A Chris Paul Masterclass Led The Suns To A Game 1 Win Over The Bucks

A Chris Paul Masterclass Led The Suns To A Game 1 Win Over The Bucks

Prior to tip-off of Game 1 on Tuesday evening, the major story surrounding the 2021 NBA Finals was the injury-related availability of Milwaukee Bucks superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo. The two-time NBA MVP was able to play in the series opener, however, and that added to the already considerable intrigue of a best-of-seven clash between two top-tier teams at something approaching full strength.

While Antetokounmpo performed admirably, it was another star that stole the show in Chris Paul. As a result, the Phoenix Suns took a 1-0 series lead with a 118-105 victory at home.

Out of the gate, Antetokounmpo looked to be moving well, including a designed play for a lob on the first possession of the game. He attempted four free throws in the first four minutes and, much like the reception Antetokounmpo received on the road in both Brooklyn and Atlanta, the fans in Phoenix let him know he was taking too long at the charity stripe.

Antetokounmpo did generate four points and four rebounds during this first stint, though, alleviating at least some of the apprehension that accompanied him before tip-off.

After a back-and-forth start for both teams, the Suns landed the first blow in the form of a quick 6-0 run. It was a pair of role players, Cameron Johnson and Cameron Payne, knocking down the triples, and the crowd in Phoenix was at a fever pitch as the Bucks called a timeout late in the opening quarter.

Phoenix’s lead stayed at four points at the end of the first quarter, as the home team withstood strong production from Antetokounmpo and Brook Lopez. Much of that could be traced to Devin Booker, who scored 12 points and dished out three assists in the opening period.

Midway through the second quarter, the Suns compiled a 10-4 run to take their largest lead to that point at 45-38. Unfortunately, Phoenix lost backup big man Dario Saric to a knee issue but, even as they went deeper into their bench with Frank Kaminsky, the Suns could rely on Booker and Paul against Lopez in space.

Phoenix maintained their advantage, taking an eight-point lead into halftime on the strength of 27 combined points from Booker and Paul. The Suns would’ve had a larger edge if not for the work of Antetokounmpo, who put up 10 points, nine rebounds and a show-stopping chase-down block in the final minute of the half.

The home team asserted additional control early in the third quarter, scoring on the first possession of the period to take a double-digit lead and building from there. After Paul connected on a four-point play (while narrowly avoiding an injury), Phoenix extended their largest lead to 65-52.

The Suns weren’t done there, as they carved up Milwaukee’s defensive coverages both inside and outside. Booker and Paul continued to excel and, with nearly five minutes remaining in the third quarter, Deandre Ayton already had 16 points and 14 rebounds.

Paul then took his turn at the center of the frame, scoring eight points in a 69-second span. He had the entire Milwaukee defense on a string and, after Ayton made a pair of free throws, the Suns led by a 20-point margin with 2:18 left in the third.

Despite the best efforts of Khris Middleton, who scored eight points in the final two minutes of the third quarter, the Bucks trailed by 16 points as the fourth quarter began. In relatively short order, however, Milwaukee made things quite interesting with a mini-spurt that was capped by a Bryn Forbes three-pointer that slashed the margin to single digits with 7:46 to play.

The Bucks did cut their deficit to as few as seven points in the fourth quarter, but the Suns put the pedal to the floor from there. Ultimately, the dagger came from Paul, who produced a three-point play with 3:36 to go to put Phoenix in front by 14 points at 113-99.

With the win, the Suns improve to an impressive 12-0 when leading by double figures at any point in the playoffs, and they put together a highly efficient performance. Phoenix made 25 of their 26 free throw attempts, committed only nine turnovers and utilized their star power to zoom to nearly 1.2 points per possession.

Individually, Paul was absolutely brilliant, as the future Hall of Fame guard scored 32 points (despite a scoreless first quarter) and dished out nine assists in his first career NBA Finals game. Booker added 27 points and six assists, with Ayton dominating the interior to the tune of 22 points and 19 rebounds.

On the Bucks side, there were some positive signs, headlined by Antetokounmpo’s ability to play and perform effectively. The Bucks were +1 in his 35 minutes on the floor, with Antetokounmpo scoring 20 points and securing 17 rebounds. Milwaukee also shot well from three-point distance (44 percent), but the Bucks were walloped at the free throw line and Milwaukee also lost the turnover battle, with Phoenix scoring 16 points directly off the Bucks’ 14 giveaways.

Game 2 arrives on Thursday in Phoenix and, in short, Milwaukee will enter with a sense of urgency as they seek to avoid an 0-2 deficit, even if the series will soon shift to their home building. But for now, the Suns are in control, thanks in large part to their All-NBA point guard making the most of his first time on this stage.