Final thoughts

On the other end, this is a brutal finish for the Suns who looked to be in control for much of the fourth. Booker scored 42 points and miraculously avoided fouling out but it wasn’t enough. Worse yet, it was team leader Chris Paul who ended up being the goat, combining a mostly brutal offensive production with a disastrous turnover late in the fourth. If the Suns stick the landing here, they’re probably a game away from a championship. Instead, the Bucks have ensured that this is going at least six games.

And we’ll be covering the NBA Finals here at the Guardian, although this is the end of today’s live coverage. I want to thank everybody who joined us for Game 4 between the Bucks and the Suns, especially those who have contributed with their comments. Ciao!

Email from George Willinger III:

GOOD GAME

I’m not sure if it technically was a good game, but it absolutely was an entertaining one. Oddly enough it feels like the turning point was when the officials didn’t call that sixth foul on Devin Booker. Instead of crumbling, they decided they had to take control of matters themselves because they weren’t going to get any help. And they did.

The Milwaukee Bucks have tied up the NBA Finals at 2-2!

The Milwaukee Bucks win!

Suns 103-109 Bucks, FINAL

Holiday gets his free throws but all that really changes in the final margin. Paul pads his stats with a layup and the clock hits zero. The Milwaukee Bucks have won Game 4 of the NBA Finals.

Suns 101-107 Bucks, 7.3, 4th quarter

Booker makes a layup to keep his team mathematically alive. Johnson fouls Middleton, who is back on the line and he makes both. This one is all but over.

Suns 99-105 Bucks, 20.8, 4th quarter

Out of the timeout, Booker goes for a layup and it’s nothing doing. Antetokounmpo with the rebound. This Bucks crowd is super-loud! The Suns have to put Middleton on the line where he can essentially seal this game. What an absolutely bewildering ending this could be! He makes both, a six point lead!

Suns 99-103 Bucks, 27.2, 4th quarter

The Bucks can’t get anything to happens, giving the Suns a perfect opportunity here to..

But no! Chris Paul loses control of the ball! Wow! Giannis with the steal gets the ball to Holiday who finds Middleton who drives the ball home and somehow the Bucks have a four-point lead! The Suns take a timeout!

Updated

Suns 99-101 Bucks, 50.7, 4th quarter

The Suns have on last foul to give without giving the Bucks automatic free throws. It doesn’t matter as Middleton still scores on his next opportunity. The Bucks have the lead. Giannis gets a huge block on the other end.

Suns 99-99 Bucks, 1:41, 4th quarter

Crowder picks up his fifth foul and Middleton scores to re-tie this game. This is so going to overtime.

Suns 99-97 Bucks, 2:30, 4th quarter

Giannis gets called for a foul here and boy are the Bucks fans very not happy with that. It puts Crowder on the line where he, of course, makes both. Phoenix lead.

Suns 97-97 Bucks, 2:52, 4th quarter

Giannis blocks Paul’s shot and Connaughton makes a three-pointer to give the Bucks a lead. It, of course, doesn’t hold up for more than a second as Booker, who should not be here, answers with a bucket of his own.

That was the worst no-call I’ve seen in a long time and a brief glimpse of Twitter shows that I’m not alone on this. Bucks superfan Sheryl Crow, for instance, can’t believe it:

REFS YOU’RE KILLING ME! WTF! 😡#NBAFinals

— Sheryl Crow (@SherylCrow) July 15, 2021

Booker somehow avoids fouling out

Suns 95-94 Bucks, 3:30, 4th quarter

Booker picks up his sixth foul by trying to stop Giannis… or would if the officials actually called it. He should be out of the game, but he’s not. The good news is that Giannis still manages to get the rebound and complete the play to narrow the Phoenix lead down to a single point but this is a mammoth non-call right here.

Suns 95-92 Bucks, 4:03, 4th quarter

Giannis with a three that *just* bounces off, but Connaughton secures the rebound and tips it in. Huge, huge move. Can the Bucks get a stop here? Yes, Portis with a defensive rebound. Portis attempts a layup but Ayton blocks him. The Bucks get another chance but it’s no doing and Ayton eventually corrals that. Huge missed opportunity that.

Suns 95-90 Bucks, 5:31, 4th quarter

Middleton hits the 30 point mark with a layup. On the other end, Portis gets a huge block on Payne who is trying for a layup of his own. It’s a beautiful moment, but Johnson just ends up increasing the Suns lead so ultimately it was for naught.

