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. 

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."

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."

Devin Booker reflected on a tough loss for the Phoenix Suns in Game 5 of the NBA Finals, admitting they "let it go" against the Milwaukee Bucks after making a great start.

After suffering straight losses on the road, the red-hot Suns scored 37 points in the opening quarter on Saturday, landing 14 of their 19 attempts from the field.

However, trailing by 16 after one, the Bucks hit back in emphatic fashion to seize control. They had 43 in the second and then 36 in the third, meaning they led the pivotal contest 100-90 going into the final quarter.

The Suns were unable to close the gap down the stretch, a 123-119 defeat meaning Milwaukee holds a 3-2 lead in the series - they can clinch a first NBA title for the franchise since 1971 at home on Tuesday.

"It was tough. We came out and did what we intended to do, get off to a great start and we let it go," Booker, who finished with 40 points, told the media.

"They stayed resilient and they kept playing through. So, tough loss for us."

It was a second successive 40-point outing for Booker, who becomes the first player in NBA Finals history to lose back-to-back games despite reaching that mark. He is one of just five to have that happen in a playoff series, too.

The Suns now find themselves in a win-at-all-costs scenario in the series, a situation they have not faced previously during their impressive postseason run.

"We got to win one game to put them back on the plane. That's it. And you have to have that determination that you're willing to do whatever it takes to put them back on the plane," Phoenix head coach Monty Williams said.

"So, we can call it what we want to, mental toughness, all of that stuff, but it's going to be needed and our guys are capable of doing it. This is our first time in this position and we can do it."

Booker had the ball with the Suns down by one in the closing seconds, only for Jrue Holiday to steal possession. The Bucks guard then set up Giannis Antetokounmpo for a dunk with an alley-oop pass at the other end of the court, during which the two-time MVP was fouled.

The three-point play clinched the result in Milwaukee's favour, though Williams was more concerned by the problems his team had defensively in both the second and third quarters.

"You give up 79 points and the reasoning behind it, I got to look at the film to see it, but we just didn't have the same energy that we had in the first and fourth," he told the media.

"You look at the numbers, in the first and fourth, they have 44 points.

"So, whether it's schematics or just outright grit and toughness during those moments, to just get a stop, we couldn't get any consecutive stops in the second and the third.

"That ended up being the, not the difference, but it just put us in a hole and we felt, I felt like we were playing from behind for a long, long time."

Giannis Antetokounmpo is the centerpiece and Khris Middleton was coming off a career game, but Jrue Holiday made the biggest plays for the Milwaukee Bucks in their pivotal Game 5 win. 

Bouncing back from a brutal shooting performance in Game 4, Milwaukee's point guard led the way on both ends of the court in Saturday's 123-119 win over the Phoenix Suns that left the Bucks one win away from an NBA title. 

Holiday shook off a four-for-20 night the previous time out to serve as the catalyst in the second quarter that broke the game open for Milwaukee, and his steal and pass in the final minute sealed a pivotal win. 

The latter play was the talk of the game afterward, as team-mates marveled at Holiday's move to knock the ball away from Devin Booker and try an audacious alley-oop feed to Antetokounmpo with 13.5 seconds remaining to stretch a one-point Milwaukee lead to three. 

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.

Phoenix Suns head coach Monty Williams is bullish that Chris Paul will respond in Saturday's Game 5 after an uncharacteristic display with five turnovers in Game 4's defeat to the Milwaukee Bucks.

The Bucks squared up the NBA Finals at 2-2 with Wednesday's 109-103 win over the Suns, with Williams ruing his side's 17 turnovers which led to 24 Milwaukee points.

Paul was guilty of five turnovers, including a crucial late error allowing Khris Middleton to score as the Bucks raced away in the final quarter after trailing by six points at three-quarter time.

The 36-year-old Suns guard also only managed 10 points for the game, shooting at 38.5 per cent from the field and failing to hit one three-pointer but Williams backed him to respond in Game 5 back in Arizona.

"A blip on the screen, that's how I would term it," Williams told the pre-game news conference. "You're not going to see Chris having those kinds of games frequently.

"I've been around long enough and coached against him long enough. I'd term it a blip on the radar."

He added: "There's not a person in our locker room that's not expecting to not come out and play really well the next game."

Williams added that Paul, who has battled hand and shoulder injuries during the postseason, was fine physically and fully focused.

"I just see Chris being Chris," Williams siad. "He's always intentional about everything, he's focused.

"I find myself struggling when I can't help him. That's what we've talked about the last couple of days.

"Chris is fine. He's focused. He's all about winning. The conversations are all about basketball right now. We know what's in front of us."

Paul has averaged 18.7 points per game and 8.6 assists per game this postseason, shooting at 48.5 per cent from the field.

Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker was sensational with 42 points in Game 4 of the NBA Finals, but he said his performance "doesn’t matter at all" as his team lost.

The Milwaukee Bucks squared up the series at 2-2 with Wednesday's 109-103 win over the Suns.

Booker had scored 18 points in the third quarter to earn Phoenix a six-point lead heading into the final chapter, but the Bucks responded with an impressive 33-21 last-quarter charge.

The 24-year-old had a poor shooting display in Game 3 with 10 points, shooting at 21.4 per cent from the field.

