Giannis Antetokounmpo has produced a performance for the ages to lead the Milwaukee Bucks to their first NBA title since 1971 after a 105-98 win over the Phoenix Suns on Tuesday.

The Greek forward scored 50 points with 14 rebounds and five blocks in a monster Game 6 performance, including a 20-point third quarter after the Suns charged back in the second.

Antetokounmpo's haul was his third 40-plus-point display in the NBA Finals, while he reached 20 points in a quarter for the second time in the series, which is a feat which had not been achieved since Michael Jordan in 1993.

The 26-year-old, who shook off his demons to be exceptional from the free-throw line with 17-from-19, also becomes only the seventh player in the history of NBA Finals to have a 50-point game.

It came as no surprise as Antetokounmpo was named MVP of the NBA Finals after a heroic series. His achievement is more remarkable given he overcame injury after he hyperextended his knee in the Conference Finals.

Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday were subdued early in Game 6, with Antetokounmpo ably taking the lead role. Middleton came through with some key late buckets, finishing with 17 points, while Holiday had 12 points, nine rebounds and 11 assists.

Veteran Suns guard Chris Paul scored 26 points with five assists, while Devin Booker's shooting radar was off, with 19 points at 36.4 per cent from the field.

Antetokounmpo was the lead act as the Bucks ended their half-century wait for an NBA title, helping Milwaukee get off to a flying start with a 29-16 opening quarter at the Fiserv Forum.

Bobby Portis provided early support with 10 points as Holiday struggled for offensive impact, before the Suns responded with an 8-0 second-quarter run to lead 47-42 at half-time.

Phoenix led by as much as seven points early in the third quarter but Antetokounmpo was at the forefront of the Bucks' response, with a memorable 20-point period.

The Suns got as close as four points with less than 90 seconds remaining after Jae Crowder's pair of free-throws, but Middleton's jumper followed by a duo from the stripe sealed victory for the Bucks.

The Milwaukee Bucks can clinch a first NBA title since 1971 with victory over the Phoenix Suns in Game 6 of the Finals on Tuesday, with Giannis Antetokounmpo preaching the importance of a team-first approach and staying in the moment.

Having fallen 2-0 behind in the series with back-to-back defeats in Phoenix, the Bucks are on the cusp of glory having reeled off three successive wins.

Milwaukee clinched a dramatic Game 5 triumph in Phoenix on Saturday, Jrue Holiday combining with Antetokounmpo for the defining play late in the fourth quarter as he stole the ball from Devin Booker and then lofted a pass for the two-time MVP to send down a thunderous dunk.

That has set the stage for the Bucks to end their 50-year wait in front of their home fans, but Antetokounmpo is not focusing on the potential celebrations should the Bucks close out the series.

"It's going to be amazing. Hopefully we can focus what we got to do and be in the present, compete as much as possible, play good basketball and be the team that wins at the end," said Antetokounmpo 

"Hopefully we can enjoy it with our family and with the fans and they can enjoy it also. I feel like it's something that you can feel the excitement in the city. The last time we were in the NBA Finals was 1974.

"It's been a while. I'm happy that the fans are enjoying it. There's 20,000 people in the arena, 25,000 people outside the arena. But we got to focus. We got to do our job. Then they can do their job celebrating at the end. But we got to do our job first.

"So we got to be in the present as much as possible. I can't focus on celebrating. I can't focus on that right now because I feel like you get too ahead of yourself. We got to focus. I got to focus right now, and then when the game comes tomorrow, focus on each possession at a time, a possession at a time.

"As I said, play good basketball, compete as hard as possible and put ourselves in a position to be able to win that game. That's all can you ask for. Hopefully we win.

"If we win, great. If we don't, we have one more chance. But if we win, it would be nice to celebrate with the fans inside and outside and with our families, because this is something historical that is happening in the city right now."

While Antetokounmpo is averaging a double-double in the series with 32.2 points and 13 rebounds, Holiday and Khris Middleton have each played a pivotal role for the Bucks.

The Bucks have scored 344 points in the Finals when that trio have been on the court, with images of Antetokounmpo leaning on Holiday or Middleton a frequent feature of this series.

 

Asked if he has improved at making it a "we not me" journey, Antetokounmpo replied: "Have to. Everybody is a part of this process. I don't think there's been anybody that has gone through this process by himself and go all the way and win the NBA championship.

"We have to do it together. I need Khris to be great, I need Jrue to be great, I need Bobby [Portis], all of those guys to be great.