Suns 93-88 Bucks, 6:27, 4th quarter

Tucker fouls Crowder, or at least that’s what the officials say he does, and he gets three free throws and gets all three.

Suns 90-88 Bucks, 6:36, 4th quarter

If the Bucks lose this one, it’s going to hurt. The Suns aren’t playing anything close to their best effort here but they just can’t seem to get out of their own way. Well, one thing will help is this Giannis dunk that pulls them within two.

What’s it like to watch this game? Well...

I am watching with sound off but it looks like everyone is complaining about every call and everyone is right.

— Dr. Attorney, Esq. (@DewNO) July 15, 2021

Suns 90-86 Bucks, 7:09, 4th quarter

Paul misses a three, the Bucks have a three-pointer on their end… but Connaughton can’t hit it. In the scramble, Connaughton loses the ball and ends up fouling Crowder to put him on the line. The crowd boos understandably. Crowder misses the first one, to Milwaukee’s collective delight, but lands the second one. Milwaukee calls a timeout to calm everything down, this entire thing seems to be close to on-tilt.

NBA finals
Suns guard Chris Paul (3) drives for a lay-up against Bucks guard Jrue Holiday (21) during the third quarter of Wednesday’s Game 4. Photograph: Jeff Hanisch/USA Today Sports

Updated

Suns 89-86 Bucks, 7:43, 4th quarter

Middleton with a layup to keep Milwaukee close. Oh wow, Giannis picks off Crowder and runs to the other end for an emphatic dunk that cuts the lead to three points.

Suns 87-82 Bucks, 8:39, 4th quarter

Another Crowder foul puts Giannis on the line for some free throws that the Bucks desperately need. He hits just one of two. Chris Paul gets the ball and he finally gets one to go down.

Suns 87-81 Bucks, 8:51, 4th quarter

Chris Paul puts one up and his poor shooting night continues. The Bucks get several chances on their end but can’t get anything up. Holiday had a layup chance there but couldn’t get it done plus Giannis gets charged with a possession-changing foul.

Suns 87-81 Bucks, 9:50, 4th quarter

Big news for the Bucks: they almost immediately get a fifth foul on Booker. Holiay scores on the possession after the team takes out Booker. Bookmark that sequence for later.

Cam Johnson hits a two-pointer for Phoenix.

Suns 85-79 Bucks, 11:23, 4th quarter

Cam Johnson with a three to extend the Phoenix lead. Connaughton answers with one of their own. That’s a way to start a fourth quarter.

This could end up being one of those career-defining games for Devin Booker who already has 38 points and there’s an entire quarter left in the game. Now the Suns’ need to find a way to keep him out of foul trouble.

Suns 82-76 Bucks, end of the 3rd quarter

Payne with a big three and his team now has a seven-point lead… Never mind, it’s four now, Middleton gets a three of his own. Nobody’s running away with this one. Booker loses control of the ball, the Bucks get it back but after a scrum the ball ends up going off of Middleton and it’s now Phoenix ball. Probably could have been a foul there, but hey it’s the playoffs. On the other end, Booker is automatic with a jumper. Bucks have the last possession of the series but get absolutely swarmed and can’t do anything with it. Suns up six heading to the fourth.

Suns 77-73 Bucks, 1:23, 3rd quarter

Devin Booker with the longest of long twos (it’s briefly ruled a three-pointer) and then he gets back on the line and adds two more free throws to his total. Huge Phoenix swing there.

Suns 73-73 Bucks, 2:30, 3rd quarter

I realized I promised online that I would include as many “I Think You Should Leave” references as possible during this liveblog but this game really hasn’t left me much time to riff: which is a good thing for everybody quite honestly.

When we get back, Middleton is on the line and makes one of two free throws, but Lopez tips in the second miss. What a break for he Bucks and it’s a tied game.

Suns 73-70 Bucks, 2:33, 3rd quarter

Fouls be damned, Booker is back in the game and he extends the Suns lead back to three. Phoenix with a timeout.

Updated

Suns 71-70 Bucks, 3:07, 3rd quarter

And Pat Connaughton hits his first basket and it’s a three-pointer that gives the Bucks a lead… that barely lasts a few seconds, as Payne drives in for a layup while picking up a foul along the way.

He misses the free throw however.

