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US trio puts NBA Finals behind, turns focus to Olympic gold

US trio puts NBA Finals behind, turns focus to Olympic gold

SAITAMA, Japan — There was plenty of time to talk about it, had they wanted to.Devin Booker, Jrue Holiday and Khris Middleton were together on a plane to Tokyo, just days after they had played in the hard-fought NBA Finals.They had roughly nine hours in the air to relive details of that series, to revisit some of their memorable moments.Booker and Middleton both had 40-point games in the series. Holiday provided a highlight that will be replayed in Milwaukee for years to come.So, with all that time to kill on the way to the Olympics, how much talk was about the NBA Finals?“There was actually none,” Middleton said. “We all respect each other.”It was all about moving on and figuring out a way to get this job done here. To sit there and talk about the finals was not something that was on anybody’s mind.”The series ended last Tuesday, when the Bucks won Game 6 to close out Booker’s Phoenix Suns. Middleton and Holiday took part in Milwaukee’s championship parade on Thursday, then flew the next day to Seattle, where they met up with Booker.It was a whirlwind few days after a draining two-week series. And with the U.S. Olympic opener tipping off less than 24 hours after they landed in Japan, the flight was about the only rest the trio was going to get.“I feel like me, Book and K-Midd just slept,” Holiday said.Booker couldn’t be blamed if he didn’t want to talk to two guys who had been responsible for ruining his NBA championship dreams. But he reiterated that he could work with them, just as he could have had the Suns won.“I said it during the series when we had this question. I have a lot of respect for those guys and when you’re competing at the highest level, it doesn’t always go your way,” Booker said. “But I’m a forward thinker and move onto the next thing and be able to take my ‘L’ and move on.”That’s not always easy when players have to quickly go from foes to friends.When Kevin Durant made his Olympic debut in 2012, he acknowledged the difficulty in seeing LeBron James every day so soon after Miami beat Oklahoma City in those NBA Finals. Kobe Bryant said then he didn’t know if he could’ve handled that, figuring if he was Durant he’d have needed to go at James in practice to help get over it.Booker hasn’t forgotten his disappointment, but he’s not holding it against his new teammates — even after Holiday stole the ball from him and threw an alley-oop pass to Giannis Antetokounmpo in the final moments of Game 5 to swing the series Milwaukee’s way.“We lost and that’s it, and I’m man enough to accept that and move on,” Booker said. “So, there’s no hate towards Jrue or K-Midd.”Besides, there were much bigger concerns.There’s some anxiety for anyone coming to an Olympics, wondering how things are going to work. That’s raised even more this year, with heightened protocols because of the coronavirus pandemic.The three Americans had to worry about that while knowing they were going to have to play in a game without getting to practice with their team, or even shoot around much with the international basketball that is much different than the leather one used in the NBA.“If we had a couple weeks to prepare a little bit I think we’d be more used to it, but feeling it for the first time on game day was definitely an adjustment,” Booker said.It wasn’t a problem for Holiday, who led the Americans with 18 points in their 83-76 loss to France. Booker shot 1 for 6 and Middleton missed both his attempts.But with a couple days of rest and practice, U.S. coach Gregg Popovich moved Holiday and Booker into the starting lineup Wednesday. Booker had 16 points, Middleton scored 10 and Holiday delivered another strong game in a 120-66 rout of Iran.The opening loss could make things more difficult for the Americans, but Middleton and Holiday know about digging out of tough spots. The Bucks overcame 2-0 holes in the second round and then again in the NBA Finals.The Americans, who never had their full team together until the eve of their first game, knew all along the road to gold wouldn’t be easy.“So a lot of adversity and I feel like this is just something that we do a lot,” Holiday said. “And we’ll accomplish this too, just like we’ve accomplished everything before.”———Follow Brian Mahoney on Twitter at https://twitter.com/briancmahoney———More AP Olympics: https://apnews.com/hub/2020-tokyo-olympics and https://twitter.com/AP—Sports