"I'm tired. I look next to me, Khris is tired and Jrue is tired or whatever the case might be. It's like they're my brothers. That's when you want to hug them, put your arm around them and, like, we got this, we got this together, we got to keep doing this together until the end."

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Milwaukee Bucks – Jrue Holiday 

All the focus will be on Antetokounmpo but, as he proved in Game 5, Holiday is just as key to the Bucks' hopes.

He is averaging a series-high nine assists per game in the Finals, and his influence on Antetokounmpo is clear.

Antetokounmpo is averaging 41.1 points per 100 possessions with Holiday on the court in the Finals, compared to 38.2 when he is off the floor.

The Finals' top facilitator and top scorer must each be at their best to ensure the Bucks are celebrating come the final buzzer.

Phoenix Suns - Chris Paul

Paul had a double-double in Game 5 with 21 points and 11 assists, but there is evidence to suggest his influence has waned over the course of the series.

He had a plus/minus of -6 on Saturday, the third consecutive game he has finished in the negative column in that regard.

If the Suns are to keep their hopes of a first title alive, they may need a repeat of his 32-point showing from Game 1. 

Every Milwaukee Bucks player knows what is at stake Tuesday in Game 6 of the NBA Finals against the Phoenix Suns. 

Leading the series 3-2, a win at home would give the Bucks their second NBA championship and first since 1971, the franchise's third season of existence. 

Beyond potentially ending that half-century wait for their fans, none of the Bucks' players has ever won a title. 

The key to completing such a monumental achievement for player, team and community alike?

Do whatever you can to stay calm and focussed, says Giannis Antetokounmpo, who acknowledged that is far easier said than done. 

"It's hard. It's hard, man, it's hard," the Bucks' star told reporters Monday. "Because you work so hard to be in that moment, which is tomorrow. It's hard not to get ahead of yourself. But this is the time that you got to be the most disciplined.

"That's what I'm going to try to do. I'm going to try to be as disciplined as possible. Don't get too excited. Don't get too pumped up for the game. None of that. I can't play the game right now. ...

"Right now, there's nothing I can do about that. So I don't even try to think about that. But it's very hard not to. Sometimes you sleep and you're dreaming about the game.

"But this is the time that we have to be disciplined individually. ... We cannot worry about having plans of celebrating. None of that, until it's done. And that is the mindset I'm going to have until tomorrow."

It helps that Antetokounmpo takes the same approach into every game, trying to break it down mentally into one possession and then the next so he is not overwhelmed by the bigger picture. 

At this stage, he has enough confidence in himself and his team-mates to believe in their ability to come through at the moment it matters most. 

"You have to be in the present," he said. "Once that present comes, you'll know what it takes to be you successful. But right now, you don't know what it's going to take.

"It might be a defensive stop. It might be Jrue [Holiday] coming and saving the day again. It might be Khris [Middleton] getting points. It might be me blocking a shot. You don't know what it's going to take.

"But I know that we have to be in the present. You have to enjoy it. We have to compete. For now, that's the three things I know.

"Once the game starts, every possession is going to be different and we're going to figure out what it takes to win the game."

That mindset stretches beyond the Greek star. Milwaukee head coach Mike Budenholzer said that type of attitude across the board has been critical to the Bucks' success so far. 

"It's the maturity of the group, the intelligence of it. I think it comes through," he said. "They understand that we have to keep our focus. We have to be prepared. We have to do the things that go into winning, the competitiveness of those moments, those opportunities to compete. That's all that matters.

"Whether you're down, you're up, I think you go back to your competitive spirit. You draw on that. That's how this team is built, so they got to continue to do that."

The Milwaukee Bucks withstood a scorching start by the Phoenix Suns before their three stars carried them to a 123-119 road victory in Game 5 of the NBA Finals, putting them one win away from their first championship in 50 years.

Giannis Antetokounmpo scored 32 points, Khris Middleton had 29 and Jrue Holiday 27 in an entertaining to overcome a 40-point effort by Suns star Devin Booker and quiet the raucous Phoenix crowd. 

Like their fans, the Suns came out hot. Booker attempted Phoenix's first two shots of the game and missed both, but the Suns made 11 in a row from the field after that and held a 16-point lead after the first quarter. 

Their hot hand was short-lived, though, as the Bucks exploded for a 25-6 run and outscored the Suns 43-24 in the second quarter to take a 64-61 lead at the break. 

Milwaukee appeared on the verge of running away with the game, extending the lead to as many as 14 early in the fourth quarter before the Suns staged a late rally. 

