Elimination games are all about mentality, and the Milwaukee Bucks acclimatize to the demands of the finish as the Phoenix Suns try to take on the underdog role.
“You have to accept it,” Suns forward Jae Crowder said Monday after the team’s tune-up practice for Game 6 on Tuesday night. “You have to understand where you are in the series and from there you have to focus and channel your emotions and your energy to the next game, and it’s tomorrow night. We just know it’s going to be air combat.
“It’s winning or going home. The words speak for [themselves]. “
Where the Suns are right now, it’s one win away from being knocked out of the NBA Finals after leading 2-0. Milwaukee has won three games in a row, with late-game exploits to win Game 4 at home and Game 5 in Phoenix on Saturday night.
Phoenix had the NBA’s best road record – 24-12 – in the regular season. But Milwaukee, 26-10 in the regular season, tied for the league for the fifth best home mark with the Los Angeles Clippers.
The Suns are focused on repairing a defense that gave Giannis Antetokounmpo a pair of 40-point games, another for Khris Middleton and a memorable effort in Game 5 for Jrue Holiday.
“Our guys always wanted it, but I think when you’re in times like this it’s different,” said Suns head coach Monty Williams. “It’s different from the first time against the Lakers, where it was just 2-1. That’s it. I think we’re going to see more, like we’ve been doing throughout the playoffs.”
While the Bucks have shared the starring role for three straight wins in the series, the Suns continue to rely heavily on Devin Booker. He has 82 of the team’s 222 points in the last two games in a pair of losing 40-point efforts. Williams has admitted Booker wants to “win the moment”, but the Suns need more team attack to dismantle the Milwaukee defense.
“We had a good balance between the type of play that Devin brought in, but we also had the ball movement that can break you,” said Williams.
“We talked about it. We saw it in the fourth quarter, where the ball was circling around the gym. That’s basically how we cut [the deficit].
“And so the balance of that, but at the same time, I don’t want to hamper the gift that our one-on-one players have, because that’s why we’re here. We wouldn’t be in this position if Chris (Paul) and Devin couldn’t create their own shots. That’s a fact. “
The Bucks continued to dominate inside even without Antetokounmpo carrying the scoring load and missed 21 quick break points in Game 5. Milwaukee head coach Mike Budenholzer credits the open hall decision making to unifying his group and promoting the level of selflessness the Bucks presented the last two games.
Decisions don’t come as easily or naturally for Paul, the Suns point guard who averages 3.6 turnovers per game in the series amid all-field pressure from the Bucks. The idea, Holiday said, is to make Paul work on every dribble and hope it pays off with missed shots or rushed decisions in the fourth quarter.
Paul said on Monday that he was not ashore. He’s thrilled to know that the Suns can reverse the script in Game 6.
“It’s really exciting,” said Paul, denying that there was any extra pressure. “Something the coach and everyone said: If you went to the start of the season and said we had a chance to be where we are right now, would you take it? Absolutely. Absolutely.
“And we have a chance to determine the outcome. It’s not like the game is going to be mocked or someone else has to play. We have a chance. We are in control of our own destiny.”
For Milwaukee, winning at home on Tuesday brings the Larry O’Brien Trophy to the Bucks organization for the first time since 1971. It helps allay a recent history of playoff failure and could loosen criticism from Budenholzer, who no ‘insists nothing in the past has been referenced to motivate his team to get there.
“Every team’s journey is a little different. Every player’s journey is a little different,” said Budenholzer. “I think what we’ve been through the last few years and where we are today is all part of it. It helps us become who we are, and I hope we’re better prepared, either. from a technical point of view, from a mental point of view, from a physical point of view.
“Your experiences, they help make you who you are.
“At the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter. We have to go and play Game 6. We have to prepare to run and play good basketball. But, yeah, those things have helped where we are. are today. “
Antetokounmpo has signed a long-term deal to continue his marriage to Milwaukee and is eager to go to court on Tuesday night with a chance to seal the series. He also recalls that if the script doesn’t follow its own plan, the Bucks have another chance in their back pocket.
“We have to be in the present as much as possible. I cannot focus on the celebration,” he said. “I can’t focus on this right now because I feel like you’re getting too far ahead of yourself. We have to focus. I have to focus now and then when the game is tomorrow , focus on each possession at a time, one possession at a time.
“Like I said, play basketball well, compete as hard as you can and put yourself in a position to win this game. That’s all you can ask for. I hope we win. If we win, so much the better, if we don’t, we have one more chance.
“But if we win it would be great to celebrate with the fans inside and outside and with our families because it’s something historic happening in the city right now.”
NBA Finals Live 6: Phoenix @ Milwaukee Gm6 07/20 2545
Wednesday July 21 1:45 a.m.