US bounces back from Olympic-opening loss, routs Iran 120-66

US bounces back from Olympic-opening loss, routs Iran 120-66

SAITAMA, Japan — It wasn’t just that the U.S. had been losing. It was that the level of play was practically un-American.Playing passively and passing up open shots isn’t the way its players became basketball’s best. And when it resulted in them dropping their Olympic opener, the Americans decided to do something about it.“After that loss we came together,” guard Damian Lillard said. “It was a lot of communication between then and now where it’s like, ’All right. It’s time to start looking like Team USA.’”Lillard scored 21 points and the Americans got back to winning — and winning easily — with their first victory of these Olympics, romping past Iran 120-66 on Wednesday.Devin Booker scored 16 points and Jayson Tatum had 14 for the Americans, who had their 25-game Olympic winning streak snapped with an 83-76 loss to France on Sunday.The U.S. not only bounced back but did it in a Dream Team-type performance against an overmatched opponent, racing out for transition dunks and stepping back to knock down 3-pointers.“We came out with more freedom as individuals and took the shots that we normally take,” said Kevin Durant. “And they went in tonight and we guarded up, so it was a good step.”The U.S. plays the Czech Republic on Saturday to close pool play, with a victory guaranteeing the Americans a spot in the single-elimination quarterfinals.The Americans are probably through already thanks to what will be an enormous point differential as a result of this rout.The U.S. probably doesn’t care what type of team the performance came against. The Americans just needed to look good against somebody.They came into the game just 2-3 this summer after splitting their exhibition games in Las Vegas before the loss to France. They had rarely looked sharp while navigating roster changes, a game cancelation for coronavirus safety concerns and the absence of Jrue Holiday, Khris Middleton and Booker until the eve of their opener because those three had played in the NBA Finals.Holiday, who was the best American player in the opener, and Booker moved into the starting lineup Wednesday.In their second game, the Americans made the shots they normally take. The U.S. knocked down 19 3-pointers and 23 of its 37 shots (62%) inside the arc.“Now that they’re complete and the whole group is here, they’re having fun doing what you saw,” coach Gregg Popovich said. “Each time we get out on the court, they do it more and more and better and better because they get confidence in the group and how we want to play.”It was a loud statement that might quiet some of the criticisms the team has heard right from the start of its summer, when it dropped its first two exhibition games.Those came against a different caliber opponent. The Americans had played some of basketball’s best, with games against Spain, Australia and Argentina — the Nos. 2-4 teams in the men’s rankings — before facing the seventh-ranked French.But Iran presented none of the problems of those contenders, a team that only earned its spot in the field in Tokyo by being the highest-finishing Asian team at the 2019 Basketball World Cup. The Iranians are ranked 23rd, ahead of only host Japan — which qualified for the Games automatically as the host country — in this 12-team field.Lillard struggled and then stumbled in his Olympic debut, going 3 for 10 from the field before a costly fall and foul with 17 seconds left.But he came out aggressively looking for his shot, a player known for his deep 3-pointers in the NBA having it easy while shooting behind the closer international line.He had six of the Americans’ 13 3-pointers in the first half. All 11 U.S. players who played in the first half scored — late roster addition Keldon Johnson of the San Antonio Spurs didn’t play until the second half.Former NBA center Hamed Haddadi scored 15 points for Iran (0-2).The U.S. and Iran are longtime rival nations in the political arena but have little history in the basketball one. They had played only once before, a U.S. victory in the 2010 world basketball championship in Istanbul.Players on both teams then — Durant was one of them — said it was just a regular game despite the history of tension between their nations and this game looked the same. Players exchanged cordial fist bumps and some pats on the arm before tipoff.The Iranians wouldn’t be anywhere near the Americans much longer.The U.S. led 28-12 after one and pushed the lead to 30 on its 10th 3-pointer in 17 attempts to begin the game, making it 47-17 when Zach LaVine made his second in a row.TIP-INSU.S. Durant is up to 331 points in his three Olympics. Carmelo Anthony set the U.S. record with 336 in his four appearances. He posed for a photo after the game with an Iranian player, a familiar site during the Dream Team days…. LaVine scored 13 points.Iran: Iran fell to 2-10 in the Olympics. This is its third appearance in men’s basketball, having dropped all five games in Beijing in 2008 and both here. It also competed in 1948.UP NEXTU.S.: Plays Czech Republic on Saturday.Iran: Plays France on Saturday.———More AP Olympics: https://apnews.com/hub/2020-tokyo-olympics and https://twitter.com/AP—Sports

