Suns’ Deandre Ayton on facing NBA Finals elimination: ‘It’s fun; the tables are turned now'

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PHOENIX – Once they walked into the locker room, the Phoenix Suns hashed out their shortcomings. How could they not?

The Suns had just experienced a 123-119 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks in Game 5 of the NBA Finals on Saturday. After winning the first two games, the Suns suffered a three-game losing streak that came down to a handful of possessions. And now, the Suns face elimination with a potentially decisive Game 6 in Milwaukee on Tuesday.

Still, the Suns quickly shifted their mindset from lamenting their circumstances toward embracing it.

“I like it. It’s fun; the tables are turned now,” Suns center Deandre Ayton said. “Now we're the desperate team. We had our chances of being up and trying to finish the job, now we're in the same position that they were in. They're up, and now we got to go get it. That's why it's a little bit more fun.”

Phoenix Suns center Deandre Ayton (22) looks to pass the ball as Milwaukee Bucks center Brook Lopez (11) defends in the first half during Game 5 of the NBA Finals.
Phoenix Suns center Deandre Ayton (22) looks to pass the ball as Milwaukee Bucks center Brook Lopez (11) defends in the first half during Game 5 of the NBA Finals.

That attitude might explain why the Suns have proven to be resilient all season.

They had only lost three consecutive games one other time this season. When they faced a 2-1 first-round series deficit against the Los Angeles Lakers, the Suns then won two of the next three to win the series. After they failed to eliminate the Los Angeles Clippers in Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals, the Suns did so in Game 6 in L.A.

“We knew this wasn't going to be easy,” Suns guard Chris Paul said. "We didn't expect it to be. It's hard.”

The Suns face different circumstances this time. Their other three-game losing streak happened partly because Suns guard Devin Booker missed the latter two games with a hamstring injury. The Suns overcame the Lakers amid improved health of Paul and regressed health of LeBron James and Anthony Davis. The Suns eliminated the Clippers amid Paul shaking off rust from missing the first two games after testing positive for COVID-19 and Booker playing through a battered nose.

As for the Bucks? Giannis Antetokounmpo has dominated all series. Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday have elevated their shotmaking and defense as the series has progressed. And Milwaukee has home-court advantage and history on its side.

Past teams have won an NBA title 38 out of 47 times after holding a 3-2 series lead. Past teams have won an NBA title 21 out of 29 times after winning Game 5 following a 2-2 series tie. And yet, the Suns remain confident they can rewrite the history books.

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

Will that determination be enough?

Even before the Suns’ latest adversity, Philadelphia 76ers coach Doc Rivers texted Williams that “pressure is a privilege.” Williams has reiterated a similar message to his team all season. He recently told his players, “You’re not going to find greatness on a beach; you’re going to find it in the struggle.”

The Suns have often listened to that message. They have rarely squabbled and have become a close-knit team. Williams noted that the team has not held any team-building exercises because of the season-long pandemic restrictions. But the Suns have still stayed close with consistent work in the gym, meal get togethers at hotel and hangouts at the Phoenix houses of Paul and Booker. During those times, the Suns have had extensive conversations about roles, adjustments and schemes.

The Suns also arguably could have swept the Bucks and already hoisted the Larry O’Brien trophy if not for a handful of plays.

And during those losses, the Suns pointed to bigger trends that included inconsistency with their defense, rebounding and ball handling.

“If you sulk about it, it's, the blink of an eye the season is going to be over,” Suns guard Mikal Bridges said. “So, we'll learn from it, coach is going to show clips and what we have to do better, but we know what we have to do. But we're ready, man.”

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Suns' DeAndre Ayton on facing NBA Finals elimination: 'It's fun'