NBA

NBA Finals 2021: Suns embrace 'sense of urgency' ahead of first must-win game

By Sports Desk July 19, 2021

In search of his first championship in his 16th NBA season, Chris Paul has written a mantra on his shoes throughout the playoffs. 

"Can't give up now" has become a rallying cry for Phoenix Suns fans and the sentiment has never been more appropriate than it is now. 

Tuesday's Game 6 of the NBA Finals against the Milwaukee Bucks will be the Suns' 22nd playoff game this season, and it will be the first in which they have faced elimination. 

"It's for real," Paul told reporters Monday. "It's no looking back now. We got to come out, be ready to play and it's either win or go home.

"Coach [Monty Williams] has said all season long, everything you want is on the other side of hard, and it doesn't get any harder than this.

"So we know that this is a must-win game for us. Nothing more than that. Now we got to hoop."

The Suns have done just that throughout their playoff run, winning nine in a row across three series at one point. 

They have now dropped three straight games for only the second time this season, the other skid coming in late January. 

Despite those setbacks after taking a 2-0 series lead, multiple Phoenix players spoke Monday about embracing the challenge. 

Suns forward Jae Crowder was in the same position as a member of the Miami Heat last season, and although they lost Game 6 and the Finals to the Los Angeles Lakers, he will take what he remembers from that disappointment into Tuesday's game. 

"As a player, it brings out a sense of desperation," he said. "It brings out a sense of urgency. It brings a sense of collectiveness within your group, knowing what you're battling and knowing what you're going up against.

"I just feel like you have to continue to fight each and every position. You have to take it a possession at a time. It's a dogfight. I've been on both sides of it. I've tried to close out teams and I know how hard it is.

"It's just a sense of desperation on our end, a sense of just collectively get the job done by any means, have a positive mindset and just have a mindset of just get the job done by any means necessary, and that's each and every possession, just giving it your all, selling out each and every possession for your team and for your team-mates."

With no margin for error, the Suns remain appreciative of the opportunity they have, particularly on the heels of a 34-39 campaign in 2019-20. 

"It's definitely exciting," said Paul. "Something that Coach and everybody has 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 you take it? Absolutely. Absolutely.

"And 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 get a chance. We control our own destiny."

Related items

  • LaVine returning to Bulls on 5-year, $215M max deal LaVine returning to Bulls on 5-year, $215M max deal

    Zach LaVine will be staying with the Chicago Bulls after the All-Star guard agreed to a five-year, $215.2million maximum extension on Friday.

    LaVine's agent, Rich Paul of Klutch Sports, confirmed the agreement to The Athletic. The deal contains a player option for nearly $49m in the final year.

    Acquired from Minnesota in 2017 as part of a draft-day trade that sent six-time All-Star Jimmy Butler to the Timberwolves, LaVine has emerged as one of the NBA's most consistent scorers during his time in Chicago. The 27-year-old joined the legendary Michael Jordan as the only players in franchise history to average 23 or more points per game in four consecutive seasons after averaging 24.4 per game in 2021-22.

    LaVine also shot 38.9 per cent from three-point range and 85.3 per cent from the free throw line this past season to earn his second straight All-Star nod and help the Bulls reach the playoffs for the first time since 2016-17.

    By retaining LaVine, the Bulls keep a core intact that also consists of 2021-22 All-Star DeMar DeRozan, center Nikola Vucevic and playmaking point guard Lonzo Ball. That group led Chicago to a 46-36 finish last season, their most victories since 2014-15, and a sixth seed in the Eastern Conference.

    LaVine was hampered down the stretch of last season by a left knee injury and underwent surgery in May, but is expected to be fully recovered in time for training camp.

  • Salah signs new Liverpool deal: The data that highlights Egyptian king's importance to Klopp's side Salah signs new Liverpool deal: The data that highlights Egyptian king's importance to Klopp's side

    Mohamed Salah committed his long-term future to Liverpool on Friday by signing a new three-year deal.

    The Egypt international was due to be out of contract at the end of the upcoming season, leading to strong links with a move away from Anfield.

    However, out of the blue, Salah has penned an extension to – temporarily, at least – bring an end to speculation over his future.

    After losing Sadio Mane to Bayern Munich, albeit with Darwin Nunez signed as a replacement of sorts, tying down Salah is a major boost for Liverpool ahead of the new season.

    Here, Stats Perform looks at just how important Salah has been for Liverpool over the past five years, and how his record compares to Europe's other elite attackers.

    ALREADY AMONG LIVERPOOL GREATS

    It is difficult to remember now, but Salah's arrival from Roma in a deal rising to £43million raised more than a few eyebrows due to his disappointing earlier spell with Chelsea.