Phoenix trimmed the deficit to three on a Booker three-pointer with 1:24 to play and Chris Paul fouled Antetokounmpo the next time down the court, forcing him to his least comfortable spot on the court: the free-throw line, where he would make just four of 11 Saturday.

The Greek star missed both free throws and Paul answered with a driving layup to bring the Suns within one with 56.6 seconds remaining. 

Antetokounmpo redeemed himself moments later, running the floor after Holiday stole the ball from Booker to finish an alley-oop dunk that put Milwaukee's lead back at three. 

After missing yet another free throw, Antetokounmpo tipped the rebound back out to Middleton, who was fouled and broke the Bucks' free-throw drought for a four-point advantage with 9.8 seconds remaining. 

That proved to be enough as Booker missed a jumper with five seconds to play and Phoenix could not get off another shot. 

According to Stats Perform, the Bucks are just the fourth team in NBA history to win Games 3 through 5 after dropping the first two games of the NBA Finals.

The 2006 Miami Heat were the last to do it and ended up closing out the series against the Dallas Mavericks in Game 6.

Suns at Bucks

The Bucks can claim their first NBA title since 1971 with a win in Game 6 Tuesday in Milwaukee. 

The Phoenix Suns will be grateful to be back home as they attempt to respond when hosting the Milwaukee Bucks in Game 5 of the NBA Finals on Saturday.

Phoenix had headed out on the road holding a commanding 2-0 cushion after a pair of impressive wins in front of their own fans, increasing the belief that this could be the year the franchise finally secures a first ever title.

However, the trip to Milwaukee did not pan out as hoped. Back-to-back defeats have put the best-of-seven series level at 2-2, with the Bucks now aiming to stop the Suns – and their bench in particular – rising to the occasion upon a return to familiar surroundings.

"It's always tough winning on the road in this league – it's always tough winning, period. But them especially, they really, really feed off the crowd and get going," Bucks big man Bobby Portis told the media.

"All their supporting cast play well at home, so we've got to try to limit them as much as we can.

"Obviously, it's going to be a hostile environment, but that’s what we play this game for. That’s why we work so hard in the offseason, during the season. This is why we sacrifice so much – to be in this position to lift the Larry O'Brien Trophy. I think everybody is locked in."

The key to the comeback for the Bucks has not just been about playing at home, though.

Phoenix had an offensive rating of 119.8 over the opening two games yet dipped to 104.6 across successive losses to a Milwaukee team determined to make a greater impact on defense.

Chris Paul had a combined 55 points in the Suns' wins but was stifled during the away trip. The veteran point guard managed just 10 points in Game 4, yet he insists experience has helped him quickly forget about such outings.

"In this league, when you play long enough – and I feel like I’ve played for at least a little while – you have to have a short memory. You can't dwell on it, win or lose," Paul said on Friday.

"You can win by 20 or lose by 20, you then start back at zero-zero and go from there. That's always been the mindset."

The Suns did lose by 20 in Game 3, before going down by just six points last time out. Their cause was not helped by shooting 30.4 per cent from deep in that most recent defeat, a statistic that needs to be a temporary blip rather than a set-in trend if they are to wrestle back the advantage, particularly when facing a Bucks team used to going the distance in these playoffs.

 

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Phoenix Suns - Mikal Bridges 

As Portis mentioned, the Suns were able to get contributions from a number of role players during the meetings in Phoenix. Bridges certainly played his part, too, scoring 41 combined points, including 27 in Game 2 as he played for over 37 minutes.

However, he struggled to have anywhere near the same impact on the road, taking just eight shots in total as he mustered 11 points. Phoenix needs him to get more heavily involved again in the offense again, particularly when it comes to outside shooting.

Milwaukee Bucks – Giannis Antetokounmpo

Who else, right? Antetokounmpo had 26 points and 14 rebounds in Game 4, yet his biggest play was the astonishing block on Deandre Ayton as the Suns center attempted a dunk.

The Bucks finished that contest shooting at a mere 40.2 per cent, in comparison to Phoenix's average of 51.3 per cent. Taking 29 free-throws (the Suns had 19) helped mask the deficit, but Milwaukee will be aware they must do better from the field, having landed just seven of their 29 three-point attempts on Wednesday.

Giannis Antetokounmpo says he "thought he was going to get dunked on" for his remarkable last-quarter block to deny Deandre Ayton in Wednesday's Game 4 win for the Milwaukee Bucks.

The Bucks got home 109-103 over the Phoenix Suns, storming home down the stretch with a 33-21 final quarter after trailing by six points at three-quarter time.

