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Devin Booker, Mikal Bridges on Suns’ togetherness in Game 1 Finals victory over Bucks

Phoenix Suns got out and running early and exploited Milwaukee Bucks defensive coverages

NBA: Finals-Media Day Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

PHOENIX — Here is what Phoenix Suns starting shooting guard Devin Booker and starting forward Mikal Bridges said after their team’s 118-105 win over the Milwaukee Bucks in Game 1 of the NBA Finals at Phoenix Suns Arena on Tuesday night.

NBA: Finals-Milwaukee Bucks at Phoenix Suns Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Devin Booker

On what’s on his mind when he sees a big switched on to Suns starting point guard Chris Paul:

“Space out. Coach talks about it all the time, our spacing. We have to punish teams for switching one through five like that. Like I just heard Chris say, we prepare for any type of defense and we watch a lot of basketball, and where we have been most successful in that situation is, space out. So every time he shoots it, we think it’s going in.

If he expected Bucks superstar forward Giannis Antetokounmpo to play in Game 1:

“Honestly, I had no idea, but we did prepare for both. I kind of took our energy away from worrying about that and just locking in on what we have to do as a team, because I’ve said it before, we focus on ourselves more than anything. But obviously he’s a big factor to the game, and that can be a whole entirely different game and just scouting. Not saying they’re better one way or the other, but we had two different game plans as if he was playing or he wasn’t.”

On the key to the Suns’ win that didn’t show up on the stat sheet:

“Just team defense, communication through everybody. We don’t want to make it a make-or-miss game. We want to make teams miss and we want to guard at the highest level. So that’s where we have been successful, just banking on that. I think that (Los Angeles) Clipper game (Game 4 of the Western Conference Finals), when it was 71-70 for six minutes straight, we’re not making a bucket but we’re not letting them score either. So that’s where we hang our hats on, our defense, and saying we’ll make it work on the other end.”

On conversations with him, Paul and starting center Deandre Ayton that allowed them to gel together:

NBA: Finals-Milwaukee Bucks at Phoenix Suns Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

“Just like Chris whispered to me as he was walking out, he was like, ‘We have been on his ass.’ And we have. That’s why Chris can say that’s who he’s most proud of, and I feel the same way, because sometimes you walk around the court — Chris will be talking to him, and I’ll be waiting right there, ‘You done, Chris? All right, let me go tell him something.’ So we’re all in his ear. We’re all on him. And for him to retain all that information and come perform at the level that he’s been performing, it’s hard to put words to it because we have been tough on him. And he has gone through his phases in his NBA career, but since this playoffs has started, you’ve seen his maturity and his growth grow to a whole ‘nother level, and he’s continuing to get better. His willingness to learn now, instead of me coming up to him, he might come to me and be like, ‘So what should I do when this happens?’ So just little things like that. And he still has even more in the tank that he’s going to show soon.”

On the aggressiveness of the Suns offense, enabling 26 free throws and 18 points in the paint in the first quarter:

“Yeah, we always want to be the initiator of the game and start it off the right way and put pressure on the paint. (When) we put pressure on the rim like that, it opens up other opportunities for people. Everybody on the floor can shoot and can space, so we know when we get downhill that we can make something happen for the team, whether it’s score the ball or swing it to the opposite side and get an open shot.”

On the looks he saw that encouraged him to attack:

NBA: Finals-Milwaukee Bucks at Phoenix Suns Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

“Just what you said, just asserting ourselves into the game early. I think the games that we have struggled this year, we were fighting uphill the whole game and starting off down 15, 20 points. But I think when we come out with that pace and that energy, how it should be for a Finals game, we’re going to leave ourselves in pretty good shape.”

On the Suns’ confidence when Paul had his 16-point third quarter:

NBA: Finals-Milwaukee Bucks at Phoenix Suns Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

“It gives you all the confidence in the world. Like I said, we hang our hat on the defensive end, and anything that we’re getting offensively is a plus. That’s how we try to look at things on this team. So just guarding, and when we can give it to Chris like that and let him isolate any team that is trying to switch one through five, we’re in good shape.”

