The script has flipped, and despite a 2-1 series lead the Phoenix Suns are now the hunters, not so much the hunted.
And it sounds very much like they are very comfortable in that position.
Listen to Devin Booker on the eve of Game 4 and all that 10-point performance from Game 3 is going to do is to propel him to an even bigger night than his 31-point Game 2.
“Short memory,” Booker says of dealing with that uncharacteristic tough night in Game 3. “Just move on. Been there before. So just understanding that, understanding the game, understanding situations that you’ve been through and just trusting the work that you’ve put in, as simple as that. But my main objective out there is to win the basketball game.”
That “win the basketball game” line is something the Suns are repeating a lot these days.
The glitz and glamour of an NBA Finals, actually being in a Finals, took a little time to get past, but that Game 3 loss seems to have done the trick for the Suns.
“I think it got old now; now we’re back to business,” young centre Deandre Ayton said. “All the lights and embracing that I’m here is finally over. I got a taste of losing in the Finals, now it’s — I’m awake a little bit more, not really on just happy to be here, but let’s get the job done.”
No one enjoys losing, but sometimes it takes a loss to re-focus and the Suns, to a man, seem to have been jolted back into the workmanlike approach that got them that 2-0 lead in the series to begin with.
Certainly head coach Monty Williams saw it go AWOL in the first game of the series since it moved to Milwaukee.
“They took it to us,” Williams said, confirming his initial thoughts on the game a full day and a half later having dissected every inch of videotape of the game. “No other way to look at it. They played with a great deal of force — 50/50 balls, attacking the paint. We had spurts of playing the way that we play, but certainly not as consistent as we needed to.
“That was a credit to them,” Williams said. “They played with a great deal of energy and they were physical. We were physical, but they were physical from the jump. The more I looked at it, it was like I can sit here and make excuses about what we didn’t do and all of that, but they played at a high, high level.”
Take Ayton. He’s the young guy at just 22 on this roster and a factor in every game the Suns play, win or lose. It was Ayton’s absence from the lineup in Game 3 that hurt the most as the five fouls he collected kept him off the floor, putting Giannis Antetokounmpo in hyper-attack mode knowing the Suns were vulnerable without Ayton playing.
Ayton states matter-of-factly that he has watched all the tape and knows exactly what he has to do to ensure a different result in Game 4.
“Just mainly trying to stay on the floor the whole time of the game and just trying to stay away from foul trouble,” he said. “I think that’s an awareness that I see on the court where they’re trying to attack me, so it’s just me bracing and being aware what’s coming next.”
Chris Paul, the engine that drives this Suns team was asked what it was like being around Booker, the other alpha dog in Phoenix, the past day and a half after he was so tidily bottled up in Game 3.
Paul was having none of that specific narrative.
“I think it’s more like what’s our team like,” Paul said. “This ain’t golf. It’s not tennis. You know what I mean? We’re all in this together. So everybody on our team took the loss hard, as we should.
“We never go into a game expecting to lose,” he said. “If you showed me somebody who expects to lose, I’ll show you a loser. So everybody on our team felt a way. We felt like we could be better. That’s why we used (Monday), and why we’ll use (Tuesday) to prepare and we’ll all come out ready to play (Wednesday).”
This series is still, very much, just getting started. Game 4 tips off tonight in Milwaukee at 9 p.m.