Doncic debuts with 48 points, Slovenia wins Olympic opener

Doncic debuts with 48 points, Slovenia wins Olympic opener

SAITAMA, Japan — Luka Doncic is only a 22-year-old Olympic rookie, a player who might still be a few years away from his best basketball.Sergio Hernandez doesn’t need to wait.“For me, I said this two years ago: He is the best player in the world, including the NBA,” Argentina’s coach said. “And if there was any doubt in my mind, there is no doubt anymore. He is the best player in the world.”Hard to argue after Doncic’s performance Monday at the Saitama Super Arena.Doncic made a spectacular Olympic debut with 48 points, tied for the second-highest total in men’s basketball history, to lead Slovenia to a 118-100 victory.In Slovenia’s first Olympic game ever, Doncic scored 31 points in the first half, putting him on pace to break the Games’ scoring record of 55 points by Brazilian Hall of Famer Oscar Schmidt in 1988.Though he didn’t have to do as much in the second half with Slovenia’s huge lead, the superstar guard for the Dallas Mavericks stayed on the floor well into the fourth quarter and ended up tied with Eddie Palubinskas, who had 48 for Australia in the 1976 Games in Montreal.There was still enough time left to break the record when Doncic checked out with a few minutes left, but he wasn’t interested in pursuing more points.“I don’t care about records,” he said. “We got a win and that’s what we came here for.”His teammates wanted both.“Everybody was telling him on the bench, ‘OK, let’s get the record,’” veteran Zoran Dragic said.”But that’s not the case. The case is to win the game. He knows that, and it’s crazy that he’s only 22 years old.”Slovenia didn’t even have a spot in the Olympics until earlier this month but is a medal threat thanks to Doncic, who had a historic first postseason in the NBA and might just do the same in the Olympics.Luis Scola scored 23 points for Argentina. Facando Campazzo of the Denver Nuggets added 21.The opening day of play in Group C started with Luka against Luis, the phenom against the 41-year-old veteran who was beginning his record-tying fifth Olympics in men’s basketball.But it was quickly clear Doncic would be the star of this show with 15 points before the game was five minutes old.“He was too good obviously,” Scola said. “I mean, he was unbelievable.”Casually launching his step-back 3-pointers from well behind the international 3-point arc — one came from just inside the TOKYO 2020 logo at center court — Doncic shot from places where Argentina just couldn’t come out to defend.When they tried, he just took his game inside, getting consecutive baskets on follow shots in the second quarter on his way to 11 rebounds.That came during a 23-8 finish to the half for Slovenia, extending a 39-34 lead to 62-42 at the break.Manu Ginobili was impressed, the Argentine idol tweeting at halftime that Doncic was “a beast” and praising his “tremendous mastery of the game.”Doncic had already shown he had that playing in Europe even before going on to win Rookie of the Year honors in the NBA. In his second season, he became the first NBA player to average 30 points, eight rebounds and eight assists in his first postseason series.His first Olympics might be even better than that.Slovenia has been a country on the rise, winning the EuroBasket title in 2017 and then qualifying for Tokyo by winning one of the Olympic qualifying touraments earlier this month. The Slovenians knocked off host Lithuania in the final after Doncic went right to playing for his country after the Mavericks were knocked out of the playoffs in the first round.Argentina, the 2004 Olympic champions, were thought to be past their years of challenging for titles when Ginobili and some other stars from that era called it a career.But Scola is still here and the Argentines showed they’re not done just yet when they made a surprise run to the gold-medal game two years ago in the Basketball World Cup, losing to Spain but not until after clinching their spot in the Olympics.Spain is also in Group C along with host Japan, but even those games shouldn’t be any tougher than playing against Doncic.“We tried everything that we would have tried against a normal player,” Hernandez said, “but he’s not a normal player.”———More AP Olympics: https://apnews.com/hub/Olympics and https://twitter.com/AP—Sports

