Bucks keeping it light while Suns hungry in NBA Finals
MILWAUKEE – Giannis Antetokounmpo wants the Milwaukee Bucks to enjoy a light atmosphere for Sunday’s game three of the NBA Finals while Chris Paul wants the Phoenix Suns intense and hungry.
But it’s the Bucks who desperately need a victory, down 2-0 in the best-of-seven championship showdown, while the Suns know no NBA team has won a playoff series after dropping the first three games.
“We all understand what kind of game we’re getting ourselves into. We know what we got to do,” Antetokounmpo said. “But at the end of the day, you got to keep it light.
“You cannot tell yourself, ‘Oh, it’s the Finals. You got to do this. There’s so much pressure, man.’ No, it’s still basketball. You got to keep the atmosphere light.”
The Greek star forward, a two-time NBA Most Valuable Player, also knows the Bucks most improve after their first back-to-back double-digit defeats since February.
“We got to play better. We got to compete harder to put ourselves in a position to win,” Antetokounmpo said. “We’ve come a long way to be in this position and we got to try to make the best out of it.”
The Bucks are 7-1 at home in the playoffs but playing the first NBA Finals game in Milwaukee since 1974 is just another road contest for the Suns, who are 6-2 on the road in the playoffs after going an NBA-best 24-12 away from home in the regular season.
“The biggest game of the year is tomorrow. It’s a must-win game for us,” Paul said. “We got to come out with that mindset.
“We know they’re home, they’re more comfortable, they will be in front of their fans. But we got to be us. We got to be the hungrier team. So that’s what we’ll do.”
The Suns seek the first title in the club’s history while the Bucks seek their first NBA crown in 50 years.
“We feel like we can play better on both ends of the court,” Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said. “I want them to be free. I want them to compete and play.
“You got to win some of those 50/50 balls. Got to be good in transition defense, keeping them off the free throw line, getting back and contesting shooters. So many things that go into winning. I just want our guys to come and play. That’s the most important thing for us.
“We got to keep working to get better. When you get good looks, good opportunities, it’s going to be helpful if we convert.”
Injuries could be an issue for the Suns, who lost Croatian reserve forward Dario Sakic with a torn right knee ligament and have forward Torrey Craig listed day-to-day with a right knee injury.
“He’s still sore,” Suns coach Monty Williams said of Craig. We’ll adjust. We have guys who can play more minutes.”
It could mean more time off the bench for Cameron Johnson and Egyptian forward Abdel Nader.
“We have a saying — Next Man Up,” Suns forward Jae Crowder said. “We feel like we have enough in our locker room, no matter if one guy goes down.”
Phoenix guard Devin Booker expects no surprises from the Bucks at this point.
“It’s the Finals. We’re playing for the prize,” he said. “I don’t think there’s going to be a storm that we haven’t seen. Those guys are bringing it we’re going to bring it and that’s that.”
‘Always another level’
That energy level, Booker said, is one of the few things a team can control.
“There were some games in the previous series where we didn’t bring it, just from the energy standpoint, energy and effort,” Booker said. “We’ve picked it up in that regard. We can’t control if we make or miss shots, but the 50/50 balls and the intensity throughout, the team can always have another level.”
Milwaukee’s Khris Middleton recalled how the Bucks rallied from an 0-2 deficit to oust Brooklyn in the second round, so the Bucks know they can flip the script on the Suns.
“A lot of people thought our season was done,” Middleton said. “We still believed in ourselves. We came back and had an ugly grind-it-out game. We found a way to win. We just got to find a way to win one game at a time from here on out.
“Having that home crowd behind you gives you that adrenaline, that extra burst, that extra energy.”