Suns attempt to bounce back as Bucks try to level NBA Finals

Milwaukee (AFP) –


Devin Booker wants to forget his worst playoff performance while his Phoenix Suns teammates try to use a lopsided loss as motivation to seize a commanding NBA Finals advantage.

The Suns lead the best-of-seven championship showdown 2-1 entering game four Wednesday at Milwaukee, where the Bucks will try to pull level in quest of their first title in half a century.

Greek forward Giannis Antetokounmpo scored 41 points and grabbed 13 rebounds to spark the Bucks while the Suns struggled, guard Booker shooting 3-of-14 for 10 points, both playoff lows.

"Short memory. Just move on," Booker said Tuesday. "Just understanding the situations you've been through and trusting the work you've put in.

"You just have to be better if you want to win the game. It's a good pressure. These are the moments you prepare for and you train so hard for, what we're in right now, so you have to be excited about it."

Chris Paul, in his first NBA Finals at age 36, noted how the Suns, chasing their first NBA title, have bounced back well after playoff defeats, winning nine in a row after suffering their only back-to-back defeats.

"This ain't golf. It's not tennis. We're all in this together. Everybody on our team took the loss hard," Paul said. "We felt like we could be better. We'll all come out ready to play tomorrow."

The Suns, who own the best road record in the NBA playoffs at 6-3, will try to seize command over the Bucks squad that has a playoff-best 8-1 home mark.

"We lost. That's the motivation," Suns guard Cameron Payne said. "It's a long flight home, so we know we've got to come and hit them first.

"It's a tough road, but we've got to get it done. We've just got to stay poised through the adversity."

Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer expects big improvements from Booker.

"We're expecting we're going to have to be even better on him," Budenholzer said. "We just got to be prepared for a really good Devin Booker going into game four.

"The better we can do on Paul and Booker, the better we can do."

Antetokounmpo, a two-time NBA Most Valuable Player, seeks a third consecutive 40-point performance even as the Suns try to establish a defensive wall to keep him from easy baskets near the hoop.

"Funny there's a defense out there called the Giannis Wall," he said. "It's a compliment that there's got to be three people in front stopping me from getting in the paint. I hate it, though. But at the end of the day, you got to figure out a way to play through it."

The Suns would like to at least contain Antetokounmpo.

"We have to figure out a way to slow him down," Paul said. "We're going to keep trying to build a wall. He's coming full speed every play. We just try to get in his way."

The Bucks will try and shut down Paul as well, denying the pick-and-roll master his trademark mid-range jump shots.

"Just not let him be as comfortable," Bucks playmaker Khris Middleton said. "The first two games, he was able to walk to his spots so easily. He's smart. He orchestrates his team to where he wants guys to go."

- 'Head of the snake' -

Jrue Holiday, who found his scoring touch in game three after two games struggling with his shots and denying Paul, enjoys the challenge of guarding the 16-year veteran.

"It's kind of like the cat and mouse, trying to play chess. A lot of times you just have to figure out when it actually happens, in real time," said Holiday. "It's a bit frustrating. But there's also this fun part in trying to figure out the equation."

Part of solving the puzzle is starting tight defending as Paul soon as possible.

"I try to pick him up as close to full court as possible so I can frustrate him, try to get him gassed, try to speed him up," Holiday said.

"The strategy really is to make it as difficult on CP because he's the head of the snake."