But Booker's 38 points across the first three quarters in Game 4 was tied for the second most at that stage of a game in the NBA Finals across the last 25 years, behind only Stephen Curry (40) in 2019 and level with Allen Iverson in 2001.

Booker also surpassed Rick Barry (521) and Julius Erving (518) for most points scored in a player's first NBA playoffs campaign.

"It doesn't matter at all," Booker said at the post-game media conference when asked about his individual performance.

"I said that after last game too when I struggled shooting it. The main objective is to win the game. Anything that goes on throughout the game it doesn’t matter, for real."

Booker's team-mate Chris Paul had five turnovers for the game as the Suns offered up 17 as a team, which head coach Monty Williams identified as a chief reason for the defeat.

Paul took a back seat to Booker but was below his best, finishing with only 10 points, shooting at 38.5 per cent from the field and missing both of his two three-point attempts.

Williams insisted 36-year-old Paul, who has had injury troubles throughout these playoffs, was not hampered.

"He's fine," the Suns head coach said. "Great players have games like that. We expect him to bounce back.

"He had five [turnovers], but we had 17 and they scored 24 points [from turnovers]. That was pretty much the game right there, when you double that up with the offensive rebounding.

"It wasn’t just Chris. We've got to take better care of the ball."

Williams added that he knew Booker was ready to respond in Game 4 after his ordinary shooting display in the previous outing.

"When he can stop on a dime and get guys up on the air, he has his legs underneath him, it's something I see in the shootaround," he said. "I can see when he's got his legs."

The NBA Finals returns to Arizona for Game 5 on Saturday.

Paul added: "You can't just bank on the fact you've got home court. You've got to go out and play the game and execute. We'll do that.

"We tend to respond well. we know what we've got to do. Be better."

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 Milwaukee Bucks have squared up the NBA Finals at 2-2 after a thrilling 109-103 victory over the Phoenix Suns despite Devin Booker's 42-point haul on Wednesday.

The Suns led by six points at the final change but the Bucks, who trailed 2-0 in the series, stormed home led by Khris Middleton's 14 fourth-quarter points, finishing with 40 for the game.

Middleton starred with strong support from Giannis Antetokounmpo (26 points, 14 rebounds and eight assists) and Jrue Holiday (13 points, seven rebounds and seven assists).

After scores were level at half-time, Booker had piled on 18 points in the third quarter but Milwaukee made the key plays count in the final quarter.

Antetokounmpo made a crucial late block to deny Deandre Ayton from Booker's alley-oop lob, while Pat Connaughton came up with a key three-pointer.

Chris Paul had five turnovers for the game, including a late costly error which allowed Holiday to assist Middleton for two which put the Bucks four up with 27.2 seconds to play.

Phoenix shot better from the field, going at 51.3 per cent compared to Milwaukee's 40.2 per cent although they lost their radar late, but the Suns had 17-5 turnovers, with the Bucks scoring 24-5 points on turnover.

Middleton was a key influence for the Bucks, shooting 15 from 33 from the field along with three three-pointers, with six rebounds, four assists and two steals.

Middleton's 40-point haul was his postseason career high, while he outscored the Suns in the final two-minute stretch with 10-4 points.

Antetokounmpo put up 11 from 19 from the field at 57.9 per cent, while Brook Lopez chipped in a handy 14 points, although he and Holiday both missed all five of their three-point attempts.

Booker, who had his worst game of the playoffs in Game 3, responded with an excellent performance, shooting at 60.7 per cent from the field.

The young Suns guard almost fouled out late, with a non-call on a Holiday bucket with 3:30 to go but ultimately it would not be decisive.

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.

Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker says "short memory" will help him move on from his disastrous Game 3 shooting performance ahead of Game 4 on Wednesday.

Booker shot three from 14 from the field, going at 21.4 per cent, and only made one from seven three-point attempts in Game 3, finishing on 10 points as the Milwaukee Bucks won 120-100.

The result pulled the NBA Finals series back to 2-1 in the Suns' favour ahead of Game 4 in Milwaukee.

"Short memory, just move on," Booker said when asked how when asked about his Game 3 shooting.

Booker had scored 31 and 27 points in the opening two Finals games, shooting at 48 per cent and 38.1 per cent respectively, as well as hitting seven three-pointers in Game 2.

The 22-year-old has already scored 500 points this postseason, steering the Suns to their first NBA Finals in 28 years.

Despite the momentum shift in the series and his own poor display, Booker remained unflapped.

"Just understanding the task at hand and simply you just have to be better if you want to win the game," Booker said.

"That's obviously something I want and something this whole team and coaching staff and training staff wants and this whole city wants.

"I would say it's a good pressure. These are the moments that you prepare for and that you train so hard for, what we're in right now. You have to be excited about it."

Milwaukee won praise for their defensive efforts on Booker in Game 3, but Bucks head coach Mike Budenholzer said his side expected him to be much improved in Game 4.

"I wouldn't say there was one specific thing or anything we did different," Budenholzer said.

"He's a great player, but he's human also. I think we're expecting we're going to have to be even better on him.

"We just got to be prepared for a really good Devin Booker going into Game 4."

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.

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