Down 2-0 in the NBA Finals, the Milwaukee Bucks see no other path to victory in Game 3 on Sunday night other than coming out swinging.
“It’s going to be tough,” Bucks forward Khris Middleton said. “They took care of their home court. We have to find a way to do the same. It starts with the first one at them, though. We’ve got to come out, be prepared and be ready for a dogfight. We have been in this hole before. It’s not going to be easy, but we’ve got to find a way to do it.”
Giannis Antetokounmpo put concerns about his hyperextended left knee in the rearview mirror by totaling 62 points in the first games, including 42 in the Bucks’ 118-108 loss in Game 2 on Thursday. But the Suns found more ways to score, including a timely performance from forward Mikal Bridges.
“We’ve been here before. We know what the deal is,” Antetokounmpo said. “Just got to be aggressive, keep enjoying playing together, keep enjoying playing basketball. And hopefully our good habits from throughout the year can take over and we can put ourselves in a position to win the game. But we know what the deal is.”
The deal is: win Sunday night or face a 3-0 deficit and the arduous task of beating the Suns in four consecutive games.
Milwaukee was down 2-0 to the Brooklyn Nets when the Bucks came home and found good fortune — and better defensive play — to eventually fight all the way back and win Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals.
Paul, playing in his first Finals at age 36, said his job is to inform his relatively newbie roster that there is a lot of work left for the Suns.
“I do a pretty good job of staying in the moment,” Paul said. “Maybe a lot of the guys on our team, it’s their first playoff series, they don’t know the heartache or the heartbreak. They’re just out there playing. So, for me I know how quick things can change. I know how a possession or a play can change the dynamics of an entire series. So, for me I don’t get too high, I don’t get too low, I just stay even keel.
“I know that these situations don’t happen every day.”
The Suns shot 50 percent from 3-point range in Game 2, draining contested attempts and eschewing the strategy many expected — feeding big man Deandre Ayton when the Bucks played a small-ball lineup. Head coach Mike Budenholzer said after each of the first two games the Bucks have to be better defending the 3-point line.
While Milwaukee lost Game 1, the Bucks focused on scoring in the paint and attacking the rim. The Suns expect to see more of that approach on Sunday. But head coach Monty Williams said Phoenix is in the preferred position of not needing to change anything, including playing through Booker.
When Game 2 tightened in the fourth quarter, Booker pushed a six-point lead to nine with a 3, and splashed back-to-back 3s to boost a seven-point lead to 13.
“We have a ‘let it fly’ mentality. Those are the moments that (Booker) lives for,” Williams said. “Doesn’t run from it. I’ve seen it from him for two years. He just steps up and makes big plays.”
Booker averaged 25.6 points per game in the regular season and is averaging 29 points in the first two games of the Finals.
“He’s our go-to player,” Suns forward Jae Crowder said. “We know he can make plays for himself and for others. So, we just try to get him in some good situations in good spots and read the game and react and play basketball.”