If shots don't fall in Olympics, not a surprise when US does

If shots don't fall in Olympics, not a surprise when US does

The U.S. had five attempts on the pivotal possession of its latest basketball failure and came up empty on all of themBy BRIAN MAHONEY AP Basketball WriterJuly 25, 2021, 8:04 PM• 4 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleSAITAMA, Japan — Kevin Durant had a shot. Then another about 20 seconds later.Jrue Holiday had one. So did Zach LaVine and Bam Adebayo.The U.S. had five attempts on the pivotal possession of its latest basketball failure and came up empty on all of them.That not only doomed the Americans to an 83-76 loss to France on Sunday night, but showed their problems might last well beyond their Olympic opener.Because if a team can’t shoot, it’s not going to win.“The ball goes in or it doesn’t,” U.S. coach Gregg Popovich said.It sure didn’t fall much Sunday for the U.S. The Americans finished at 36% overall and were 10 for 32 (31%) from 3-point range.Durant, who holds a host of U.S. scoring records and should break more in this tournament, was 1 for 6 on 3-pointers. Jayson Tatum was 1 for 5. Damian Lillard was 3 for 9.These are All-NBA players, shooting from a 3-point arc that’s closer than they’re used to.“Sometimes you make shots and sometimes you don’t,” Popovich said. “It’s not a question of what aspect of the game that you win or lose. It’s accumulation of everything that went on during the game.”The Americans undoubtedly had a difficult preparation for these Olympics. Their exhibition schedule was reduced from five to four games after Bradley Beal was placed in health and safety protocols and ultimately couldn’t to travel to Japan. Another player had to be replaced when Kevin Love pulled out with injury.And with Holiday, Khris Middleton and Devin Booker only joining the team Saturday after missing training camp while playing in the NBA Finals, nearly half the players missed some or all of the warmup run to the Olympics.That means the Americans have to simplify their playbook, at least at the start. There are few sophisticated offensive sets because they simply haven’t had time to learn them.But that shouldn’t cause shooting to suffer. And they can’t afford it to at this point, knowing they don’t have much else they can call upon after such little time together.Booker missed a 3-pointer that could have extended a two-point lead with 2:09 remaining. Evan Fournier’s 3-pointer gave France the lead before the Americans misfired on multiple chances to regain it.Durant got good looks at the basket on both of his 3s during the five-shot possession that started with his miss with 44 seconds left. He was off on another with 25 seconds to go and Holiday missed one to end the possession.“We gave them five chances in a row,” France center Rudy Gobert said.Durant, with two Olympic gold medals and an MVP award from the 2010 world basketball championship, never got in a rhythm while battling foul trouble.But he wasn’t particularly sharp during exhibition games, when the Americans were beaten by Nigeria and Argentina. Coming off such a strong finish to his NBA season, it’s an untimely slump for the U.S.The good news for the Americans was that Holiday was better than they could have hoped after arriving late Saturday night — this after partying with the Milwaukee Bucks following their NBA championship on Tuesday.He seems to fill a pair of needs for the Americans, providing steady point guard play while able to defend even more physically than in the NBA.If a few more guys pick up at his level, starting in the Americans’ next game against Iran, the Americans think they can be a much different team than the one that wilted late against the French.“We still have a chance to accomplish our goal,” Holiday said, “and being consistent is the best way to do it.”———More AP Olympics: https://apnews.com/hub/Olympics and https://twitter.com/AP—Sports