Suns 69-67 Bucks, 4:32, 3rd quarter

Now, Paul picks up a foul and Giannis is on the line. His first free throw attempt is no good. But he makes the second.

Suns 69-66 Bucks, 4:32, 3rd quarter

Oh, there’s Chris Paul who makes a shot. Holiday finds Giannis for a layup that gets the audience excited… until a Paul layup immediately quiets them. The scoring binge continues with Middleton hitting a mid-ranger.

Updated

Suns 65-62 Bucks, 5:37, 3rd quarter

Here’s the problem for the Suns: Booker is, by far, their most dangerous player and he’s just picked up his fourth foul. Middleton gets to the line an makes both free throws while the Suns have to take Booker out here.

Khris Middleton
Bucks forward Khris Middleton (22) shoots over Suns guard Devin Booker (1) during the third quarter of Wednesday’s Game 4. Photograph: Mark J Rebilas/USA Today Sports

Updated

Suns 65-60 Bucks, 6:04, 3rd quarter

Booker gets fouled on the three point line and is rewarded with free throws. As you can imagine, the Milwaukee crowd is none too happy with the refs. Booker goes 2-for-3.

Suns 63-60 Bucks, 6:25, 3rd quarter

Middleton and Giannis with back-to-back baskets and, just like that, it’s a one possession game again. Nobody’s going to get separation here, are they?

Suns 63-56 Bucks, 6:25, 3rd quarter

Booker is pretty much unguardable today as he gets those points right back despite the Bucks’ best defensive efforts. After another fruitless Milwaukee Bucks possession, Booker makes it back-to-back jumpers.

Suns 59-56 Bucks, 8:03, 3rd quarter

Out of the timeout, Middleton misses. Bucks keep getting opportunities here, but aren’t capitalizing. Next up, Jae Crowder fouls Lopez who will get on the line. A reliable free-throw shooter, Lopez makes both.

Suns 59-54 Bucks, 8:14, 3rd quarter

Lopez can’t make a three and Ayton picks up a rebound. Paul’s bad game continues with an avoidable turnover. Giannis misses for the Bucks but Paul picks up a foul, so the ball’s back to them. They decide to take a timeout here.

Suns 59-54 Bucks, 9:07, 3rd quarter

Giannis finally gets the Bucks’ first point but Booker, as he’s been doing all game, responds with a make of his own.

Suns 57-52 Bucks, 9:48, 3rd quarter

However, Booker picks up a third foul and it might be a clear-path foul. The officials briefly talk it over and decide it’s just going to be a common foul. Still, Bucks ball here. Middleton launches one… and that’s no good.

Suns 57-52 Bucks, 10:01, 3rd quarter

And there’s Booker again, getting a basket here and then playing solid defense on Holiday to help force a miss.

Start of the second half

Suns 55-52 Bucks, 11:24, 3rd quarter

And we’re back to basketball. Crowder scores first, a three-pointer that gives the Suns a lead.

Once again, the viewership numbers suggest that Suns/Bucks is not the ratings disaster everybody was worried it would be:

The first three games between the Phoenix Suns and Milwaukee Bucks averaged about 9 million viewers. That’s up 41% from the 6.38 million who watched the first three games of Lakers-Heat last year.

by @dbauder #NBAFinals
https://t.co/6JbkOjL8pR

— AP Sports (@AP_Sports) July 15, 2021

Okay you know what, I am going to make a second half prediction here: it’s going to be tied after four quarters and this is going to be decided in overtime.

Now, I am not exactly rooting for a long night here but it would be good for basketball. In any case, I’ve broken into my emergency non-dairy ice cream stash just in case I end up having to be here for longer than usual.

Oh, if you want to hear the not-so-great Covid-19 news about Bradley Beal and the US men’s basketball team, you can catch up with it here during halftime.

Halftime thoughts

Well, if you wanted a competitive game, you’ve got one. It doesn’t feel that either team has the other’s number and we’ve already seen a few lead changes. It’s hard to predict what’s going to happen on the other side of halftime, but I have to think that the Suns are going to get Paul more involved.

End of the first half

Suns 52-52 Bucks, end of the first half

Bridges hits a three-pointer out of the break. Meanwhile Middleton finds Giannis with an alley-oop. A Booker jumper doesn’t go and after a bit of scrambling, the Bucks get it back. On the other end, Middleton increases his point total to 16 and ties the game.

