PHOENIX — Chris Paul waited 16 years to reach the NBA Finals, leaving a team with him starving for their first championship.
The setting was brand new.
The performance was the same ol’ Chris Paul.
“Just knew he was ready,” said Phoenix forward Mikael Bridges. “He has prepared his whole life for this moment and it shows on the court.”
Paul had 32 points and nine assists in his NBA Finals debut that was worth the wait, Devin Booker scored 27 points, and the Suns defeated Giannis Antetokounmpo and his Milwaukee Bucks 118-105 in Game 1 on Tuesday night.
Paul scored 16 points during a sensational third quarter that had Phoenix fans who waited 28 years to see the NBA Finals scream with joy again.
“Every time he shoots it we feel like it’s going in,” Booker said.
This almost happened in the third quarter, when Paul was 6 for 7 and all three made 3-pointers.
Finally playing for the title in his 16th season, the star point guard has only a third time with the Suns in the NBA Finals, and it certainly looked like they could make this ending different from the other two.
“We’ve been building for these moments throughout the season,” Paul said. “We’ll keep playing. It’s just a game. We have to stay locked in.”
Deandre Ayton added 22 points and 19 rebounds and continued his breakout game in his first season.
Antetokounmpo had 20 points and 17 rebounds, missing two games with a hyperextended left knee. Chris Middleton scored 29 points, but the Bucks would have to play back again after dropping Game 1 for a third consecutive series.
“We know it’s not going to be easy. We know it’s going to be tough,” Middleton said. “At times we are going down this series. But this series is not over. We are down. We still have to keep competing and just keep playing.”
It was the first NBA Finals game in Phoenix since Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls won their third straight championship in Game 6 in 1993. The Suns, who came to the NBA with the Bucks in 1968, made their only other Finals appearance in 1976. .
They had not even made the playoffs since 2010 and were last in the Western Conference with a 19–63 record just two years earlier.
But Booker had risen to stardom by then, and 2018’s No. 1 pick Ayton has played at that level season after season. Paul has been as steady as ever since he entered the off-season trade.
Now 36 and a 10-time All-NBA selection, he is on the list of the best players to never win a championship. It appears he’ll never even play for one until Oklahoma City tackles him with a team from the Suns on the rise, and that may be the last piece that takes them to the top.
Despite so many debuts on the final stage — the Sons’ Jay Crowder was the only player to appear in them, and he was on a neutral site for Miami last year — many didn’t panic at first.
But Paul shifted Sun into second gear in third. His opening jumper provided the first two-point lead of the game, and he played a four-point lead for the Sons’ next basket.
He scored eight straight Phoenix points later in the period, hitting a 3-pointer, dancing around Bobby Portis to dance 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 remaining.
Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said, “It’s hard to defend their pick-and-roll game. I think we just have to keep getting better. We’ll watch the movie. We’ll see how we can get some of the momentum.”
The Bucks cut it to seven near the midpoint of the fourth before Paul helped the Sons restore a safe margin. He found Booker for a 3-pointer, stole the ball from Middleton and then hit a jumper and made it 106-94.
Milwaukee is also 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 quickly made his way out of an injury that looked serious.
The two-time MVP missed the last two games of the Eastern Conference Finals. He was listed as a suspect for the opener, but was upgraded to suspect on Tuesday and then included in the starting lineup after working the court before the game.
“I’m just happy that I’m there and I’m able to help my team in any way I can and attend my first NBA Finals,” Antetokounmpo said.
The Bucks threw a lob to Antetokounmpo on his first possession – a play as he was defending when he was injured in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals against Atlanta – and he strikes the basket forcefully as usual. .
But Jew Holiday, who played so well during Antetokounmpo’s dismissal, made only 4 runs for 14 runs and scored 10 points.
Bucks: The Bucks said their 9,000 fans were watching the game inside the Fisher Forum and 20,000 outside the Dear District. … Brooke Lopez scored 17 points.
Sons: 70.6% of shoots came in post season, 8 for 10. … Bridges scored 14 points. … the Suns are playing 4-0 in the latter game of the season. … Reserve forward Dario Saric missed the second half with a right knee injury.
happy to be home
Bucks coaches used to be fans of Suns.
Budenholzer is about three hours from Phoenix from Holbrook, Arizona. He said his parents and other family members would be in the game.
This isn’t the first postseason matchup between the Bucks and Sons. Milwaukee was formerly in the Western Conference and defeated the Phoenix in the first round of the 1978 playoffs.
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