Over the course of 16 seasons, Chris Paul has seen it all. Whatever defense you throw at him, he knows how to counter it. He doesn’t just take what the defense gives him, he destroys it.
Paul carved up the Milwaukee Bucks in Game 1 of the NBA Finals.
In a surprise move, the Bucks started switching the pick-and-roll from the opening tip. But Chris Paul — as well as Devin Booker — recognized it, took the switch, then isolated against Brook Lopez and Bobby Portis, and there was nothing the Bucks bigs could do.
“Their pick-and-roll game is tough to guard,” Bucks’ coach Mike Budenholzer said of the Suns. “I think we have to just keep getting better. We have to keep looking at the film and see how we can maybe take away some of the rhythm, or make it where he’s not getting into his spots as easily.”
Milwaukee switched up its defense and went to drop coverage, CP3 roasted that, too. As Budenholzer said, the Bucks let him get comfortable and play at his pace.
Paul got rolling in the second half — he looked every bit the “Point God” — and the result was him finishing with 32 points on 12-of-19 shooting, plus nine assists.
Chip in 27 points from Devin Booker and the Suns backcourt led the team to a 118-105 win in Game 1 of the NBA Finals.
Game 2 is Thursday night in Phoenix.
Milwaukee has a lot of strategizing to do before then.
The Bucks had seemingly come into the game on a high note because Giannis Antetokounmpo was playing — and played incredibly well considering it was just one week he hyperextended his knee. In the first half alone, he had 10 points on 4-of-7 shooting, nine rebounds, three assists, and one insane chase-down block.
BLOCKED BY GIANNIS. pic.twitter.com/JPuX3ikONA
— Milwaukee Bucks (@Bucks) July 7, 2021
“My knee felt great…” Antetokounmpo said, adding later when it happened he thought he would be out for a year. “I can run, I can jump, I can set screens, I can help my teammates in any way possible.”
Antetokounmpo finished with 20 points on 6-of-11 shooting. He looked gassed at points after not being able to do much for a week, but this was as much as Milwaukee could have hoped for out of the two-time MVP.
Still, the Bucks offense stalled out because Jrue Holiday and Khris Middleton were not good enough. Middleton found his groove in the second half and finished with a team-high 29 points (on 26 shots), but Holiday finished 4-of-14 from the floor and missed all his threes. As a team, the Bucks were predictable on offense — and predictable is defendable.
The Bucks misses became transition chances for the Suns, who pushed the pace and ended up with 20 official fast break points, and had a 128.6 offensive rating in transition (stat via Cleaning the Glass).
Paul took over in the third quarter and scored 16 points on 6-of-7 shooting, and the rest of the Suns fed off that. Paul and Booker drained midrange shot after midrange shot. The Bucks showed some resiliency and got the lead down to seven at one point in the fourth after going with an Antetokounmpo at center lineup, but could never get all the way back down and make a game of it.
Phoenix heads into Game 2 knowing Paul and Booker can absolutely have a night like this again. They have to feel very good about their chances now.
The Bucks need to figure things out, including transition defense, handling the Suns pick-and-roll, and how they can get all their stars going. It’s a long list for Mike Budenholzer and company.
After one game, things look bright in the Valley of the Sun.