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NBA: Suns plot ‘Giannis Wall’ to protect Finals edge

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MILWAUKEE — Giannis Antetokounmpo vs. The Wall.

When it comes to the defensive strategy of the Phoenix Suns in Game 4, it’s all about challenging the Milwaukee Bucks to play beyond the paint.

The 6-foot-11 Antetokounmpo has 23 field goals within 6 feet of the basket in the past two games and won’t be surprised to see “The Giannis Wall” in Game 4.

“The first time I saw the wall was probably two years ago. But I was always capable of passing before that,” said Antetokounmpo. “It’s something that I always liked to do. I had coaches and people throughout my career that helped me with finding the right guy, finding the right pass, making the right play.

“But once I started seeing the wall, two years ago, now it’s almost, it’s about trust. And it’s kind of hard, because you want to be effective, you want to get downhill, you want to do everything, but now you also — and you take it personal also. There’s a team that’s building the wall of three people and two guys behind and trying to stop you. Now you have to not take it personal and make the right play, find the right guy. I feel like I did that better since two years ago now. I’m doing it better. I’m finding, I’m trusting my teammates. I’m finding guys. But I was always a capable passer before the wall was created, which is funny that there’s a defense out there called the Giannis Wall. It’s funny to me, you know? So it’s crazy.”

Crazy also describes the emotional state of Suns coach Monty Williams rehashing Game 3 in a film session with his team on Monday. Hatching a unique strategy for slowing Antetokounmpo is unlikely with a week of the season remaining.

“Yeah, it’s not delicate at all,” Williams said. “It’s a hard truth that you have to do both. You have to be able to show a wall, but also have the integrity of your defense intact on the other side.”

At 36, Suns point guard Chris Paul might not be ready to stand in front of the steamroller, but he has an appreciation for how Antetokounmpo plays the game. It boils down to his: He has only one speed.

“We’re going to keep trying to build a wall,” Paul said. “He’s coming full speed every play, like a running back coming downhill. Coach has a saying, we just say we try to get in his way. But he’s able to do that because he’s surrounded by some really good players too.”

AYTON ASSESSMENT: Deandre Ayton was admittedly awestruck by the Finals environment in his first playoff run with the Phoenix Suns since entering the NBA as the No. 1 pick in the 2018 draft.

Ayton remains a key to the Suns’ keeping the Finals advantage in Game 4, Williams said. In addition to avoiding foul trouble to stay on the court, Williams said he discussed checking emotions and the nuanced ability to read the referees early in a game.

For Ayton, it might be nothing more than realizing what’s at stake.

“I think it got old now; now we’re back to business,” 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.”

REST TEST: Antetokounmpo continues to receive treatment on his hyperextended left knee and said the consecutive off days between Game 3 and Game 4 couldn’t have come at a better time.

“I’m happy that we have two days in between,” Antetokounmpo said. “I feel like in the Eastern Conference Finals, if I remember, we had, it was a game-day-game. We had one day in between, so it was a lot for everybody. But now we have time to take care of our body, spend some time with our family.

“It’s good for us mentally and physically and for me also. I always like to have a little bit more time in between the games so I can get a little bit more rest and recover a little bit better and be able to go and play hard.”

Even considering their depth challenges, the Suns are a bit more eager to get back on the court following a loss and in a road environment. Team dinners and video games can only stretch so far.

“I’d rather go ahead and play,” Suns backup guard Cameron Payne said. “We’ve been doing that all playoffs. Shoot, I’d rather go ahead and play, especially when you lose a game. You’re ready to play 30 minutes after the game is over. It’s just — try to get it back.”

–By Jeff Reynolds, Field Level Media

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