction. Shots stopped falling, Phoenix’s defense got tighter and the ball stopped moving. Meanwhile, turnovers started to pile up, with the Bucks committing nine in the second quarter alone to go from up by 16 to ahead by only two at halftime.
Milwaukee regained control with a 10-0 run that spanned the end of the third and the beginning of the fourth quarters and led by seven with five minutes left. That’s when they again went cold at the worst time.
They closed out the game by going 2 of 10 from the floor, with tough shots not falling and stagnant possessions ending in bricks. Meanwhile, the Suns caught a wave, particularly from three-point range, and burst ahead for good. The Bucks’ one turnover in the final five minutes was an especially costly one, with Lopez losing the ball out of bounds after a timeout with 31.5 seconds left and Milwaukee down by four.
Kelly Oubre Jr. led the Suns with 27 points and 13 rebounds, Devin Booker added 22 and rookie center DeAndre Ayton added 19 points and 12 rebounds. Pau Gasol made his Bucks debut, going scoreless in five minutes of first-half action.
Follow the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s Matt Velazquez on Twitter @Matt_Velazquez.