Antetokounmpo, who had 26 points, 14 rebounds and eight assists, came up with a huge play with the Bucks 101-99 up with 1:15 to play, as Devin Booker tried to alley-oop Ayton, with the Greek forward recovering to leap up to block the center's attempt.

"Just hustle play. I thought I was going to get dunked on," Antetokounmpo said at the post-game news conference.

"Going down the stretch do whatever takes to win the game."

Antetokounmpo said he saw the play coming as Booker put the ball in his right hand, with Ayton looming in the paint behind him.

"I saw the play coming, so I was just going to jump vertical towards the rim and I was able to get a good block and get two points [down the other end]," he said.

"It doesn’t surprise me. I saw it coming. Once I saw him put it on his one hand, he was too far for a lay-up.

"You can feel it, I felt him rolling towards the rim behind me. I knew the only chance to get a stop was to jump towards the rim and cover that angle.

"I was late. If I was on the opposite side, it's a dunk."

Antetokounmpo's defensive contribution was significant but Khris Middleton finished with 40 points for the game, including 14 in the final quarter.

The 26-year-old Greek said he was "proud" of his team-mate for his ability to close the game out.

"We've done this a lot of times," Antetokounmpo said. "There's times going down the stretch, I've got to trust him and he's got to trust me.

"We've closed so many games. We've lost a lot of games but closing a game like this in the NBA Finals means a lot but we cannot be satisfied."

The series moves back to Arizona for Game 5 on Friday locked at 2-2, with both sides winning their games on their home courts.

Middleton added: "Whatever we're doing here, we've got to find a way to do it there. The only way we can win this series is to get one on the road. It'd be nice to get this next one but first we need to get some rest."

The Phoenix Suns enter Game 4 of the NBA Finals with a difficult question to answer: how can they contain Milwaukee Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo when Deandre Ayton is not on the court?

Milwaukee cut Phoenix's lead in the series to 2-1 with a 120-100 victory on their home floor in Game 3.

It came behind a scintillating 41-point performance from Antetokounmpo, the two-time league MVP delivering a performance few could have foreseen when he hyperextended his knee in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals.

Antetokounmpo also had 13 rebounds in putting up a decisive double-double, taking advantage of another knee injury that could well prove a turning point in the series.

The Suns were without Dario Saric, the backup to starting center Ayton, in Game 3 because of a torn anterior cruciate ligament suffered in Game 2.

Coach Monty Williams initially went with Frank Kaminsky as Ayton's deputy, but also attempted to play small ball with Torrey Craig and Abdel Nader.

The plus-minus numbers for Kaminsky (-12), Craig (-12) and Nadel (-5) tell their own story. Milwaukee dominated when Ayton was not out there, outrebounding the Suns 47 to 36.

In this series, when Ayton has been on the court, the Bucks average 110.0 points per 100 possessions, compared to 125.3 with the former first overall pick off the floor.

Milwaukee's rebounds per 100 possessions with Ayton on the bench jump to 50.3 from 46.8 when he plays.

Similarly, the Bucks are substantially more effective from the three-point line without the presence of Ayton to deal with, converting 46.4 per cent of their shots from beyond the arc in the series compared to 34.7 when he is trying to stop them.

For all the attention lavished on Devin Booker and Chris Paul, Ayton arguably stands as the key player for the Suns if they are to claim a first NBA title.

Should there be a repeat performance in Game 4 on Wednesday when Ayton is forced to rest, then Antetokounmpo will have an excellent chance to improve his Finals average of 34.3 points per game and, more importantly, help the Bucks level the series.

 

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Milwaukee Bucks – Brook Lopez

Another player who can capitalise on the blow the Suns have suffered to their big man depth is Lopez, the Bucks center who is averaging 6.7 points in the paint per game in the series – behind only Antetokounmpo and Ayton.

Lopez has produced double-digit points in four of his past five outings in this postseason, including a 33-point effort against the Atlanta Hawks in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals as the Bucks prevailed without the injured Antetokounmpo. Third in effective field goal percentage (60.9) among centers with 30 attempts or more this postseason, Lopez could compound the impact of Saric's absence for the Suns.

Phoenix Suns – Deandre Ayton

That his Finals numbers are inferior to those of Antetokounmpo is largely reflective of the point-scoring and creative burden taken on by Booker and Paul respectively. However, Ayton is the Suns player most should have their eyes on in Game 4.

He has averaged 35 minutes in this series compared to 37.7 for Antetokounmpo; will Williams up Ayton's time on the court in response to the events of Game 3 when he rested? Or will the Suns coach find a way to minimise the damage during Ayton's time on the bench? The answers could eventually decide the destination of the Larry O'Brien Trophy.