    Six major honours later, including one as a key part in the club's first Premier League title triumph, and Salah will go down as one of Liverpool's all-time greats.

    The 30-year-old has made 254 appearances for the Reds in total, 235 of those being starts, and has scored 156 goals while assisting 58 more.

    Those 156 goals rank him ninth on the list of Liverpool's record scorers, with considerable ground to make up on Ian Rush at the top of that list with 346 goals.


    CLOSING IN ON GERRARD RECORD

    Salah might struggle to overhaul Rush, but he will also have another record in his sights when the 2022-23 campaign gets up and running next month.

    With 164 direct goal involvements in the Premier League, Salah trails only Steven Gerrard (212) among Reds players in the competition in that regard.

    Indeed, only two players from Europe's top five leagues have scored and assisted more goals across the same period – Robert Lewandowski (184) and Lionel Messi (200).

    Kylian Mbappe, seen by many as the most desirable player in world football, is fourth on that list on 163 goal involvements, while Ciro Immobile is fifth with 159.


    PREMIER LEAGUE PEDIGREE

    Salah has scored 118 goals for Liverpool in the Premier League alone, which is 13 more than next-best Harry Kane among all clubs since the start of the 2017-18 season.

    Those strikes have helped Salah to three Golden Boot awards – only Arsenal legend Thierry Henry (4) has finished top of the competition's scoring charts more often.

    The former Basel forward also ranks top for minutes per goal among those to have played at least 100 times (126 minutes per goal), shots (678) and touches in the opposition box (1,575).

    However, one metric he does not lead is assists, with Manchester City's Kevin De Bruyne boasting 58 to Salah's 46.


    MORE TO COME FROM MO

    Salah's output has been consistent across his five years at Anfield, starting between 45 and 49 games a season and registering double figures for assists in all but one of those campaigns.

    He has remained a prolific scorer throughout, with a high of 44 goals in the 2017-18 season and a low – but still respectable – 23 in the 2019-20 campaign. The latter was the season when Liverpool won the Premier League.

    The Al Mokawloon youth product has managed 31 goals in each of the past two seasons, while the 15 assists registered last season was a career-high.

    All that suggests Salah is far from finished on Merseyside, and with a new three-year deal signed, Liverpool fans have plenty more to look forward to from their 'Egyptian king'.

  • Wimbledon: Djokovic takes his tennis 'up a notch' as he serves up Centre Court drubbing Wimbledon: Djokovic takes his tennis 'up a notch' as he serves up Centre Court drubbing

    Novak Djokovic warned Wimbledon title pretenders his game is improving with every round as he eased past fellow Serbian Miomir Kecmanovic on Centre Court.

    Defending champion Djokovic won 6-0 6-3 6-4 in one hour and 53 minutes to book a last-16 clash with Dutch wild card Tim van Rijthoven.

    The 20-time grand slam winner will carry out due diligence on Wimbledon rookie Van Rijthoven, who is through to the fourth round on his debut and has reeled off eight successive wins.

    Van Rijthoven won the Rosmalen Grass Court Championships in the lead-up to this fortnight, stunning world number one Daniil Medvedev in the final.

    Yet on the form that saw Djokovic crush Kecmanovic's hopes, Van Rijthoven will surely stand little hope of going any deeper into the tournament.

    Djokovic won 88 per cent of points when landing his first serve in court, and he has now reached the fourth round at Wimbledon on 14 occasions, a performance only beaten in men's singles by Roger Federer (18) and Jimmy Connors (16).

    "I thought I started off very, very well, very strong with a lot of good intensity, good focus," Djokovic said in an on-court interview.

    "Honestly, I think I've been playing better and better as the tournament progresses, so that's something you wish for as a player, that every match you play you raise a level of tennis up a notch, at least, and I think that's what is happening at the moment.

    "I know I can always do better, I always expect the highest from myself, and so far, so good, and I'm looking forward to the next challenge."

    Data slam: Familiarity breeds familiar outcome

    The battle of these Davis Cup team-mates was always unlikely to go the way of the 25th seed, and so it proved that Kecmanovic could not cope with the animal that Centre Court brings out in Djokovic.

    This was a third career meeting in tournament action for the pair, with both previous encounters having come at the Serbia Open. Kecmanovic took the opener against Djokovic before slumping to defeat when they played in Belgrade in April, but this was a rout, the 22-year-old underdog trampled.

    WINNERS/UNFORCED ERRORS
    Djokovic – 36/19
    Kecmanovic– 13/27

    ACES/DOUBLE FAULTS
    Djokovic – 6/4
    Kecmanovic – 1/5

    BREAK POINTS WON
    Djokovic - 6/12
    Kecmanovic - 1/4

© 2022 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.