Upstart rivals Milwaukee and Phoenix battle in Saturday’s fifth game of the NBA Finals but only one title-hungry team will emerge on the brink of a historic championship.
With the best-of-seven series level at 2-2, the Bucks are halfway to their first crown in 50 years while the Suns haven’t won a title in their 53-year history.
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“It’s going to be a battle, but I think both sides know the price and both have a goal,” Milwaukee’s Jrue Holiday said. “You’ve just got to leave it all out there.”
Host Phoenix won the first two games at home while the Bucks took the next two in Milwaukee, where they are an NBA playoff-best 9-1.
“At this point it’s all will and grit,” Suns coach Monty Williams said. “You can’t talk about being tired. Our guys aren’t.”
Phoenix’s Chris Paul, a 36-year-old guard in the first finals of his 16-year career, said fatigue won’t be a factor for him.
“I would keep training and working out just for these moments,” Paul said. “When this does happen, you’re excited for it. Tired is the last thing, mentally or physically, because what else do you play for?”
The Suns hadn’t made the playoffs since 2010 until this season, but adding Paul sparked the team’s first finals run since 1993.
“Every game we have is a must win for us,” Suns guard Devin Booker said.
“We’re motivated. We’re embracing this moment. I don’t think at the beginning of the season anybody in this league expected us to be in the situation we’re in. We’re excited for it.”
If the Suns lose, the Bucks could claim the crown in Milwaukee in game six on Tuesday.
“We’ve got to protect home court and win the game. It’s that simple,” Paul said. “That’s why they make it seven games. It’s dramatic.”
The Bucks have been sparked by Greek forward Giannis Antetokounmpo, a two-time NBA Most Valuable Player with two 40-point games and strong rebounding and defensive performances.
“The way Giannis is playing, he has been playing like he’s MVP caliber. He’s playing like he wants to win the finals,” Holiday said. “You’ve seen times where he’s just put the team on his back. Giannis is being Giannis, and we have to continue to just try to help and support him.”
Antetokounmpo is counting on the Bucks keeping the same poise with the series level they had when they trailed 0-2 and battled back.
“When we were down before, we didn’t act like it was the end of the world,” Antetokounmpo said. “We weren’t worrying about going and trying to win two. We were going to put ourselves in a position to win.
“This team has a great mindset in that. Hopefully we are going to keep doing it moving forward.”
– ‘Other side of hard’ –
To keep the Suns motivated to fight through the obstacles, the team hs adopted a motto.
“Everything you want is on the other side of hard,” Booker said. “We know if we want to do as a team, it’s not going to be easy at all.
“Everything is going to be difficult. Embrace the moment. Understand that this is it. It’s going to be tough, but you have to overcome obstacles.
“The playoffs is an emotional roller coaster as it is. Whichever team is most level throughout all the commotion of the playoffs typically succeeds the most.”
Holiday says the Bucks must keep shooting to sink the Suns, even through slumps.
“You need to shoot at all times,” Holiday said. “Sometimes when you lose you probably get a little down on yourself, but at the end of the day, man, if you don’t take the shot, then how is it going to go in?”
Milwaukee’s Khris Middleton says the Bucks have had plenty of good shots.
“The shots we’ve all taken, have been pretty good looks,” he said. “We just got to knock ’em down. It’s as simple as that.”
Suns coach Monty Williams wants his team to cut down the 17 turnovers they allowed in game four.
“They got hands on ball a few times,” Williams said. “But a lot of it was things that we can correct.”