The Phoenix Suns received a "tough lesson" in Game 3 of the NBA Finals against the Milwaukee Bucks, but head coach Monty Williams expects his players to bounce back from the defeat.

Having won the opening two games of the best-of-seven series in Phoenix, the Suns went down 120-100 to a determined Milwaukee team on Sunday. 

Giannis Antetokounmpo posted 41 points - making him the first player to reach 40 in back-to-back outings in the NBA Finals since LeBron James in 2016 - but it was far from a one-man show for the Bucks, as four other players also reached double digits.

Williams had warned his team to expect a backlash from their opponents, whose aggressive approach - Milwaukee had 13 offensive rebounds and attempted 26 free throws - helped spark life into the battle to decide the identity of this season's NBA champions.

"There's a lot of ways you can spin it, but they played with a great deal of aggression for longer stretches than we did," Williams told the media.

"We knew it was coming. We did not respond to it well tonight, especially in the second and third quarters.

"The turnovers certainly hurt us, points in the paint, everything we have been talking about the whole series. So it was a tough lesson for us to learn.

"You know what was coming, but just didn't do enough consistently to withstand their attacking the paint, whether it was penetration, offensive rebounding.

"We gave them so many possessions, so we lost a shot and then they scored off of it. It was a double whammy."

He added: "I think we know that we have to play with an unreal amount of aggression and energy for 48 minutes. That's the deal. All of our guys know that we didn't.

"We have had this happen to us before in the playoffs, and so I expect our guys to bounce back."

Chris Paul had 19 points for Phoenix and Deandre Ayton contributed 18 before running into foul trouble, restricting the center to just 24 minutes of action. Without him, Phoenix struggled to get defensive stops.

"He's a big part of our team, especially he's the anchor of our defense," Paul, who also had nine assists but landed just one of his four three-point attempts, said about Ayton.

"I feel like any team would love for him not to be on court offensively and defensively. So, yeah, we got to protect him better and make sure that we're showing that wall."

It was not just Paul who struggled from long range for the Suns, with the visiting team making just nine of their 31 attempts from beyond the arc for a success rate of 29 per cent.

The Suns had not trailed by more than seven at the half in the playoffs prior to Game 3, when the deficit stood at 15 following a dominant second quarter by the Bucks.

Game 4 takes place in Milwaukee on Wednesday.

"I said after last game, this team is not going to give in," Suns guard Devin Booker told the media.

"They're going to keep playing all the way through, so we have to bring that same effort that we had in the first two games and I think we'll be in good shape."

Milwaukee Bucks head coach Mike Budenholzer praised Giannis Antetokounmpo for his aggressive mindset after he starred in Game 3 of the NBA Finals.

Antetokounmpo posted 41 points to see the Bucks past the Phoenix Suns 120-100 on Sunday, becoming the first player to score 40-plus points in back-to-back NBA Finals games since LeBron James in 2016.

The win was crucial for the Bucks, who now trail the Suns 2-1, and Budenholzer lauded Antetokounmpo's performance.

"He's just doing whatever it takes to help his team, to help us. He's in an aggressive mindset. He always plays that way," he told a news conference.

"But I thought he played with the pass well. He made some great reads, found guys, played against the zone.

"He just did a little bit of everything. Offensive boards, putbacks. We need a lot from him and that's what he does."

While Antetokounmpo starred, the Bucks also had Jrue Holiday (21), Khris Middleton (18), Brook Lopez (11) and Bobby Portis (11) in double digits for points.

Antetokounmpo also finished with 13 rebounds and six assists and Budenholzer said the star's ability to bring his team-mates into games was crucial.

"I think that's when we are at our best, when Giannis is at his best, it's a little bit of both," he said.

"He's a great playmaker, screener, passer and he does so many great things.

"I think when he's conscious of doing a little bit of everything, he's very capable and that's when he's at his best."

Game 4 of the series is in Milwaukee on Wednesday.

Giannis Antetokounmpo's 41-point outing saw the Milwaukee Bucks to an important 120-100 win over the Phoenix Suns in Game 3 of the NBA Finals.

With the Bucks trailing 2-0, they needed a response at home at Fiserv Forum and Antetokounmpo helped them deliver.

Antetokounmpo finished with 41 points on 14-of-23 shooting, along with 13 rebounds and six assists.

He was the first player to score 40-plus points in back-to-back NBA Finals games since LeBron James in 2016.

The dominant win halved the Suns' series lead ahead of Game 4 in Milwaukee on Wednesday.

