Phoenix – Chris Paul has never played in an NBA Finals game.
You can’t tell by the performance of the Phoenix Suns guards in Tuesday’s first game against the Milwaukee Bucks.
Paul played like a regular Finals, scoring 32 game points and providing nine assists to defeat the Suns Bucks 118-105. Game two on Thursday (9PM ET, ABC).
With the NBA Finals finalists hitting the field for the first time—Phoenix’s Jay Crowder was the only player on either team to have experience in Finals—the Suns were more energized, and the Bucks were a step behind.
Phoenix guard Devin Booker added 27 points and quarterback Dendry Eaton dominated the paint with 22 points and 19 rebounds.
The Suns have not played for nearly a week since their victory over the Los Angeles Clippers on June 30, and the Bucks just finished for the Atlanta Hawks on Saturday.
But Milwaukee had an encouraging development. All-NBA forward Giannis Antetokounmpo is back after missing two games with a hyperextended left knee he injured in Game 4 against Atlanta in the Conference Finals. Its availability and effectiveness are integral to the Bucks’ success in the Finals. He had 20 points and 17 rebounds on Tuesday.
Bucks will need more of him and Jrue Holiday. The Paul-Holiday match is another significant factor, and Paul took the first round. Vacation only had 10 points in 4 for 14 and 0 for 4 on 3. He had nine assists but also three turnovers.
The Bucks have been praised this year for their ability to switch defense and conditioning. But in Game 1, the Suns punished Milwaukee for the switches, especially when they created a mismatch with the Bucks center Brook Lopez defending smaller, faster guards at Poole and Booker.
Solid from start to finish, Paul picked up 16 points in the third quarter, including 10 during the 14-6 Suns that pushed their lead to 88-68. When the Bucks had a center or striker on Paul, he made them pay. He fouled Lopez in a four-point play and rattled in a long 3-pointer with Bobby Portez’s defense.
The Suns outplayed the Bucks by 17 points with Lopez on the court, playing just seven minutes into the third quarter and sitting through the entire fourth quarter.
Although dollars fell by 20 in the third quarter, they cut it to 101-94 in the fourth. But Paul’s lead position with 1 and 1 in 3:36 to go made the Suns higher 113-99.
Milwaukee was not beaten badly, firing the same from the field and 10 percentage points better than three-pointers. Khris Middleton started slowly but finished the season with 29 points.
One major difference: the free throws. The Suns were 25 for 26 (Booker made all 10), and the Bucks only 9 for 16. Phoenix earned them. Milwaukee wasn’t aggressive enough outside of Antetokounmpo, who had 12 attempts and was just one of three dollars to shoot a free throw.
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