Suns never set on Phoenix road warriors in NBA title hunt

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·4 min read
Thousands of Milwaukee Bucks fans showed up outside the arena to watch NBA playoff action on a big screen from the Deer District, which figures to be packed again for Sunday's third game of the NBA Finals against Phoenix
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Having led the NBA in road triumphs this season, the Phoenix Suns like their chances of taking a crucial victory at Milwaukee despite a notoriously rowdy set of Bucks supporters.

The Suns carry a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven NBA Finals into Sunday's game three as the scene shifts from the Arizona desert to the Great Lakes shore, where in-arena fans will be joined by thousands of Bucks backers watching in the Deer District big-screen viewing area outside.

"Playing in the NBA Finals in front of the fans that have supported us all year long, and it's been (almost) 50 years since we played one here in Milwaukee, for sure it's going to be exciting," Milwaukee's Greek star Giannis Antetokounmpo said.

But the Suns, two wins from the first title in team history, have been road warriors all season. They had the NBA's best record away from home at 24-12 in the regular season, when they went 51-21 and finished only one game back of NBA overall leader Utah.

Phoenix has followed with a 6-2 road record in the playoffs and the Suns know no team has ever rallied from a 3-0 deficit to win an NBA playoff series.

"I love our home crowd, but I also love playing on the road. It has always been like that my whole career," Suns guard Chris Paul said.

"When you go on the road, it's just you and your guys, the people that travel with you, so you really got to stick together.

"And it's nice when you can silence a crowd. It's fun. It's entertaining. I think our team, we just had a right mindset for it."

Being on the road during the Covid-19 pandemic helped build camaraderie among the Suns, especially after Paul joined the club last November.

"We enjoy playing on the road and I think that brings our team together even more," Suns guard Devin Booker said.

"We spent a lot of our free time this year, especially with the Covid protocols, spending time together. Not with our families on the road, just somebody hosting. We're playing cards. We have 10, 12 guys in the room at a time."

Being composed and prepared for a road game in the NBA Finals comes from a confidence built night after night during the campaign.

"We're prepared for this moment," Suns forward Jae Crowder said. "All year we've been talking about trying to come together on the road and get our road presence in a sense.

"You just can't turn it on right now in this moment. You have to prepare yourself for this and we've done a great job of talking and preparing ourselves for moments like we're going to face the next few days.

"It's the Finals. You expect a tough crowd, especially when you're on the road, it's playing for it all, so we're prepared for it. We know we have to be together, do everything collectively and we're aware of it, and I'm looking forward to the task."

- 'Try not to overthink' -

Suns coach Monty Williams has tried to build a rhythm for road games that provides a routine players can fall back upon without the usual support networks at home.

"The thing that has been consistent is the culture pieces we try to implement every day, and keep our day the same on the road and at home," Williams said.

"We're going to have a film session. We're going to have a mental workout. We're going to walk through things that we need to. We're going to get our work in. And we have enough veteran leadership on our team to help our guys with the differences between playoff home and playoff road.

"Other than that, we try not to overthink it too much. We think that helps our guys a ton."

For Suns big man Deandre Ayton, home is the Bahamas and every game is a chance to excite his fans as tries to finish off a title run.

"There's a lot of people back home supporting me, watching, and I want to put on a show for them and make sure this thing happens," Ayton said. "Every game I'm going I'm bringing the Bahamas with me. So I'm locked in."

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