P.J. Tucker gets called for a foul, but the Bucks had one to give. Booker has the ball in his hands for the final shot… and it doesn’t go through. We’re all tied up here going into halftime, which is exactly how it should be after such a closely-played game.

Giannis Antetokounmpo
Milwaukee forward Giannis Antetokounmpo logged 12 points, seven rebounds and four assists in the first half of Wednesday’s Game 4. Photograph: Jeff Hanisch/USA Today Sports

Updated

Suns 49-47 Bucks, 1:33, 2nd quarter

Booker has 20 points for the Suns, Middleton leads Bucks scorers with 13.

Meanwhile, Chris Paul is 1-for-4 and only has two points. Can’t think that will last.

Suns 49-47 Bucks, 1:33, 2nd quarter

Booker scores again, he already has 20 points this game. Holiday, who couldn’t buy a shot for most of the first quarter, gets a layup that forces Phoenix to put the game on pause. It’s a two-point game.

Suns 47-45 Bucks, 1:45, 2nd quarter

Holiday is on the line to tie things up that once again doesn’t last long. Here it’s Payne who gives the Bucks some pain with a jumper. Suns back on top.

Suns 45-43 Bucks, 3:09, 2nd quarter

A goaltending call goes against Ayton and that’s two more points for the Bucks to briefly tie things up. Booker, however, is fouled by P.J. Tucker and yet again drains two more free throws.

Suns 43-41 Bucks, 3:56, 2nd quarter

Booker scores now to re-tie the game, it’s looking more and more like a see-saw affair, especially when a Giannis miss means Booker gets the ball right back and he scores yet again.

Suns 39-41 Bucks, 4:45, 2nd quarter

Middleton scores again, my pregame prediction about him being hot here is looking prescient. However, now it’s time for Phoenix to answer. Cameron Payne hits a layup while Booker hits a floater.

Ayton, however, fouls Giannis and he’s back on the line. He makes both.

Suns 35-37 Bucks, 5:55, 2nd quarter

Another foul on Crowder and there’s Lopez back on the line. He drains both free throws, On the other end Booker, having a fine game, gets the two right back.

Devin Booker
Suns guard Devin Booker (1) looks to pass as Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo (34) defends during Game 4. Photograph: Mark J Rebilas/USA Today Sports

Updated

Suns 33-35 Bucks, 6:16, 2nd quarter

Middleton with a smooth move to get to the basket to give the Bucks a lead.

The Bucks tie the game

Suns 33-33 Bucks, 6:50, 2nd quarter

Finally the Bucks get a stop, Lopez makes a layup and finally, after a half-dozen or so attempts, Milwaukee ties up the game. Ayton can’t convert on he other end, the Bucks get the ball back. Crowder block a Middleton layup and the Bucks take another timeout.

Suns 33-31 Bucks, 7:45, 2nd quarter

Lopez is on the line, the foul is on Crowder, and knocks down two three throws. A two-point game again, let’s see if the Bucks can get a stop here on the other end.

Suns 33-29 Bucks, 8:01, 2nd quarter

But the Bucks just can’t seem to get a lead here. Crowder makes another three-pointer and if those are starting to go in, he’s pretty much impossible to deal with.

Suns 30-29 Bucks, 8:57, 2nd quarter

Ooh, there’s a Crowder three. He’s going to hit those from time to time. Giannis throws down another dunk, he might be shaking off his early rust. Chris Paul, who has been a bit quiet so far, finds Craig for a dunk as the Suns keep the Bucks at bay.

Oh and there’s Holiday with a big bucket… and he’s fouled by Devin Booker to get on the line. He adds a free throw and it’s a one-point game.

Suns 25-24 Bucks, 10:04, 2nd quarter

Middleton with a lineup, he definitely looks like the best player on the court. Giannis scores after a missed Crowder shot and it’s just a one-point game. The first back-to-back buckets for the Bucks in what seems like ages.

Suns 25-20 Bucks, 11:09, 2nd quarter

Bobby Portis fouls Torrey Craig to put him on the line, he makes both free throws to increase the Suns lead.

Suns 23-20 Bucks, 11:41, 2nd quarter

The Bucks shot 32% from the field in the first quarter, it’s hard to imagine that they won’t get better as the game progresses. Middleton takes a shot… and misses. That’s not going to help anything.

Wait, are they really rebooting Turner & Hooch as a television show? Are there no more original ideas left out there?

