Game 5 of the NBA Finals goes at 9 p.m. ET Saturday night on Sportsnet.
The series is all evened up at 2-2 following a pair of stirring performances from the Milwaukee Bucks over the last two games to get right back into things after going down 2-0 to the Phoenix Suns to open the Finals.
Now a best-of-three, Saturday’s Game 5 is a pivotal game that will see the winner on the brink of winning it all in Game 6.
Here’s three things to keep in mind before you take in Game 5 on Saturday night.
Past adversity has appeared to temper Bucks for this moment
The Bucks have had their fair share of playoff heartbreaks over the past few years.
In 2019, they had a 2-0 series lead over the Toronto Raptors in the conference finals, but then proceeded to drop four straight. Then, last year in the bubble, Milwaukee went down 0-2 to the Miami Heat in the second round and were never able to recover as the team went down quietly in five games.
Those two experiences, in particular, have haunted the Bucks, and have been used as supposedly definitive proof that this is a team that simply can’t get the job done, no matter how much talent on the roster.
This year’s been different, though.
Twice now in the playoffs, we’ve seen Milwaukee come back from down 0-2 to even up a seven-game series — first against the Brooklyn Nets in the second round and now against the Suns in the Finals – and the biggest reason why appears to have stemmed from some past experiences members of this team have been through that have humbled them.
“When you focus on the past, that’s your ego.” pic.twitter.com/XKiRMA8Ux2
— Milwaukee Bucks (@Bucks) July 17, 2021
In particularly, those past playoff failure have appeared to really get through to Milwaukee superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo and taught him how to navigate the post-season.
“I think I would say life,” said Antetokounmpo when asked about what’s taught him how to handle his ego in such an even-keeled way at just 26 years of age. “Usually, from my experience, when I think about like, ‘Oh, yeah, I did this, I’m so great, I had 30, I had 25, 10, 10,’ whatever the case might be, you’re going to think about that [and] usually the next day you’re going to suck, you know? Simple as that. The next few days you’re going to be terrible.
“I figured out a mindset to have that when you focus on the past, that’s your ego. ‘I did this, We were able to beat this team 4-0. I did this in the past. I won that in the past.’ When I focus on the future, it’s my pride. ‘Yeah, next game, Game 5, I do this and this and this. I’m going to dominate.’ That’s your pride talking. It doesn’t happen. You’re right here.
“I kind of try to focus on the moment, in the present. That’s humility. That’s being humble. That’s not setting no expectation. That’s going out there, enjoying the game, competing at a high level.”
Can the Suns correct their turnover woes of late?
Over their past two games, the Suns haven’t looked like themselves.
Usually a low-mistake team, the Suns have committed 32 turnovers over their last two games, 10 more than the 22 they committed over their first two games.
The Bucks’ defence has been a cause of this, but there have been unforced errors sprinkled in that simply can’t happen and Phoenix knows this.
“When you turn the ball over that many times with our group, it’s not something you typically see,” said Suns head coach Monty Williams. “[The Bucks] got hands on ball a few times, but a lot of it was things that, like I said at the end, we can correct.”
Williams is naturally confident his team can shore things up, but it’s one thing to have confidence things will turn around and actually seeing it happen all in practice, especially when your All-NBA point guard has been struggling.
After a solid Game 1 performance, Chris Paul has been off all series long. He’s uncharacteristically turned the ball over 15 times alone over the last three games and a major reason for that has been the defence of Jrue Holiday, whose size, length and strength have appeared to really bother Paul, not that anyone on the Suns will admit to it.
“A blip on the screen. That’s how I would term it,” said Williams of Paul’s turnovers problems of late. “You’re not going to see Chris have those kinds of games frequently. I’ve been around him long enough, I’ve coached against him enough. That’s how I would term it: a blip on the screen or the radar.”
Added Paul himself: “It’s something I don’t dwell on. Even though it may be an anomaly, it happens. I turned the ball over hella times before. End of the day, we got to win the game. Me turning the ball over is not giving us enough shots at the basket. I’ll figure it out.”
For the Suns’ sake, let’s hope this relatively unconcerned attitude about Paul’s issues taking care of the ball really is just an anomaly and he gets back on track beginning with Saturday’s Game 5.
This has been a home-dominated series
As the old saying goes, “a series doesn’t start until the home team loses.”
Well, in that case, despite four games having gone by, this is a series that hasn’t really begun yet because the home teams have dominated thus far.
Maybe it’s because these are both fanbases absolutely starved for a championship – neither market has won a major sports title since the Green Bay Packers won Super Bowl XLV in 2010. Between these two teams specifically, only the Bucks have won an NBA championship way back in 1971 when Lew Alcindor, better known as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and Oscar Robertson were playing for the team. But the energy from both home crowds during these Finals has been absolutely electric and has likely made communication difficult for the opposing side.
Because of how dominant the home side has been in this series, however, coming into Game 5 it feels like there’s a little more pressure on the Suns to hold serve on Saturday night. Those “Bucks in six” chants at Fiserv Forum at the end of Game 4 were sounding quite menacing and that’s because there’s been no better team at home this post-season than Milwaukee. If Phoenix can’t take Game 5 on Saturday, you have to like the Bucks’ chances to close things out at home on Tuesday.