On the performance of Bridges and his defense on Bucks All-Star forward Khris Middleton:

“Yeah, he had the toughest assignment tonight in guarding Khris, especially the way Khris had it rolling. But we have been stressing to him all the time, just make it hard on him. He’s going to make tough shots, but just always be in the right place. And when’s out in transition playing with his length and his speed, he’s a tough cover. So if guys want to sleep on him, or whatever you want to call it, he can make you pay. Teams are going to understand that’s not the guy to leave open or that’s not the guy to leave in transition, because he will make you pay.”

On his feelings entering his first NBA Finals game:

“I just get really excited. That’s pretty much it. Us as a team and trusting everybody in this locker room, from coaching staff to training staff all the way down to the players, it’s kind of hard to get butterflies because you understand your brother has your back. It takes a lot of pressure off you when you know, good or bad, that you’re going to be in the game and you’re going to be competing to win. So for me that relieves a lot. I’m sure all the other guys feel that, that you’re not pressured to go out there and play a perfect game. You can go out there and play your game, whether you’re making or missing shots — I keep saying it, we’re going to be on the other end defending.”

More on Paul:

“Chris Paul, he’s been a bucket, man. I mean, he obviously gets his team involved. He’s the greatest leader to play this game. But he’s been a bucket for a very long time. And my six years of playing against him, or five years of playing against him, you understand that. There’s no scouting report that says Chris Paul can’t get a bucket.

“Anybody that counted Chris Paul out, I mean we just went down his track record of he’s walking in the Hall of Fame first ballot. So you can’t ever count any guy out that has done the things that he’s done on the court. So if I hear things like that, which I did, I take it as complete nonsense. If he doesn’t play another game for us, you can still pay him his contract. His effect is that big, you know what I’m saying? So he moves this team, he leads this team daily. Just having him in the locker room, I’m not even talking about anything he does on the court, he takes the team to that next level.

On what he felt from the leadership of Suns starting forward Jae Crowder, who is the only player on either team with NBA Finals experience:

NBA: Finals-Media Day Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

“Just the leadership. You understand he’s been there before. Our whole team understands he was just there last year, so we bank on him for that grittiness, that toughness. I think a big part of the game was him taking the charge on Giannis down there underneath, just making Giannis think that you just can’t go through him every time, because he’s a strong base. His shot didn’t fall tonight, but as history speaks, we know it will and it can. But he impacts the game in so many different ways, and whether he’s making a shot, whether he’s playing good defense, he’s always communicating with our team and talking to guys and giving any type of pointers and being honest with them. I always talk about honesty with our team and when somebody’s slacking, just letting them know. And even if it’s aggressive, we have a team that can relay that information and don’t take it personal. And Jae is one of them guys that, if you’re slipping up, he’s going to get on you.”

His thoughts on guarding Paul:

“I’m locking that up. That has nothing to do with me. I’m locking C up. I tell him all the time. No, it’s tough, it’s tough. He’s a tough guard. He’s one of those guys that you take one thing away, he does the other. It might sound simple, but he just takes what the defense gives him. The ability to shoot the ball and score the ball from any spot on the court just makes you really tough to guard.

NBA: Finals-Milwaukee Bucks at Phoenix Suns Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Mikal Bridges

On Paul’s performance in Game 1:

“Just know he’s ready. He prepares his whole life for this moment, and it shows out there on the court. Puts in a lot of hard work and sacrifice and takes care of his body. You know he really wants to be here. So just happy to see him go out there, but this is what we — CP3, man. We know he can do this every game. (I’m) happy he did it in Game 1 and helped us get this win. We’re going to need him for the next one.”