Suns 23-20 Bucks, end of the 1st quarter

Cameron Johnson responds with the Suns’ first three-pointer, feels very late for their first three but better late than never. Holiday finally breaks from his slump with a layup and at the end of the first quarter it’s a one possession game despite the fact that the Bucks are on a horrendous shooting pace. The Bucks might end up regretting not being able to put up more separation here.

Suns 20-18 Bucks, 47.0, 1st quarter

Jeff Teague, who I keep forgetting is on this team, gets to the line for free throws to shrink the Suns lead back to two-points.

Suns 20-16 Bucks, 47.0, 1st quarter

Never mind, the Suns are now warmer. Booker finds Ayton for an alley-oop in response to the Giannis dunk.

Suns 18-16 Bucks, 1st quarter, 1:18

That’s more like it, a huge Giannis dunk puts a charge through the Milwaukee crowd. Two-point game as the Suns have gone cold.

Suns 18-14 Bucks, 1st quarter, 2:58

Booker can’t get a bounce out of the timeout. On the other end, Pat Connaughton can’t get his either, but Giannis draws a foul. He misses both free throws, but at least we’re not hearing the crowd counting down while he’s on the line.

Suns 18-14 Bucks, 1st quarter, 3:25

Jrue Holiday misses yet again, he’s gone 0-for-5 and the Bucks just aren’t going to win if he can’t right himself. The Bucks need something here and they get it, some sweet ball movement from Middleton and Antetokounmpo gets the ball to Bobby Portis for a three-pointer that cuts the Suns lead to four. It’s Phoenix’s time to take a timeout.

Giannis Antetokounmpo and Mikal Bridges
Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo (34) and Suns forward Mikal Bridges (25) battle for a rebound during the first quarter. Photograph: Mark J Rebilas/USA Today Sports

Updated

Suns 18-11 Bucks, 1st quarter, 3:55

Well a fast-paced game here, Ayton gets ahold of a Jrue Holiday miss and deposits it on the other end. Middleton, who is looking good so far, knocks down a jumper. This might be a Booker vs. Middleton matchup today.

Suns 16-9 Bucks, 1st quarter, 5:37

Bridges hits a shot, the Bucks are just not getting enough stops here. Antetokounmpo, however, gets on the board to cut into the Phoenix lead.

Suns 14-7 Bucks, 1st quarter, 7:00

The Bucks can’t convert out of their timeout and, in fact, Booker scores once more to extended the Bucks lead. Finally, however, Middleton hits a three to stop the bleeding. However, Lopez fouls Booker who adds two more points to his total via free throw shooting.

@HunterFelt
How can I stream tonight's game w/out provider access? I'm out on a camp and want to watch it on my phone. 🙏

— Lane Isaacs (@Islndrz) July 15, 2021

It’s on ABC, so it might be available without a provider if they have an app but I am honestly not certain about that.

Updated

Suns 10-4 Bucks, 1st quarter, 8:29

And the Suns strike first. After Booker’s jumper, Chris Paul gets to the rim for an easy layup, Mikal Bridges hits a jumper and Deandre Ayton takes a Jae Crowder pass and slams it home. The Bucks take a very early timeout. Looks like Phoenix made those adjustments.

Suns 4-4 Bucks, 1st quarter, 9:55

Brook Lopez with a dunk and Booker scores again, the Suns are going to be looking for him to bounce-back after a subpar Game 3.

Updated

Opening Tip

Suns 2-2 Bucks, 1st quarter, 10:42

Devin Booker starts the scoring with a jumper, Khris Middleton scores to even it up. We’re on our way.

Oh hey Milwaukee Bucks legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is in the crowd here. I presume the sometimes Guardian scribe is not there because he’s going to do a game story for us.

Team All-Stars win the WNBA All-Star Game

And that’s a final, Team All-Stars win 93-85 over Team USA. They got the game in just in time.

With an 8 point lead with 32.7 seconds left, it looks like Team WNBA is about set to upset Team USA in the WNBA All-Star Game. A big blow for US women’s basketball that is also a big win for US women’s basketball.

Here’s the problem with the WNBA All-Star Game, we’re right in the final few minutes of that game but we’re also close to Opening Tip here in Milwaukee. It’s just super-awkward stuff.

Email from Andrew James:

Hunter mate,

What do you make of the Chris Paul love-in? Deserved or band-waggoning? And have injuries made or ruined these play offs? And how will the final frame next season?

