Chris Paul carries Suns past Giannis, Bucks in NBA Finals opener
Paul had 32 points and nine assists, Devin Booker scored 27 points and the Phoenix Suns beat the returning Giannis Antetokounmpo and his Milwaukee Bucks 118-105 in Game 1.
PHOENIX — Chris Paul waited 16 years to get to the NBA Finals, bringing with him a team starving for its first championship.
The setting was entirely new.
The performance was same ‘ol Chris Paul.
“Just knew he’s ready,” Phoenix forward Mikal Bridges said. “He’s prepared his whole life for this moment and it shows out there on the court.”
Paul had 32 points and nine assists in an NBA Finals debut that was well worth the wait, Devin Booker scored 27 points and the Suns beat the returning Giannis Antetokounmpo and his Milwaukee Bucks 118-105 on Tuesday night in Game 1.
Paul scored 16 points during a sensational third quarter that had Phoenix fans who waited 28 years to see the NBA Finals again screaming in delight.
“Every time he shoots it we think it’s going in,” Booker said.
It almost did in the third quarter, when Paul was 6 for 7 and made all three 3-pointers.
Finally playing for the title in his 16th season, the star point guard has the Suns in the NBA Finals for only the third time, and it sure looked as if they could make this ending different than the other two.
“We’ve been building all season long for these moments,” Paul said. “We’re going to keep playing. This is just one game. We’ve got to stay locked in.”
Deandre Ayton added 22 points and 19 rebounds to continue his breakout stretch of play in his first postseason.
Antetokounmpo had 20 points and 17 rebounds after missing two games with a hyperextended left knee. Khris Middleton scored 29 points, but the Bucks will have to play from behind again after dropping Game 1 for the third straight series.
“We know it’s not going to be easy. We know it’s going to be tough,” Middleton said. “There’s times where we’re going to be down in this series. But this series isn’t over. We’re down. We’ve still got to keep competing and just playing.”
The series opener was the first NBA Finals game in Phoenix since Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls won their third straight championship here in Game 6 in 1993. The Suns, who came into the NBA with the Bucks in 1968, made their only other finals appearance in 1976.
They hadn’t even made the playoffs since 2010 and just two years ago were last in the Western Conference with a 19-63 record.
But Booker was already headed for stardom by then, and 2018 No. 1 pick Ayton has played at that level in the postseason. Paul has been steady as always since his arrival in an offseason trade.
Now 36 and a 10-time All-NBA selection, he is on the list of best players to never win a championship. It appeared he might never even get to play for one until Oklahoma City dealt him to a team of Suns on the rise, and he might be the final piece that takes them all the way to the top.
Despite so many debuts on the finals stage — the Suns’ Jae Crowder was the only player who had appeared in them, and that was for Miami at a neutral site last year — there didn’t appear to be many first-time jitters.
But Paul shifted the Suns into another gear in the third. His opening jumper provided the first double-digit lead of the game, and he followed with a four-point play for the Suns’ next basket.
He scored eight straight Phoenix points later in the period, hitting a 3-pointer, dancing around Bobby Portis for a layup and then hitting another 3. He then fired a pass to Ayton, who was fouled and made both free throws to make it 88-68 with 2:20 left.
“Their pick-and-roll game is tough to guard,” Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said. “I think we’ve just got to keep getting better. We’ll look at the film. We’ll see how we can maybe take away some of the rhythm.”
The Bucks cut it down to seven near the midpoint of the fourth before Paul helped the Suns restore a safe margin. He found Booker for a 3-pointer, stole the ball from Middleton and then hit a jumper to make it 106-94.
Milwaukee also is making its third finals appearance, having won the title in 1971 but not getting another chance since losing in 1974. The Bucks got a boost for this appearance when Antetokounmpo worked his way back quickly from an injury that looked serious when it happened.
The two-time MVP missed the final two games of the Eastern Conference finals. He was listed as doubtful for the opener, but he was upgraded to questionable Tuesday and then inserted into the starting lineup after he worked out on the court before the game.
“I’m just happy that I’m out there and I’m able to help my team in any way possible and participate in my first NBA Finals,” Antetokounmpo said.
