The Phoenix Suns took care of business at home, commanding a 2-0 series lead over the Milwaukee Bucks. With games three and four on the road, the mentality isn’t changing. While the magic number for a title is two, the motto is one game at a time.
— Phoenix Suns (@Suns) July 10, 2021
“For us, the biggest game of the year is tomorrow,” Chris Paul said in his media availabilty today. “Tomorrow. It’s a must-win game for us. We got to come out with that mindset… We got to be the hungrier team so that’s what we’ll do.”
Despite a 2-0 lead, the Valley Boys know there’s things to work on because the Bucks won’t back down. This is the moment they’ve all been waiting for, so they’re grinding away with business as usual.
Torrey Craig update
In Game 2, Torrey Craig went down with a right knee injury. His status for Game 3 is still unknown.
“We’ll find out more, he got testing done yesterday and everything came back clean,” Williams said. “He’s still sore…. We’ve got guys who can play more minutes.”
The guys he alluded to playing more minutes are Cam Johnson and Abdel Nader. Johnson has been electric this postseason, shooting over 50% on wide-open threes. Nader came back from injury in the Western Conference Finals and has only played limited minutes.
Learning from road success
The Suns have the best road record in the NBA this season. They’ve also clinched all three series wins on the road. That’s a possibility in Milwaukee if a sweep is complete.
“There’s a lot of athletes that’ll tell you they like playing on the road,” Paul said. “I like playing on the road… it’s just you and the guys traveling together. It’s fun.”
“We have a close team,” Booker said “We spend a lot of time together, we get our laughs in together daily… we enjoy playing on the road. We spend a lot of our free time together too.”
Paul also mentioned that there’s no atmosphere like the one inside Phoenix Arena because of the fans. However, he loves the challenge of playing against tough road crowds too.
While playoff games on the road are different from ones at home, more so than in the regular season, the process of preparing stays the same for this team.
“For us the thing that’s been consistent is the culture pieces that we’ve implemented everyday on the road and at home,” Williams said. “That’s helped our young guys play the way they have.”
Today that preparation includes watching film together and doing mental practices to keep everyone’s minds sharp for Game 3 on Sunday.
More to do, more to come.
— Phoenix Suns (@Suns) July 9, 2021
Keep up the energy
Back in the Western Conference Finals against the Los Angeles Clippers, hustle and energy were an issue for the Suns at times. The way they play is no different schematically, but it’s been instilled that they need to control what they can control.
“There was some games in the previous series where we didn’t bring it,” Devin Booker said. “We’ve picked it up in that regard. We understand we can’t control missed shots, but the 50-50 balls and our energy is something we can.”
On numerous occasions, Williams has called out his players for not playing with urgency. With the Bucks needing a win in Game 3, the Suns have to match the same desperate focus that Milwaukee is sure to bring.
Defense wins championships. Both the Bucks and Suns are top 10 teams in nearly every defensive category. In this series, the Suns backcourt is outshining the Bucks duo of Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday. In Game 2, Middleton and Holiday combined to shoot 9-26 from the field.
“Players of that talent and that caliber that score the ball as they do, we can just make it hard on them,” Booker said. “Half the game is ball screens and switching out so everybody has to be locked in. It’s just about communication amongst each other.”
One matchup that’s given Phoenix better looks is the pick ‘n roll game with Bucks center Brook Lopez getting exposed on switches. Paul knows adjustments are coming.
“Brook [Lopez] is smart, very very smart,” Paul said. “This is a game, everybody is trying to figure out how to stop this guy, how to stop that guy. Usually some of the best people are the people who have counters. For us, it’s all about making adjustments.”
🚨Hey @Suns fans🚨if you’ve created any wall art or murals like the one below I’d love to shout you out! Send me a DM or reply with your favorite Suns artwork! #RallyTheValley
Mural by: @JaceyKitamura pic.twitter.com/LQIwsfouKR
— Claudia Faust (@claudianfaust) July 9, 2021
Chris Paul fitting in with youth
Much has been said about Chris Paul’s leadership this season and how it equates to this playoff run. While he’s also considered himself a leader, he’s learned from his teammates this year as well.
“One thing about Book is he stays in kill mode all game long,” Paul said. “He’s going to let it ride and I respect that and learned from that. Our team also has taught me that yes we can be serious but we have fun too.”
This learning and fitting in with younger players began in Oklahoma City last year. Being away from his family and surrounded by youththul teammates, he had to learn TikTok and all kinds of things to fit in and form bonds.
“Shai [Gilgeous-Alexander] and [Darius] Bazley became my extended family in Oklahoma City,” Paul said as he laughed. “They really keep you young… getting here with my team in Phoenix without my family again, I was grateful that the guys would even come over and kick it with me… it’s a good chance to bond and have these guys try vegan food every now and then. They didn’t always love that, but we did get a lot of time together.”
Fun fact: Monty Williams played on a team where four of the players went on to become head coaches. The 1995-96 Spurs roster included Williams, Doc Rivers, Avery Johnson, and Vinny Del Negro. Out of that group, Williams never through he’d be the guy to become a head coach.
“I was probably the last guy they thought was going to be a head coach,” Williams said. “If I was looking for somebody [on this team] it would be Cam Payne. He just goes out there and hoops and doesn’t really strike you as someone who’s going to be a head coach someday, but it could be him because that’s probably who I was most like. I didn’t really fit any of those paradigms that you would look at to say ‘that guy’s going to be a head coach someday.'”
This postseason has further shaped Paul’s legacy and is scratching the surface of Booker’s. But, this point isn’t reached without the commitment they made to eachother and the sacrifices they offered for the betterment of the team.
“They could probably shoot more than they do, their sacrifices allowed Mikal [Bridges] and Cam Johnson to elevate their careers,” Williams said. “It ceratainly has helped DA [Deandre Ayton]. When you look at Chris and Book, they see so many defenses and they don’t force the issue… they just make the next right play and that’s one sacrifice. And I think two is they both came into this willingly thinking I may have to share some of the shine, whatever that is. They both came into it knowing that they may have to do that and its helped our team.”
Speaking of Booker and creating his legacy, his work wthic draws comparison (right or wrong) to Kobe Bryant. He just works without making a scene, because that’s what he’s done his whole life.
“I don’t do too many cameras when I workout,” Booker said. “I don’t feel the need to portray it to the world when I’m working and when I’m getting in the gym. Just understanding that you can’t cheat yourself.”
PHX/MIL Game 3: Sunday, 8pm/et, ABC pic.twitter.com/AsSqXvek7b
— NBA (@NBA) July 10, 2021
Game 3 is Sunday night 5:00 p.m. PST on ABC. Follow us on Twitter @sports360az for more covering during the rest of the postseason.