Jrue Holiday (21), Khris Middleton (18), Brook Lopez (11) and Bobby Portis (11) also had double digits in points for the Bucks.

Milwaukee put together powerful runs to finish the second and third quarters which set up their win.

They went 16-3 to finish the first half and 16-0 to end the third quarter.

The 15-point deficit marked the first time in these playoffs the Suns had trailed by more than seven at half-time.

Phoenix were unable to get much going as Chris Paul finished with 19 points, while Devin Booker was three-of-14 from the field for his 10 points.

Cam Johnson had 14 points off the bench for the Suns, including a huge dunk in the third quarter.

Giannis Antetokounmpo is refusing to put pressure on himself as the Milwaukee Bucks aim to get back into contention in the NBA Finals.

The Bucks – in search of their first championship since 1971 – have left themselves with a lot to do heading into Game 3, with the Phoenix Suns holding a 2-0 lead in the series.

Though back on home turf for Game 3 and Game 4, the Bucks do not have history on their side. Indeed, in Finals series, teams that have taken a 2-0 lead have gone on to win the title 31 out of 35 times (88.6 per cent).

The Suns are used to seeing out victory from this position, too, having led 2-0 in three consecutive series.

However, Bucks superstar Antetokounmpo, whose 28.1 points per game ranked fifth in the NBA in the regular season, insists Milwaukee must enjoy the occasion in order to get themselves back in the fight.

"Obviously, I know it's the Finals; we all understand what kind of game we are getting ourselves into," Antetokounmpo told reporters, as quoted by ESPN.

"So, we know what we have got to do. But at the end of the day, you've got to keep it light. You cannot tell yourself, 'Oh, it's the Finals, you've got to do this, there's so much pressure, man.'

"No, it's still basketball. It's easy to say, hard to do; but at the same time, you have to try to approach it that way. Just got to keep it light, got to keep the ball light, got to keep the atmosphere light.

"Once we go out there and you see the fans, you know that you understand what kind of game you're into. But personally, one thing that helps me that I do is keep it light and enjoy that.

"Knowing I enjoy things, I really put my heart into it. If I don't enjoy it, I'm just going through the motions. So, I just try to enjoy it, enjoy this, try to enjoy that I'm here.

"We have come a long way to be in this position, and we've got to try to make the best out of it. That's what we did, I guess, in the first round, in the second round, in the third round. That's what we'll do now, and hopefully, it works out in our favour."

Devin Booker led the Suns with 31 points in Game 2, but veteran Chris Paul – excelling in his Finals debut – continues to be the primary topic of conversation in Phoenix.

“Watching film with [Paul], he'll call something out that was so far away from the ball or what happened," Booker said.

"He’s going to make sure he gets right back to it. He's going to rewind it, no matter if it was a minute, two minutes ago in the game, and stress it. Those are the details I'm talking about that we've learned can make or break a game for you. And in this time of the year, you need every game you can get.

"It's the highest level of basketball, and for me, it's been a new experience. It's been a joy to be a part of it and dissecting the game and doctoring the game in that regard."

 

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Phoenix Suns – Devin Booker


Booker has been outstanding for the Suns this postseason and has averaged 29.0 points in this series so far, but he has turned in two very contrasting displays.

The sixth-year guard, involved in the playoffs for the first time, shot a disappointing 38.1 per cent in Game 1 but made 10 of 10 free throws. His Game 2 field-goal percentage increased to 48.0 per cent – carried by seven-of-12 shooting from three – yet he did not visit the foul line once.

Should he be able to combine the two, both drawing fouls and making shots, Milwaukee can have no answer for Booker.

Milwaukee Bucks – Giannis Antetokounmpo

After a slightly unconvincing Game 1 on his return from injury, Antetokounmpo was back to his best in Game 2 with a playoff career-high 42 points on 68.2 per cent shooting – also matching his best postseason field-goal percentage, set against the Boston Celtics in 2019.

But the Bucks still lost, as their second and third men failed to fire. Jrue Holiday and Khris Middleton – one out of form, the other inconsistent – are averaging a combined 34.0 points per game and 36.4 per cent field-goal percentage as the team's starting backcourt, while Paul and Booker are together delivering 56.5 points on 49.4 per cent shooting.

Those numbers simply have to improve to keep Antetokounmpo in games; the two-time MVP might be looking to "keep it light" but needs the platform to be a difference-maker.

The Milwaukee Bucks may be trailing 2-0 in the NBA Finals but star forward Giannis Antetokounmpo wants to keep things relaxed ahead of Game 3 on Sunday.

