PHOENIX SUNS

Phoenix Suns confident, embracing NBA Finals elimination game

Jul 19, 2021, 1:00 PM | Updated: 1:08 pm
Phoenix Suns guard Chris Paul (3) shoots as Milwaukee Bucks forward P.J. Tucker (17) and center Bro...

Phoenix Suns guard Chris Paul (3) shoots as Milwaukee Bucks forward P.J. Tucker (17) and center Brook Lopez (11) defend during the first half of Game 5 of basketball's NBA Finals, Saturday, July 17, 2021, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Matt York, Pool)

(AP Photo/Matt York, Pool)

For a team that often cites its perfect bubble run in 2020 for building the foundation to its resiliency this season, the Phoenix Suns can feel good in this way: Back then, their 8-0 record made them spectators of a Blazers-Nets game that came a Caris LeVert jumper away from pushing Phoenix into the 2020 play-in tournament.

That lends perspective in 2021.

Down 3-2 in the NBA Finals to the Milwaukee Bucks, the Suns head back to Fiserv Forum — despite losing three games in a row — knowing what they do determines it all. Like that bubble run, every game won at least keeps opportunity alive.

Point guard Chris Paul was a member of the Oklahoma City Thunder when Phoenix’s 2019-20 season came to an end at Disney World, when it was out of their own control, but he explained the broad optimistic perspective best on Monday.

“It’s definitely exciting,” Paul said. “Something that (coach Monty Williams) and everybody been saying, if you went to the beginning of the season and said we had a chance to be where we are right now, would we take it? Absolutely. Absolutely.

“We get a chance to determine the outcome. It’s not like the game is going to be simulated or somebody else got to play. We got a chance, we control our own destiny.”

It’s the first time the Suns have been down since a 2-1 deficit in the first round against the Los Angeles Lakers.

And it’s their first must-win this postseason.

This may be most of the Suns’ first playoff experience and everyone’s first Finals appearance, save for Jae Crowder. Yet they can point to any number of experiences in the bubble, through this regular season and then into the playoffs as reasons to keep hope alive.

Even under the microscope of a single game Saturday, there’s evidence to believe Phoenix players when they say they haven’t lost confidence with three losses in a row.

Phoenix fell in Game 5 at home after blowing a 16-point lead and then falling behind by as many as 14 points. That came with nine minutes left, but the Suns whittled that to a single point with a minute left before losing, 123-119.

“There was obvious breakdowns, but that’s every game,” Williams said Tuesday. “The second quarter, there were a few vanilla possessions on offense that put us in a bind. But I also saw a lot of resilience and a no-quit attitude in those moments.

“For us to be able to cut it to one point, that was the thing that stuck out to me and gives our staff and team a lot of confidence as we go into this Game 6.”

The Suns understand that they’ve lost the last two games each by two possessions even though few players aside from Devin Booker — he scored 42 and 40 respectively in Games 4 and 5 — performed above average.

With that, the messaging in the Suns’ locker room has been constant: Stick together, fix the problems and play as they know they can.

A little desperation figures not to hurt.

“We’ve embraced where we are here playing in Game 6 here on the road, and I think from there, we’re going to do it collectively,” Crowder said. “We’re very upbeat and still confident in ourselves to get this thing done and get this thing back to Phoenix, and that’s where we at. That’s what I can honestly say about our group.

“The conversations we’ve had, the few conversations we’ve had leading up to right now, we know what we have to do. We know exactly the mental lapses that we’ve been having are self-inflicted. It’s all in our hands we feel like, and I just feel like the confidence is where it needs to be leading up to Game 6.”

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