Quick: who’s the only team in the NBA to beat the Milwaukee Bucks twice this season? If you watched the Bucks play last night (or if you read the headline to this post), then you already know the answer: the 14-win Phoenix Suns.
Yes, the same Phoenix that hasn’t had a permanent general manager since firing Ryan McDonough in October just completed a season sweep of the consensus best team in the Eastern Conference, winning the return matchup in Arizona 114-105. Previously, the Suns had traveled to Milwaukee on Nov. 23, coming out victorious 116-114.
This wasn’t a sluggish performance by the Bucks, the kind that can be forgiven as a late-season dip in focus. The Bucks actually came out strong, jumping out to an 11-point first quarter lead. Though they faltered a bit in the second, Milwaukee was still up 10 with 8:52 left in the fourth quarter. Then, somehow, the team with the best defensive rating in the NBA surrendered 33 of the game’s next 47 points to a team that absolutely stinks.
The Bucks had no answer for Kelly Oubre Jr., which is not a thing that gets said about Kelly Oubre Jr. very often. Oubre finished with 27 points and 13 big rebounds in what was probably his finest game since being traded from Washington to Phoenix back in December.
Devin Booker threw in 22 points of his own, to go with seven assists. DeAndre Ayton kept his mostly-unseen rampage going with a 19 points and 12 rebounds, including some big fourth-quarter buckets to get Phoenix over the finish line.
After the game, Giannis Antetokoumpo gave Phoenix a bit of a back-handed compliment, acknowledging they were better while also being as shocked as anyone watching the game:
It’s kind of hard to think we lost to Phoenix twice. But they played better than us. They came out there and set the tone.
Malcolm Brodgon was even more direct in his comments, blaming the loss on not fully gearing up for a game against the lowly Suns:
I don’t think we take them as seriously as we should. It’s just a lack of focus.
It’s not exactly rare that a historically awesome team stumbles versus the dregs of the NBA; the 72-10 Chicago Bulls lost to the expansion Toronto Raptors back in 1996, but it’s still strange to consider that 14 percent of the Suns’ wins this season have come against the league-leading Bucks.
More immediately interesting is the fact that Phoenix teamed up with Utah to give Milwaukee its first consecutive losses all season; the Bucks had previously blown a 17-point fourth quarter lead to the Jazz on Saturday. That it took until March for Milwaukee to experience any kind of losing streak says a lot about how good this team really is, but they are still in a fight with the Raptors for the top seed, and now is not the time to start blowing big leads in back-to-back games. But hey, at least they got people to think about the Phoenix Suns for the first time all season.