Among NBA's best, Popovich still seeks golden touch with USA

Among NBA's best, Popovich still seeks golden touch with USA

Gregg Popovich is regarded as the NBA’s best, a coach that has won five championships and kept his team near the top for a quarter of a century.In international basketball, he hasn’t yet found that golden touch.Popovich has been on the staff of three U.S. teams in the Olympics or world championships and only one reached the medal stand. It’s a history he doesn’t think much about as he leads the Americans into Tokyo.“Sometimes you fall short and sometimes you win,” Popovich said.So far, his teams have only fell short.The San Antonio Spurs coach was an assistant to Larry Brown when the Americans left Athens with a bronze medal in 2004, the only Olympics they haven’t won since NBA players debuted in 1992. Two years earlier, he was on George Karl’s staff for a team that stumbled to a sixth-place finish on home soil in the world championships.Popovich finally got to run the team in 2019 at the Basketball World Cup and the Americans went 6-2, a seventh-place result that was the their worst ever in a major tournament.He isn’t much for deep discussions about basketball strategy, even after victories. So, he certainly isn’t interested in specific details about what went wrong that led to a 17-8 record for those three teams.“The past isn’t of very much importance other than what lessons we’ve learned from it,” Popovich said, “and we’ve learned a lot of lessons.”Such as?“Play better. Execute better. Always respect your opponents. Compete harder than your opponents,” he said. “And if you don’t do those things, you’ve got a good chance to lose. Pretty simple. It’s not rocket science.”No, but maybe it’s more complicated than the NBA game.The U.S. failures were due mostly to matters of personnel. A host of top NBA players pulled out of Athens, when there was still an uneasiness about travel after the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001. More stars declined the opportunity in 2019, uninterested in going to China for the World Cup when the Olympics were scheduled to be back in Asia a year later.But there’s also challenges with coaching the U.S. team that Popovich rarely faced with the Spurs.Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili were together so long as the mainstays of the organization that Popovich often pointed to what he called the team’s “corporate knowledge,” a strength that came from experiencing almost every potential situation together.But it’s impossible for any team to have that when it is together for just a few weeks, like the Olympic team.“It takes a lot of time to figure things out. There’s no replacement for reps and experiences and being defended different ways and having to navigate different things defensively,” said Milwaukee Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer, a former assistant to Popovich in San Antonio.“So, no, you can’t get that in two minutes or two games or a couple practices. It’s real and it takes real time.”Which is why, perhaps, it’s an easier adjustment for a college coach. They have sometimes significantly different rosters from season to season and have to figure out how to win with them quickly. Not to mention they are used to playing single-elimination games that comprise the Olympic medal rounds, instead of seven-game series like their NBA counterparts.That’s the route Jerry Colangelo went in 2005 with the U.S. national team when he hired Mike Krzyzewski over Popovich, even though the Americans had been using NBA coaches when sending NBA players. The Americans lost just one game in a decade under the Duke coach, but Colangelo didn’t hesitate to make the switch back to the pros when it was time for his next coach.“You could build a case for saying Coach K represented the best of the college coaches and Pop being the best of the pro coaches, just based on record, experience and success,” Colangelo said. “So, I wasn’t locked in originally, I wasn’t locked in at the end regarding one way being the only way. So, I feel very confident in what I did then and what I did later with selecting Pop.”That hasn’t changed even after two losses to begin what became a shortened four-game exhibition schedule before leaving for Japan. No coach, even one who has led his team since 1996 as the longest-tenured current coach in U.S. pro sports, could be perfectly prepared for these Olympics.But players believe that Popovich, who they respect for far more than basketball knowledge, is the one who will figure this out.“It was a dream of mine to play for Coach K and it’s always been a dream to learn under Coach Pop as well,” U.S. star Kevin Durant said.“So he definitely was one of the main factors in me making this decision to continue to play for Team USA.”———More AP Olympics: https://apnews.com/hub/Olympics and https://twitter.com/AP—Sports

