Bridges: Suns can’t afford to sulk

Phoenix Suns forward Mikal Bridges says his team can’t afford to get downhearted if they want to fight back and force a series decider in the NBA Finals.

The Suns, after leading 2-0, now face the prospect of having to go to Milwaukee and win to stay alive in the series.

Three straight defeats have left them behind the eight-ball for the first time, including a first at home in Phoenix by 123-119 against the Bucks on Saturday night.

Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker, left, is defended by Milwaukee Bucks forward P.J. Tucker during the first half of Game 5 of basketball's NBA Finals, Saturday, July 17, 2021, in Phoenix. 4:03
Highlights of Game 5 in the NBA Finals between the Milwaukee Bucks and the Phoenix Suns

Bridges though, who won the NCAA championship twice with the Villanova Wildcats in 2016 and 2018, believes that the Suns have the necessary mettle to force the Finals to a Game 7, which will be on their home floor.

“We’re ready, man, we’re ready for next game,” Bridges said. “If you sulk about it, the blink of an eye the season is going to be over. So, we’ll learn from it, Coach is going to show clips and what we have to do better, but we know what we have to do. We lose it’s over.”

Sun coach Monty Williams, who has been very quote-worthy for reporters throughout the season with his intriguing adages and turns of phrase, came out with another on Saturday night.

“We’ve got to win one game to put them back on the plane,” he said. “That’s it. And you have to have that determination that you’re willing to do whatever it takes to put them back on the plane.”

Devin Booker was impressive for the second straight game on Saturday night, scoring 40 points on 17-of-33 shooting after his 42-point performance in a Game 4 loss.

He had every right to feel aggrieved following the loss. He had scored 11 points and the Suns built a 16-point lead when he sat down for a rest following the opening quarter. By the time Booker returned with 6:14 left in the second, the Suns’ lead had nearly disappeared, and the momentum was completely with the Bucks.

“We came out and did what we intended to do, get off to a great start and we let it go,” Booker said. “They stayed resilient and they kept playing through. So, tough loss for us.”

Giannis Antetokounmpo 1:29
Check out the top five plays from Game 5 of the NBA Finals between the Milwaukee Bucks and the Phoenix Suns

It’s important to point out that the Bucks put in a historically good offensive performance to take the win.

Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jrue Holiday and Khris Middleton were unstoppable in Game 5. Scoring a combined 88 points, Milwaukee’s ‘Big Three’ became just the fifth trio in NBA Finals history to each score 25 points on 50 per cent shooting in a single game.

They are the first to do so since legendary Lakers James Worthy (33 points), Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (36 points) and Magic Johnson (26 points) in 1985.

As for the Suns, coach Williams is adamant that better ball movement will be key if they want to win in Milwaukee.

Monty Williams has demonstrated his abilities as an elite-level NBA coach this season
Image: Monty Williams has demonstrated his abilities as an elite-level NBA coach this season

“We’ve got to move it around,” Suns coach Monty Williams said. “We know what ‘Book’ can do with the ball, but the one thing we talked about was getting to the paint, finding guys on the back side. We feel like that’s a formula. There were some times tonight where it just stuck a little bit.”

Phoenix’s Chris Paul, whose leadership has been key for the young squad this season, had a good game box score-wise with 21 points on 9-for-15 shooting, 11 assists and just one turnover in Game 5, but he was outplayed on both ends by Holiday, who made the game-defining play with a steal and then an alley-oop assist.

Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo, top, celebrates with guard Jrue Holiday (21) after the Bucks defeated the Phoenix Suns in Game 5 of basketball's NBA Finals, Saturday, July 17, 2021, in Phoenix. 0:20
Jrue Holiday steals the ball in the dying seconds of Game 5 of the NBA Finals and lofts the pass for Giannis Antetokounmpo to slam home for the Milwaukee Bucks’ win against the Phoenix Suns

Paul will need to up his level again if the Suns are to force a decider.

“We knew this wasn’t going to be easy,” he said. “We didn’t expect it to be. It’s hard. Coach said it all year long: everything we want is on the other side of hard, and it doesn’t get harder than this.

“So, we’ve got to regroup, learn from this game. But it’s over. We’ve got to get ready for Game 6.”

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