Phoenix Suns guard Chris Paul said his team needs to do a much better job rebounding following a 123-119 home loss in Game 5 of the NBA Finals. In particular, Paul pointed to his team's struggles rebounding off a missed free throws, singling out Milwaukee Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo in the process.
"Everybody is anticipating him to miss," Paul said. "Even him."
That continued to be the case on Saturday as Antetokounmpo went 4-of-11 from the line en route to a 32-point, nine-rebound performance. Milwaukee out-rebounded Phoenix 37-35 in the win. The Bucks now lead the series 3-2 and can clinch the championship in Milwaukee when Game 6 tips off Tuesday night.
The Suns only grabbed three of Antetokounmpo's missed free throws, and in a game that came down to the final seconds, each of those blown opportunities made an impact. The Greek Freak is barely connecting on half of his free throws this postseason (56.8 percent), making the moments when he's at the line absolutely crucial for both the Bucks and their opponent.
It's the difference between getting a two-time MVP another offensive opportunity or potentially giving up points in transition. Whether Antetokounmpo is expecting himself to miss isn't as nearly as important as what happens when he does miss.
Despite winning the first two games of the series, the Suns have yet to hold a rebounding edge in any game during the 2021 Finals. Milwaukee edged Phoenix 47-43 in Game 1, 46-43 in Game 2, 47-36 in Game 3 and 48-40 in Game 4.
It certainly doesn't help the Suns that Antetokounmpo is more than capable of rebounding his own misses. He did just that with the Bucks up 122-119 in the fourth quarter and 13.5 seconds to play. The recovered possession forced Devin Booker to foul Khris Middleton, sending one of the Bucks' best shooters right back to the line only seconds later.
As the Suns attempt to regroup before heading off to Milwaukee, the locker room is left to grapple with its first game on the brink of elimination all postseason. At no point during the team's run to the Finals have the Suns trailed in a series.
The Bucks changed all that. Now it's on Phoenix to figure out how to answer.
"We have to win one game to put them back on the plane," Suns head coach Monty Williams told reporters about forcing a Game 7." You need to do all that it takes to put them back on a plane."