Bucks' 50-year wait ends with a title behind 50 from Giannis

Bucks' 50-year wait ends with a title behind 50 from Giannis

MILWAUKEE — Giannis Antetokounmpo had the Larry O’Brien Trophy in one arm, the NBA Finals MVP trophy in the other and there was a cigar on the table in front of him.All the work it took to lift the Milwaukee Bucks from a team that won 15 games when he was a rookie to one with 16 wins this postseason was finally finished.“This is time to celebrate,” Antetokounmpo said.Milwaukee waited 50 years for that.Antetokounmpo ended one of the greatest NBA Finals ever with 50 points, 14 rebounds and five blocked shots as the Bucks beat the Phoenix Suns 105-98 on Tuesday night to win an entertaining series 4-2 and cap off a joyous return to a fan-filled postseason after last year’s NBA bubble.It was the third game this series with at least 40 points and 10 rebounds for Antetokounmpo, a dominant debut finals performance that takes its place among some of the game’s greatest. Antetokounmpo finished with 35.2 points, 13.2 rebounds and 5.0 assists per game while shooting 61.8%, the first player in finals history to reach those numbers.He shot 16 for 25 from the field and made an unbelievable 17-of-19 free throws — a spectacular showing for any shooter, let alone one who was hitting just 55.6% in the postseason and was ridiculed for it at times.“People told me I can’t make free throws and I made them tonight. And I’m a freaking champion,” Antetokounmpo said.He hopped around the court waving his arms with 20 seconds remaining to encourage fans to cheer, but there was no need. Their voices had been booming inside and outside for hours by then, having waited 50 years to celebrate a winner after Lew Alcindor — before becoming Kareem Abdul-Jabbar — and Oscar Robertson led the Bucks to their first championship in 1971.“For the city, I’m sure it means everything,” said Khris Middleton, the other player left from that 15-67 team in 2013-14. “They’ve seen the work that we put in over the years for them to get to this point.”In a season played played largely without fans, the Bucks had 65,000 of them packed into the Deer District outside, a wild party that figured to last deep into the Midwestern night. The party wasn’t bad inside, either: Confetti rained down inside as fans chanted “Bucks in 6! Bucks in 6!” — a hopeful boast by former player that turned out to be a prophetic rallying cry.“I hope they enjoyed it just like we are now,” Middleton added.The Bucks became the fifth team to win the NBA Finals after trailing 2-0 and the first to do it by winning the next four games since Miami against Dallas in 2006.Chris Paul scored 26 points to end his first NBA Finals appearance in his 16th season. Devin Booker added 19 points but shot just 8 for 22 and missed all seven 3-pointers after scoring 40 points in each of the last two games.“There’s just a pain that goes with your season being over,” Suns coach Monty Williams said. “But I’ve never dealt with this and so I’m grateful, like I said, but I know this is going to hurt for a while.”The teams that came into the NBA together as expansion clubs in 1968 delivered a fine finals, with the last three games all in the balance deep into the fourth quarter.The Bucks won them largely because of Antetokounmpo, a two-time MVP in the regular season who raised his game even higher in the finals and was voted the unanimous NBA Finals MVP.He was the star of these finals in every way, from his powerful play on the court to his humble thoughts in interviews to taking time after Tuesday night’s win to find children to high-five amid the celebrations. He teared up afterward talking about the sacrifices his family endured while he grew up in Greece.He did all this after missing the final two games of the Eastern Conference finals with a hyperextended left knee, an injury he feared could be serious enough to end his season.Just think what people would have missed.What started as a gradual rise for Antetokounmpo and the Bucks sped up in the last few years and they thought they might be here the last two seasons. They had the NBA’s best record in 2018-19 but blew a 2-0 lead against Toronto in the Eastern Conference finals.They came back with the best record again last season but never regained their momentum after the season was suspended because of the coronavirus pandemic in March. They were eliminated in the second round by Miami in the bubble.The Bucks traded for Jrue Holiday before this season and even though they weren’t quite as strong in the regular season, they were finally NBA Finals ready.And Milwaukee was ready for the moment.Middleton scored 17 points and Bobby Portis came off the bench with 16. Holiday had 12 points, 11 assists and nine rebounds to go along with his usual sturdy defense that helped finally cool off Booker.“I think it’s just a credit to the players,” Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said. “We’ve been pushing. We’ve been trying to get better. The players embrace everything. They’re amazingly coachable. They take it, soak it in and make the best of it.”Fans began filling the streets and restaurants in the afternoon on what felt like a holiday in Milwaukee. The Brewers moved up the start time of their home game against Kansas City to be played in the afternoon to accommodate Milwaukee fans — and Brewers star Christian Yelich, who was part of the crowd inside Fiserv Forum.The game was tied at 77 after three quarters but Antetokoumpo had 13 points in the fourth to make sure Milwaukee wouldn’t have to go back to Phoenix for Game 7 on Thursday.The Suns returned to the postseason for the first time since 2010 but remain without a title and have never won more than two games in their three appearances in the NBA Finals.“Nobody probably expected us to be where we are except for us,” Paul said. “But it is what it is. Like I said all season long with our team, ain’t no moral victories.”TIP-INSSuns: The Suns scored their fewest points in a first quarter in this postseason when they had 16. … Deandre Ayton, who was shooting 67.6% in the postseason, was 4 of 12 for 12 points.Bucks: Brook Lopez had 10 points and eight rebounds. … Milwaukee’s only other NBA Finals appearance was a loss in 1974.———Follow Brian Mahoney on Twitter at https://twitter.com/briancmahoney———More AP NBA: https://apnews.com/hub/NBA and https://twitter.com/AP—Sports

