Giannis Antetokounmpo is refusing to put pressure on himself as the Milwaukee Bucks aim to get back into contention in the NBA Finals.
The Bucks – in search of their first championship since 1971 – have left themselves with a lot to do heading into Game 3, with the Phoenix Suns holding a 2-0 lead in the series.
Though back on home turf for Game 3 and Game 4, the Bucks do not have history on their side. Indeed, in Finals series, teams that have taken a 2-0 lead have gone on to win the title 31 out of 35 times (88.6 per cent).
The Suns are used to seeing out victory from this position, too, having led 2-0 in three consecutive series.
However, Bucks superstar Antetokounmpo, whose 28.1 points per game ranked fifth in the NBA in the regular season, insists Milwaukee must enjoy the occasion in order to get themselves back in the fight.
"Obviously, I know it's the Finals; we all understand what kind of game we are getting ourselves into," Antetokounmpo told reporters, as quoted by ESPN.
"So, we know what we have got to do. But at the end of the day, you've got to keep it light. You cannot tell yourself, 'Oh, it's the Finals, you've got to do this, there's so much pressure, man.'
"No, it's still basketball. It's easy to say, hard to do; but at the same time, you have to try to approach it that way. Just got to keep it light, got to keep the ball light, got to keep the atmosphere light.
"Once we go out there and you see the fans, you know that you understand what kind of game you're into. But personally, one thing that helps me that I do is keep it light and enjoy that.
"Knowing I enjoy things, I really put my heart into it. If I don't enjoy it, I'm just going through the motions. So, I just try to enjoy it, enjoy this, try to enjoy that I'm here.
"We have come a long way to be in this position, and we've got to try to make the best out of it. That's what we did, I guess, in the first round, in the second round, in the third round. That's what we'll do now, and hopefully, it works out in our favour."
Devin Booker led the Suns with 31 points in Game 2, but veteran Chris Paul – excelling in his Finals debut – continues to be the primary topic of conversation in Phoenix.
“Watching film with [Paul], he'll call something out that was so far away from the ball or what happened," Booker said.
"He’s going to make sure he gets right back to it. He's going to rewind it, no matter if it was a minute, two minutes ago in the game, and stress it. Those are the details I'm talking about that we've learned can make or break a game for you. And in this time of the year, you need every game you can get.
"It's the highest level of basketball, and for me, it's been a new experience. It's been a joy to be a part of it and dissecting the game and doctoring the game in that regard."
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Phoenix Suns – Devin Booker
Booker has been outstanding for the Suns this postseason and has averaged 29.0 points in this series so far, but he has turned in two very contrasting displays.
The sixth-year guard, involved in the playoffs for the first time, shot a disappointing 38.1 per cent in Game 1 but made 10 of 10 free throws. His Game 2 field-goal percentage increased to 48.0 per cent – carried by seven-of-12 shooting from three – yet he did not visit the foul line once.
Should he be able to combine the two, both drawing fouls and making shots, Milwaukee can have no answer for Booker.
Milwaukee Bucks – Giannis Antetokounmpo
After a slightly unconvincing Game 1 on his return from injury, Antetokounmpo was back to his best in Game 2 with a playoff career-high 42 points on 68.2 per cent shooting – also matching his best postseason field-goal percentage, set against the Boston Celtics in 2019.
But the Bucks still lost, as their second and third men failed to fire. Jrue Holiday and Khris Middleton – one out of form, the other inconsistent – are averaging a combined 34.0 points per game and 36.4 per cent field-goal percentage as the team's starting backcourt, while Paul and Booker are together delivering 56.5 points on 49.4 per cent shooting.
Those numbers simply have to improve to keep Antetokounmpo in games; the two-time MVP might be looking to "keep it light" but needs the platform to be a difference-maker.