By Greg Frank
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#2 Phoenix Suns vs. #3 Milwaukee Bucks
Phoenix leads series 2-0 (Game 3: Sunday at 8:00 PM ET on ABC)
Analysis: As the series shifts to Milwaukee, it’s now officially do or die time for the host Bucks in Game 3 on Sunday. The Phoenix Suns took the first two games and won both of them by double digits, sure, and it’s not exactly an encouraging sign for Milwaukee that Giannis Antetokounmpo played both games while still losing both either. In Game 2 Giannis had 42 points and 12 rebounds and the Bucks were still playing from behind most of the way. The Suns are now around a five-dollar favorite (-500) on the series price at just about every book. While Milwaukee did erase an 0-2 series deficit against Brooklyn in the second round, it was the Nets who turned into the walking wounded as that series unfolded. I’m not as optimistic about the Bucks’ chances here against such a well-balanced Phoenix team despite the fact they've recently lost two key role players to injuries in backup bigs/wins Dario Saric/Torrey Craig. Even though as the old adage goes, a playoff series doesn’t start until a team loses at home. Will we get that in Game 3?
I do want to exploit the home court angle for the Bucks in this Game 3 handicap though, and although the team down 0-2 going back home in a playoff series has been such a profitable spot to hit in the first half, sportsbooks have began building it into the line. For example, in Game 3 of the Western Conference Finals, the Clippers were a short favorite in the first half, trailed at halftime, but won the game as a one-point underdog for the full game. We’re seeing the first half number inflated in this Game 3 as well on Sunday.
The Bucks are laying four points for the full game spread and three plus the hook for the first 24 minutes of action. Milwaukee has only won three of the first eight quarters of this series, and one of those was the fourth quarter of Game 1 in which the Suns were already up 16 and just coasted to a 13-point win. With that in mind, I don’t want to back the Bucks on the first half spread when it’s almost the same number as the full game. So from a situational standpoint, if you want to back Milwaukee behind its home crowd, you’re far better off playing the Bucks in the first quarter. A couple of big buckets early could engage the crowd and get the Bucks off to the hot start they need. Since I wouldn’t be shocked if Phoenix swept the series, I’ll stay away from backing the Bucks in any game period longer than the first quarter and bank on them to lead by at least three points after 12 minutes. Giannis and company should come out confident and looking to shoot aggressively behind a raucous home crowd, which will certainly play a factor here.
Best Bet: Bucks First Quarter -2