The Bucks threw a lob to Antetokounmpo on their first possession — a play similar to the one he was defending when he was injured in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference finals against Atlanta — and he seemed to attack the basket just as forcefully as always.
But Jrue Holiday, who played so well while Antetokounmpo was out, shot just 4 for 14 and scored 10 points.
Bucks: The Bucks said they had 9,000 fans watching the game inside Fiserv Forum and 20,000 outside in the Deer District. … Brook Lopez scored 17 points.
Suns: Ayton, who came in shooting 70.6% in the postseason, was 8 for 10. … Bridges scored 14 points. … The Suns are 4-0 in Game 1s in this postseason. … Reserve forward Dario Saric missed the second half with a right knee injury.
MORE ON THE SUNS VICTORY:
The Phoenix Suns rolled over the Milwaukee Bucks in the second half, to take a 1-0 lead in the Finals series.
The Suns, buoyed by a crazy loud home crowd, broke out of a 45-45 tie with a 20-7 run that soon ran up to a 33-17 run and a 16-point late-third lead on the visiting Bucks.
The big three of Deandre Ayton, Chris Paul and Devin Booker dominated the game for the Suns, each putting their stamp on the game at different times.
Suns win, 118-105, and (somehow) lead in an NBA Finals series for the first time in the franchise’s 54 year history. Neither of the prior two Finals appearances began well for the Valley.
Chris Paul had a game-high 32 points plus dished 8 assists, while Devin Booker had 27 points, 6 assists and 3 steals and young center Deandre Ayton finished with 22 points and 19 rebounds against the Bucks mammoth front line.
How it unfolded
Holy crap this place is loud! The counting of Giannis free throws was more deafening than I imagined.
The Suns came out FIRED UP, which led to spirited defense and attacking on offense but also a whole lot of jump shot misses. In the opening minutes, the Suns shot 5-7 inside the arc but missed all four open threes including a pair of corner threes by Chris Paul.
Suns down 12-10 at the 6:48 mark. All 10 of the Suns points were in the paint, as were the Bucks 10, the difference being a pair of free throws by Giannis (2 of 4 from the line).
Later in the quarter, the Suns got open for a pair of threes and Cameron Johnson and Cam Payne drained both, giving the Suns a 24-20 lead and a thunderous roar from the crowd. Devin Booker has been highly aggressive, having a hand in at least 16 of the Suns 24 points (8 points, 3 assists including both 3s).
Suns finished the first quarter up 30-26.
- Leaders: Devin Booker (12 points, 3 assists, 1 steal), Deandre Ayton (6 points, 4 rebounds), Giannis (8 points, 5 rebounds, 2 assists), Brook Lopez (7 points, 3 rebounds).
- Suns shooting 48%, Bucks 42%
Suns open second quarter with Chris Paul setting up the offense and if not for some more misses on open threes, the Suns would have built a good lead. But alas, the game stayed close as the Bucks went big again once Ayton took a breather and Dario could not return. Enter the Frank.
Chris Paul finally made some jumpers, and once Devin Booker came back in the Suns took a 45-38 lead on a Booker runner. Deandre Ayton (somehow quietly) is up to 10 points and 7 rebounds at this point, rim-running with the best of them and grabbing every rebound he can reach.
About this time we got word that Dario’s night is done (right knee), and at the same time —after the Bucks went big again — Frank Kaminsky fumbled a rebound, gave up a post shot, fumbled an entry pass and soon was checked back out for Ayton. Maybe Frank’s next stint will be better?
The Suns still maintained a lead thanks to their defense — some really great paint protection — and the shotmaking of Chris Paul and Devin Booker.
Suns led 57-49 at halftime. Chris Paul had 11 second-quarter points. Devin Booker leads the Suns with 16 points and 4 assists, while Deandre Ayton has 10 points and 8 rebounds at half.
Chris Paul started out the second half wanting to put the Bucks away, making a pair of shots over Brook Lopez, one inducing a four-point play, and the Suns soon had a 65-52 lead.
Since the 5:19 mark of the second quarter when the game was tied 45-45 to the 9:38 mark of the third, the Suns have outscored the Bucks 20-7.
