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Game 6: Can the Suns win and send the Finals back to Phoenix?

To bounce back in the NBA Finals after three straight losses takes a short memory.
Credit: AP
Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker scores against the Milwaukee Bucks during the first half of Game 5 of basketball's NBA Finals, Saturday, July 17, 2021, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

PHOENIX — Could inexperience actually help the Suns?

To bounce back in the NBA Finals after three straight losses takes a short memory. The series isn’t over by any means, but two straight nights of legendary moments orchestrated by Giannis Antetokounmpo would demoralize any group. Still, having less baggage could benefit a young Phoenix team attempting to overcome disappointment.

Asked about turning the page, young star Devin Booker said he had nowhere to look besides past Finals he’s watched involving other teams. Even the great Chris Paul is in uncharted territory in his first Finals.

“They're always talking about staying in it and staying with the group,” Paul told reporters Monday after practice. “I think for us, all of this is part of it, and we get it. But for us, it's the practices, it's the time in the hotel together and just making sure that at the end of the day we play basketball.”

Mentality is only part of the challenge for these Suns. As Paul notes, the basketball itself hasn’t looked so great lately, either. The Suns scored 37 points in the first quarter of Game 5 over the weekend, but despite 42 from Booker, could not finish the job. They generated just 19 three-pointers and had just 23 assists compared to Milwaukee’s 26.

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Analysts have called out Booker for playing into the Bucks’ hands by scoring in isolation, limiting how much the rest of the team is involved. Only three Suns -- Booker, Paul and Deandre Ayton -- attempted more than 10 shots. Indeed, the Suns did not look like themselves. But Phoenix has been resilient on the road all postseason and is at its best when the team plays together and better than the sum of their parts. 

“We have a group that's us and that's how we keep it,” Booker said. “We're trying to figure it out right now, how we're going to go out there and do it. We know it's possible with the group that we have and what we have leaned on for most of the season.”

On the plus side for the Suns, they were able to keep possessions relatively equal in Game 5, winning the turnover battle and breaking close to even on the boards. Many of the advantages that Milwaukee used to win at home have dwindled, and they relied on incredible shot-making from their stars to win. 

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Should their trademark cohesion and confidence return on Tuesday night, the Suns could definitely prolong the series. Without years of dread lingering in the back of minds, the challenge of winning two straight can become the sole focus. The Suns head to the midwest with their chins up, on the verge of the end but with no feel for what failure in this moment tastes like.

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