Antetokounmpo was outstanding with 42 points and 12 rebounds in Thursday's 118-108 loss to the Phoenix Suns which left the Bucks 2-0 down ahead of the series moving to Milwaukee.

Out of the 35 sides who have trailed 2-0 in NBA Finals history, only four have lifted the title, but despite that the Greek star was in a relaxed mood ahead of Game 3.

"I know it's the Finals," Antetokounmpo said at Saturday's media conference. "We know what we've got to do but at the end of the day, you've got to keep it light.

"You cannot tell yourself, 'Oh, it's the Finals. You got to do this. There's so much pressure, man.' No, like it's still basketball.

"It's easy to say, hard to do; but at the same time, you have to try to approach it that way. Just got to keep it light. Got to keep the ball light. You've got to keep the atmosphere light."

Antetokounmpo backed under-fire team-mate Khris Middleton, who only managed 11 points in Game 2, when pressed on his performances.

The 26-year-old also said he approached Game 2 with more aggression, leading to his improved output after 20 points in Game 1, which marked his return from a knee hyperextension injury.

"I was just trying to be more aggressive," he said. "That's all and we didn’t win the game, so it doesn’t really matter.

"From Game 1 to Game 2, I was just trying to be more aggressive and involved in actions."

Phoenix Suns coach Monty Williams said small forward Torrey Craig's status was uncertain ahead of Game 3 after twisting his right knee in the third quarter on Thursday.

"He got some testing done yesterday," Williams said. "All of that came back clean, but he's still sore. So I can't make much of a statement on his availability or anything like that."

Giannis Antetokounmpo has backed team-mate Jrue Holiday to step up when his side needs it after a sub-par performance in the Milwaukee Bucks' NBA Finals Game 2 loss on Thursday.

Holiday has been a key part of the Bucks' success this season but shot 17 points at 33.3 per cent from the field, making only one from three beyond the arc in the 118-108 loss to the Phoenix Suns.

Khris Middleton also battled, making 11 points at 31.3 per cent from the field, while he only hit one from six three-point attempts.

The Bucks are now facing a 2-0 deficit in the NBA Finals, with only four sides in league history lifting the title from that position.

"[I'll] keep talking to him, keep telling him to be aggressive," Antetokounmpo said at the post-game news conference. "It's not about me, it's not about him, it's not about Khris [Middleton], it's not about coach, it's about all of us.

"If there's a game where you're three from 12 or whatever, if you can rebound, or get a steal or do something to help the team win, that's what it's all about.

"I don’t worry at all about him. He's going to be there when we need him the most.

"He's a great basketball player. He's played great all year and he's going to continue to play great for this team."

Holiday has averaged 17.2 points, 5.6 rebounds and 8.4 assists per game this playoffs but his shooting let him down in Game 2 under pressure from the Suns defense.

Antetokounmpo stepped up, scoring 42 points for Milwaukee, along with 12 rebounds, four assists and three blocks.

The Greek forward's 20-point third-quarter effort was the best in the NBA Finals since Michael Jordan scored 22 against the Suns in 1993.

Antetokounmpo's output was also the first 40-plus point and 10-plus rebound game in Bucks' NBA Finals history.

The 26-year-old, who hyper-extended his left knee in the Conference Finals against the Atlanta Hawks, went down late in the match, limping to the bench. He returned to the court and insisted it was nothing to worry about ahead of Game 3 in Milwaukee on Saturday.

"It's just cramp," he said. "I didn’t think it was connected to my knee."

Antetokounmpo also insisted the knee injury was not concerning him during games, after missing the final two games of the Hawks series.

"When I'm not out there, it's not about testing it more, if I'm out there, I'm trying to play and help my team win in any way possible," he said.

"When you start thinking about your knee, or toe or pinky, or whatever, you're making excuses in your mind. You're out there, just play the game, do whatever you can, leave it on the floor."

The Phoenix Suns have shot their way to a 2-0 lead in the NBA Finals with a 118-108 Game 2 victory over the Milwaukee Bucks on Thursday.

The Suns drained 20 three-pointers, including eight in the first quarter, shooting at 50 per cent from beyond the arc on their way to victory, headlined by young guard Devin Booker with 31 points, five rebounds and six assists.

Booker hit seven-from-12 three-point attempts, while veteran Chris Paul scored three three-pointers in his 23 points for the game, along with eight assists.

Mikal Bridges scored a personal playoffs-high 27 points, while Deandre Ayton was slightly subdued in the paint, finishing with 10 points and 11 rebounds.