Coming out of timeout, the Bucks had new energy with a strong cross-court pass and an offensive rebound by Lopez putting Ayton on his second foul. But they missed both free throws. A minute later, Bridges drained a three to give the Suns a 68-54 lead.
A few minutes later, Devin Booker forced another Bucks timeout a 78-62 with a jumper, after Chris Paul drained his own, after Deandre Ayton ran his totals up 16 and 14 just controlling the paint on both ends and…
The only thing keeping the game respectable at this point for the Bucks, if you count being within 20 points, is their three-point shooting (12-25, for 48%). They’re still down 17. Bad news for the Bucks, I think.
Suns are 19-19 on free throws at the end of three quarters, while the Bucks are only 2-6 at the line. Ayton has 18 and 16. Chris Paul leads all scorers with 27 points, while Booker and Khris Middleton both have 22.
Suns up 92-76 after three quarters.
In the fourth, the Bucks started out going smallish with Giannis at the five while Ayton was getting a rest. They pulled kept the game close, staying within 13-15 points for a couple of minutes.
Back in, Chris Paul.
The Bucks began attacking the paint while Ayton was resting and the Suns went small without Dario. Suns had Craig and Crowder as their big men at this point. Suns lead down to 11. Even with Cam Payne scoring seven points, the Bucks scored on a thousand straight possessions and soon the lead was cut to 9, 101-92, with 7:46 to go.
Bucks 3P shooting is still 48% at this point (14 for 29). Suns can’t give them both the paint AND the three point line.
Back in, Deandre Ayton.
Giannis had a putback to cut the lead to seven, but Booker made his first three of the game to make it 10 again. A Chris Paul steal, jumper and assist later and the Suns had it back to 12.
|Arena||Phoenix Suns Arena|
|Team colors||Purple, orange, black, gray, yellow
|General manager||James Jones|
|Head coach||Monty Williams|
|Conference titles||3 (1976, 1993, 2021)|
|Division titles||7 (1981, 1993, 1995, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2021)|
|Retired numbers||6 (5, 6, 7, 33, 42, 44)|
The Phoenix Suns are an American professional basketball team based in Phoenix, Arizona. They compete in the National Basketball Association (NBA), as a member of the league’s Western Conference Pacific Division. The Suns are the only team in their division not to be based in California, and play their home games at the Phoenix Suns Arena. They are also the only major professional sports franchise in Arizona which does not use the state as its geographical identifier.
The franchise began play in 1968 as an expansion team, and their early years were shrouded in mediocrity, but their fortunes changed in the 1970s after partnering Dick Van Arsdale and Alvan Adams with Paul Westphal; the team reached the 1976 NBA Finals, in what is considered to be one of the biggest upsets in NBA history. However, after failing to capture a championship, the Suns would rebuild around Walter Davis for a majority of the 1980s, until the acquisition of Kevin Johnson in 1988.
Under Johnson, and after trading for perennial NBA All-Star Charles Barkley, and combined with the output of Tom Chambers and Dan Majerle, the Suns reached the playoffs for a franchise-record thirteen consecutive appearances and remained a regular title contender throughout the 1990s, and reached the 1993 NBA Finals. However, the team would again fail to win a championship, and entered into another period of mediocrity until the early part of the 2000s.
In 2004, the Suns reacquired Steve Nash, and returned into playoff contention. With Nash, Shawn Marion, and Amar’e Stoudemire, and under head coach Mike D’Antoni, the Suns became renowned worldwide for their quick, dynamic offense, which led them to tie a franchise record in wins in the 2004–05 season. Two more top two Conference placements followed, but the Suns again failed to attain an NBA championship, and were forced into another rebuild. After ten consecutive seasons without a playoff berth, the Suns reached the 2021 NBA Finals after acquiring Chris Paul, forming a trio with their young core Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton.
The Suns own the NBA’s seventh-best all-time winning percentage, and have the second highest winning percentage of any team to have never won an NBA championship. 10 Hall of Famers have played for Phoenix, while two — Barkley and Nash — won NBA Most Valuable Player (MVP) while playing for the team.