Questions, questions...

Okay that’s a few things here. Well, Chris Paul is one of the greatest point guards in NBA history and, at 36, this is really the first and probably last chance to win a championship. It makes sense that he would be getting his flowers here. Maybe it’s a tad over-the-top here, but that’s always the case with everything during the Finals. We love our storylines.

As far as injuries: basketball is always better when its best players are healthy and able to play. We didn’t get that this year and it’s absolutely frustrating. It shouldn’t take anything away from whoever wins the Finals, but it would have been nice to see how this would have played out if the league were at anything close to full-strength.

As far as how these Finals will set up next? I don’t know, they might not at all, because of the injuries and all the games pushed back thanks to Covid-19, this could just be remembered as a weird blip of a year.

Phoenix Suns starters

And the Suns are going with their typical starters as well. Hey go with the guys who got you there, as the saying goes.

Chris Paul, PG

Devin Booker, SG

Mikal Bridges, SF

Jae Crowder, PF

Deandre Ayton, C

Milwaukee Bucks starters

It looks like we’re getting the same lineup as Game 1 for the Bucks:

Jrue Holiday, PG

JR Tucker, PF

Khris Middleton, SG

Giannis Antetokounmpo, SF

Brook Lopez, C

At the end of three quarters, the WNBA All-Star Game is tied at 66-66. So, um, if this game ends up being a Team USA loss does it count against them like the men’s team’s exhibition losses, or is it okay because the All-WNBA team is mostly American?

I will say this, it’s probably not great to have the WNBA All-Star game going on as we get closer to Game 4’s opening tip, but this is a heck of a lot more fun than grinding one’s teeth trying to get through another pregame show. With 4:23 left in the third quarter, Team All-Star have a

Meanwhile, the universe keeps giving us all signs that maybe it isn’t the best idea to hold the Olympics at all this summer.

Wizards star Bradley Beal has entered health and safety protocols at Team USA camp, placing his return to play status up in the air, sources tell me and @joevardon.

— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) July 15, 2021

Predictions

One of the annoying things about having to make predictions is that it colors how you approach the rest of the series. For instance, not knowing Giannis Antetokounmpo’s status, I predicted that the Suns would beat the Bucks in five games. However, Giannis hasn’t just been playing he has been playing at an extremely high level. It’s honestly perplexing because when he suffered his leg injury in the Eastern Conference Finals it really did look like he was going to be out for the postseason and possibly for the start of next season.

Instead he’s back and—so far—seemingly no worse for the wear. Yet, I am still locked into my Suns-in-five prediction so I have no choice but to predict that they will beat the Bucks today (and in the next game). I’m very much not too confident about this. Feel free to send us your personal predictions, either email them to hunter.felt.freelance@theguardian.com or tweet @HunterFelt and we’ll include them here.

Men’s Olympic Basketball Team

Speaking of the Olympics, the men’s basketball team actually won their last game after starting off 0-2 in exhibition games, losing to both Australia and Nigeria. While they absolutely slaughtered Argentina this time around, they won by 28 points, it wasn’t enough to ease concerns that this might be the most vulnerable men’s team in decades. That might not be great news for the U.S. but it wouldn’t be bad for the sport if other countries have legitimate chances at winning the gold.

Allie Quigley wins the WNBA Three Point Contest

Allie Quigley has won the three-point contest here during halftime, her third such win, and we’re heading back to the All-Star Game.

WNBA All-Star Game

Right now, the WNBA All-Star Game is taking place on ESPN, pitting the members of the women’s basketball Olympics team vs. a group of WNBA All-Stars. This way, it’s not just an All-Star Game but also a de facto Olympics tune-up game. Right now, after two quarters, Team All-Stars have a slim 44-43 lead over Team USA.

You may ask if it feels a little weird that the WNBA All-Star Game, which is supposed to be the day to showcase the league, is basically acting as the opening act for an NBA Finals game. Yes, yes it does in fact. Also: the three-point competition is taking place here at halftime?

Preamble

So, a lot has happened since the last we were here. In Game 1 of the NBA Finals, the Phoenix Suns beat the Milwaukee Bucks 118-105 despite the surprise return of Giannis Antetokounmpo to the Bucks lineup. Antetokounmpo looked more like himself in Game 2, but it still wasn’t enough to defeat a Phoenix team firing on all cylinders. However, the Bucks defended home court in Sunday’s Game 3, a dominant performance that changed the dynamics of the entire Finals. Now the question is if the Bucks can do it once again, tying up the series 2-2, or will the Suns make the adjustments and take a commanding 3-1 lead.