Giannis Antetokounmpo, in his second game back from his knee hyperextension, was heroic for the Bucks with 42 points including a massive third period but could not inspire his side to victory.

The Greek forward shot at 68.2 per cent from the field, but only hit one from five beyond the arc. He also had 12 rebounds, three blocks and four assists.

But Antetokounmpo lacked support, with Khris Middleton struggling with 11 points shooting at 31.3 per cent from the field. Jrue Holiday managed 17 points but only shot seven from 21 from the field.

The Bucks started strong in the first quarter, scoring 20-0 in the paint and leading by as much as nine points, before Phoenix hit back with a 30-16 second quarter to open up an 11-point half-time lead.

Antetokounmpo scored 20 points in the third quarter to keep Milwaukee in the hunt, trailing by 10 points at the final change. The Greek's 20 was the most in an NBA Finals quarter since Michael Jordan's 22 against the Suns in 1993.

The Bucks got within five points in the last but the Suns always had the answers when challenged, with Booker and Paul knocking down crucial final quarter threes.

Booker was benched late, in order to preserve his body after playing 44 minutes, after Phoenix lost another player Torrey Craig to injury, to join Dario Saric on the sidelines after the Croatian tore his ACL in Game 1.

An uncharacteristically speedy Phoenix Suns performance left a half-fit Giannis Antetokounmpo and his Milwaukee Bucks chasing shadows in Game 1 of the NBA Finals.

The Suns, who had 98 possessions per game in the regular season (ranking 24th), had 102 possessions on Tuesday as the usually more methodical Chris Paul picked up the pace.

Point guard Paul, 36, was the standout star as he belatedly made his Finals debut, finishing with 32 points and nine rebounds in a 118-105 Phoenix win.

Only Michael Jordan in 1991 had previously tallied 30 or more points and eight or more assists in a first career Finals game.

Even as the Suns attacked apace, Paul's steady hand limited the Western Conference outfit to nine turnovers – of which just two were his – to Milwaukee's 13.

The series is far from over ahead of Thursday's Game 2, but the Bucks need a response and will hope Antetokounmpo, their own elite performer, can provide it.

The 'Greek Freak' recovered from a hyperextended left knee sustained in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals to start the opener in Phoenix and initially impressed.

Antetokounmpo had eight points, five rebounds and two assists in a first quarter in which he played just over eight minutes, but he had only improved to 13 points by the end of the third.

"I wasn't nervous about my knee, I wasn't thinking about my knee," Antetokounmpo said on Wednesday.

"But hopefully, going into Game 2, I can feel more comfortable, more confident of going downhill, making more plays. We'll see. We'll see how it's going to be. Hopefully I can be in a position where I can make more plays."

Although the two-time MVP just about finished with a positive plus/minus, Milwaukee require more from their talisman – especially if the supporting cast continue to fluff their lines.

Khris Middleton had 29 points but five turnovers and just four assists; Jrue Holiday (10 points, eight rebounds, nine assists) was close to one of the most underwhelming triple-doubles in Finals history; Brook Lopez was a defensive liability, his -17 plus/minus a miserable game low.

Antetokounmpo, Middleton and Holiday are on course to become the first trio of team-mates to each average at least 15.0 points, 5.0 rebounds and 5.0 assists in the same postseason, but none of them reached that mark in Game 1.

 

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Milwaukee Bucks – Jrue Holiday

The Bucks gave up two first-round draft picks and two potential pick swaps to get Holiday. With limited assets left, they need this to work. In Game 1, it did not. The All-Defensive First Team selection has been frustratingly inconsistent and his four steals in Game 6 against the Atlanta Hawks were followed by none against the Suns.

As Milwaukee switched on defense, Paul – Holiday's direct opponent at point guard – found joy with 27 points across the second and third quarters combined before the former New Orleans Pelican took matters into his own hands. "I really just saw him being aggressive, so at that point I felt like I wanted to just annoy him, get him off rhythm, make him pass the ball and take tough shots," Holiday said. "That's something we're going to have to make an adjustment to in Game 2."

Phoenix Suns – Deandre Ayton

The Suns have a significant drop-off at center, with Dario Saric tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee in Game 1, meaning Frank Kaminsky may now have to be trusted with playoff minutes. Fortunately, starter Deandre Ayton has shown himself capable of more than making up the deficit during his time on the floor.

A breakout postseason continued against the Bucks as Ayton finished with 22 points and 19 rebounds for a fourth consecutive double-double. It is tough to see how Milwaukee can live with the Phoenix big man, who shot eight-for-10 from the field and made all of his free throws – indeed, the Suns only missed once from the foul line.

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