History awaits: Bucks try to focus with championship chance

History awaits: Bucks try to focus with championship chance

MILWAUKEE — High atop the outside of Fiserv Forum — way above even a leaping Giannis Antetokounmpo’s reach — blares the Bucks’ postseason motto.“HISTORY IN THE MAKING” it reads, a sign and a situation that’s now impossible to ignore.And yet, that’s exactly what the Bucks are trying to do.They can indeed make history Tuesday night as Milwaukee’s first NBA champion since 1971. But the Bucks have to resist thinking about what happens if they beat the Phoenix Suns in Game 6.“It’s hard, because you work so hard to be in that moment, which is tomorrow,” Antetokounmpo said Monday. “It’s hard not to get ahead of yourself. But this is the time that you’ve got to be the most disciplined.”The Bucks have won the last three games to set up a potential party 50 years in the making.Around 17,000 fans are expected inside the arena and the Bucks announced Monday that the Deer District has been expanded to allow up to 65,000 fans to stand shoulder-to-shoulder outside. Barricades line the sidewalks around the arena and restaurants within walking distance were contemplating how to get employees into and back home from work through the anticipated crowds.It’s a scene that couldn’t have happened for much of this season that has been played during the coronavirus pandemic. The Bucks only began permitting a limited number of fans at games in February, nearly two months after the season began. Even when postseason play started in May, capacity was capped at 9,100, a little above 50%.Whatever the number is Tuesday, it will sound a whole lot louder if the Bucks are lifting the Larry O’Brien Trophy.“But we got to focus, we got to do our job,” Antetokounmpo said. “Then they can do their job celebrating at the end. But we got to do our job first.”The Suns are excited, too.That’s how Chris Paul said they feel, despite blowing a 2-0 lead and facing elimination for the first time in this postseason.“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,” Paul said.“And we get a chance to determine the outcome. It’s not like the game is going to be simulated or somebody else’s got to play. We get a chance. We control our own destiny. So I think that’s the exciting part about it.”If the Suns do win Tuesday, they would bring the series back to Phoenix for Game 7 on Thursday.To do so, they will have to call upon the fight they showed in Game 5, when they gave themselves a chance to win in the closing seconds after the Bucks had pounded them for 79 points in the second and third quarters to open a double-digit lead.The comeback fell short when Jrue Holiday stripped Devin Booker and fired an alley-oop pass to Antetokounmpo, but coach Monty Williams saw a resilience that will be needed now more than ever.“For us to be able to cut it to one point, you know that was the thing that stuck out to me and gives our staff and team a lot of confidence as we go into this Game 6,” Williams said.Booker has scored 40 points in two straight games, something Antetokounmpo earlier in the series and only five other players have done in the NBA Finals. Yet as good as he’s been, the star guard said he has to be even better in Game 6.“We all know what’s at stake and what’s on the line,” Booker said. “Everybody is going to have to give a little bit more because what we have done hasn’t been enough.”Just two years ago, the Bucks had the league’s best record and were two wins away from their first NBA Finals since 1974 before losing a 2-0 lead in the Eastern Conference finals against Toronto.That disappointment helped build a Bucks team that doesn’t waver when it’s down. Milwaukee was behind 2-0 to Brooklyn in the second round and is now a victory away from overcoming that deficit again.The Bucks ended all three series in this postseason on the road. Now they have the chance for the biggest one of all in their building, knowing that won’t make it any easier than their other clinchers.“It is funny, you want to treat it the same as any other game, but at the same time, it is what it is. It’s a close-out game of the finals,” center Brook Lopez said. “But I definitely think we can take from our other experiences in the playoffs.“And one thing, you know, if you look all of them, obviously we know that the other team is just not going to roll over and stop playing. They are going to fight till the last second. We have be ready to come out at our best.”———Follow Brian Mahoney on Twitter at https://twitter.com/briancmahoney———More AP NBA: https://apnews.com/hub/NBA and https://twitter.com/AP—Sports

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