So, this is now—and I know you’re probably sick of this turn of phrase but it’s true—the pivotal game of the Finals. Either we’re going to get a guaranteed six games or the Bucks are going to be pushed to the verge of elimination. Here’s my thought: The Bucks won Game 3 because Antetokounmpo showed off the skills that made him a two-time MVP, putting up 41 points alongside 13 rebounds and six assists. The Suns will probably give him extra attention in Game 4, knowing now that he’s something close to full strength. The Suns could commit in making sure that anybody else but Giannis scores. If so, this would be Khris Middleton’s time to shine after something of an up-and-down postseason. We’ve already seen what he can do when he gets hot and he’s overdue to have a big game.

On the other hand, it’s entirely possible that Game 3 was something of a fluke. For the first two games, and even for much of Game 3’s first half, the Suns have looked like the superior team. The Bucks were always too good to have a counter-punch in them, but now that the Suns have absorbed it, they have an opportunity to land ther knockout blow. It also might not hurt that the long layover (thank you MLB All-Star Game) has given them time to make needed adjustments.

As I like saying at the start of these liveblogs, it’s going to be fun to find out either way. Like always, we’re looking for your thoughts throughout today’s game, you can email them (to hunter.felt.freelance@theguardian.com) or tweet them (to @HunterFelt). It’s Game 4 of the NBA Finals between the Phoenix Suns and the Milwaukee Bucks at Fiserv Forum. Opening tip is theoretically scheduled at 9:00pm EST but we’ll be back before then when updates, predictions and other assorted time-wasters.

Hunter will be here shortly. In the meantime here’s a look back at Sunday’s Game 3.

Contributor

Hunter Felt

The GuardianTramp

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18, Jul, 2021 @4:02 AM

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Devin Booker and Phoenix Suns torch Bucks to go halfway home in NBA finals
Booker scored 31 points, Chris Paul had 23 and the Suns beat Milwaukee 118-108 on Thursday night to take a 2-0 series lead in the NBA finals

Agencies

09, Jul, 2021 @6:02 AM

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Imperious Antetokounmpo hauls Bucks to Game 3 win over Suns in NBA finals
Giannis Antetokounmpo poured in 41 points as the Bucks won 120-100 over the Suns in Game 3 of the NBA finals on Sunday night in Milwaukee

Agencies

12, Jul, 2021 @2:50 AM

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Chris Paul scores 32 in NBA finals debut as Phoenix take Game 1 from Milwaukee
Chris Paul had 32 points and nine assists and the Suns beat the returning Giannis Antetokounmpo and his Bucks 118-105 on Tuesday night in Game 1

Agencies

07, Jul, 2021 @3:40 AM

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NBA finals predictions: Bucks or Suns? Our writers share their picks
Will the Bucks end a 50-year drought or can Chris Paul lift the Suns to their first NBA title? Our writers predict the winner, key players and dark horses

Oliver Connolly, Tyrell Feaster, Hunter Felt and Bryan Armen Graham

06, Jul, 2021 @7:30 AM

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Dogged Bucks rally past Suns in Game 4 to level NBA finals at two games apiece
Khris Middleton erupted for a team-high 40 points and the Bucks evened the NBA finals with a 109-103 win over the Suns in Game 4 on Wednesday

Agencies

15, Jul, 2021 @3:50 AM

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NBA finals 2021 Game 6: Phoenix Suns 98-105 Milwaukee Bucks – as it happened
Rolling report: The Milwaukee Bucks took down the Suns to clinch their first title in 50 years with a Game 6 win over the Phoenix Suns

Hunter Felt

21, Jul, 2021 @4:02 AM

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Freak out! Giannis Antetokounmpo’s 50 power Milwaukee Bucks to first NBA title since 1971
Giannis Antetokounmpo ended one of the greatest NBA finals ever with 50 points and a championship Milwaukee waited 50 years to win again

Agencies

21, Jul, 2021 @6:49 AM

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The Suns are in trouble but Monty Williams knows what true darkness is
Phoenix have taken a battering by Milwaukee in the last two games of the NBA finals. But their coach has overcome grief and adversity to get here

Andrew Lawrence

17, Jul, 2021 @9:23 AM