On the Suns scoring 20 fastbreak points and what enabled that:

“Just locking in defensively, getting stops. We all are unselfish and we play fast, so once we get the stop, we just run out and I know for sure if I’m out, they’re going to find me. I just start running, even if I’m tired. Just a team effort, getting stops and getting out.”

On the confidence the Suns receive when they see Booker and Paul performing well offensively:

“Amazing. It just opens up everything, I think. Just for other guys out there, we’re spacing and stuff. It opens it up for us to get opportunities. If they start helping toward Book and CP, and then we get shots. For us, just having that mindset to stay ready and be ready at all times because C and Book, they’ll find you. That’s a great thing about them is that they could go score whenever they want, but they know that they can read defenses and if they’re overhelping, they’re going to get us looks.”

On playing in the NBA Finals versus two NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball national championship games at Villanova:

“No, it’s different. It’s the NBA Finals. It’s a lot different. But I was talking about it earlier today, I think the only thing that I was really ready for was the media. I think being in a Final Four, that media thing is crazy. It’s just a lot harder than being on the court. So I think I was trained. (Villanova) coach (Jay) Wright got us trained, especially going there a couple times helps. Doing that and now going to this media, it makes it way easier for me.”

On what unlocked his 14-point effort on 5-of-13 shooting after struggling against the Clippers in the Western Conference Finals:

“ust being aggressive. The Clippers’ defense as well, they did a great job limiting everybody else and kind of making us play one-on-one. But just being ready, man. I know I struggled that series. I just knew I put a lot of work in, and I was going to get ready to get another opportunity, another team and another big stage, the biggest stage, and just being ready.”

On the Suns performing well despite having all but one player who has appeared in the Finals:

“It just shows that we’re just together. I think that’s the biggest thing. Jae’s the only one, but just together as a team. We’re all going to go through it. Win together, lose together, we’re all going to be together. I think just us being so close and knowing that obviously this is our first time, but nothing changes on the court. Still the same basketball. Still the same rules, same court, same rims. There’s no difference. It’s just at the highest stage and, like people say, a little bit more pressure. It’s higher stakes. Everybody wants to win. So just being together and knowing that it’s still basketball at the end of the day.”

On his defense on Middleton:

“Yeah, like I said earlier, yesterday, he’s an Olympian. I don’t know what else you want me to tell you. He’s tough. He’s an unbelievable player. Just try to make it tough for him. Doing a lot of scouting and watching film. Just trying to make it tough, knowing his tendencies.I think I did OK today. Just trying to make it difficult on him, that’s all.”

On the play of Suns backup forward Cameron Johnson:

NBA: Finals-Milwaukee Bucks at Phoenix Suns Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

“That’s what we need. Every time he scores or he’s subbing in for me, I tell him, like, just be ready, let’s go. He subbed in, got a quick three and I was hyped up and just telling him right off the bench, I like it. He just kept going with it, defending. So that’s my brother out there. I’m happy for him. We finally got a minute, maybe 20 seconds being on the court together, so that’s pretty cool.”

On the Bucks playing Antetokounmpo extensively at center in the fourth quarter and if the Suns have to attack them differently then:

“Yeah, just playing our ball. We’ve seen every look you could think of, with blitzing Book and CP3 or being up high or being in a drop (coverage) or ready one through five or doing a hit. So we’ve seen it all, and we just get prepared and we know what we have to do in those situations and just everybody being ready.”

On when the Bucks’ cut the Suns’ lead to 101-94 with 7:16 left and their mindset to close:

“Togetherness. Just being together. It’s basketball, man; gave up a run. It’s a game of runs. They had their run and we just had to stick together and know don’t let them push it. And we got guys that make plays. I think Cam Payne during that stretch had like five straight points. I think it was during that stretch. But we got guys — Book hit a three, I know. So just staying together, just playing. We know they made a run. You can’t get overhyped. You got to relax, calm down and get ready to make a play out of the timeout.”

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