Chris Paul Was Superb, the Bucks Looked Slow, and 7 Other Observations From Game 1

Despite Giannis Antetokounmpo returning for the Bucks, the Suns sizzled and that meant Game 1 of the 2021 NBA Finals didn't turn out to be much of a contest. 

Devin Booker Chris Paul Game 1 NBA Finals High Five

PHOENIX, AZ - July 6: Devin Booker #1 of the Phoenix Suns high fives Chris Paul #3 of the Phoenix Suns during Game One of the 2021 NBA Finals on July 6, 2021 at Talking Stick Resort Arena in Phoenix, Arizona.

Devin Booker Chris Paul Game 1 NBA Finals High Five

The Suns were sizzling, the Bucks looked a step slow, and that meant Game 1 of the NBA Finals wasn’t much of a contest. 

We’ll refrain from overreacting after the first game of a seven-game series—often a foolish practice—but the Suns were supremely impressive as they cruised to an easy 118-105 victory Tuesday in Phoenix to take an early series lead. But it goes without saying that if the Bucks don’t make some necessary adjustments in this intriguing matchup, championed by hardcore NBA fans and pillared by casuals, it might not last as long as many hoped or predicted.

You know who, Chris Paul, led the way for the Suns as he continued his sensational run in the postseason. Scoring 32 points on 12-of-19 shooting, including 4-of-7 from deep, he was the engine that pushed Phoenix to blister the Bucks in transition and, most importantly, easily exploit exploitable matchups in pick-and-roll situations. That was arguably the biggest reason why the Suns stretched their eight-point lead at halftime to as many as 20 in the second half against the best defensive team in this year’s playoffs.

“We play a lot of basketball, watch a lot and our coaches told us all the different things to be prepared for,” Paul said. “We played against these guys twice. We prepared for Giannis or not Giannis. So we’re sure they’re going to make some adjustments going into Game 2, and we’ll probably do the same.”

Devin Booker was the perfect complement to CP3, adding 27 points despite only hitting 1-of-8 threes, as the Bucks never got the margin close enough for the Suns to feel seriously threatened in the fourth. In his first Finals appearance in his 16th season in the league, Paul was absolutely superb. He scored 16 in third quarter, dictated the pace, distributed 9 dimes, and pretty much picked up where he left off after he closed out the Clippers in the Western Conference Finals. 

The emotional boost Milwaukee received before the game when it was announced Giannis Antetokounmpo would suit up and start wasn’t sustained. While Khris Middleton was excellent, pouring in 29 points, Antetokounmpo, the Bucks’ leading scorer and certified superstar, wasn’t nearly as effective or disruptive as Milwaukee needed him to be to steal a Finals game on the road. He finished with 20 points and 17 rebounds, but the Bucks obviously needed more from him.

“I think there were a lot of good things, considering five days and what he’s been through these last five, six, seven days,” Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said. “I think 17 rebounds, 20 points, some great play-making, passing, defending the rim, he’s just like everybody else. I’m sure we’ll find some things where he could be better.”

Game 2 is Thursday in Phoenix. Here are seven other observations from Game 1 of the 2021 NBA Finals.

What Knee Injury?

Giannis Antetokounmpo Jae Crowder NBA Finals Game 1 2021

Despite putting up numbers that fell below his career postseason averages, we gotta say that, all things considered, Giannis looked pretty damn good, right? I mean, we all saw that jaw-dropping second quarter chase down block. Who could’ve predicted Antetokounmpu would look like that in his return?

"Blocked by Antetokounmpo... WHAT A RECOVERY!" 🤯#NBAFinals on ABC

— NBA (@NBA) July 7, 2021

Around 8:30 pm ET your favorite NBA insider—pick one, they all had it, no special scoop this time around—surprisingly tweeted out that Antetokounmpo would not only suit up, but he would start Game 1. Apparently, the two-time MVP showed enough progress prior to Tuesday’s tip after suffering a hyperextended knee in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals.

“He had a good workout before the game. I think you’ve got to listen to Giannis first. He felt good,” Budenholzer said. “The sports performance group felt good, he had been checking boxes the last couple days and making progress and so he was cleared, and he wanted to go and everybody was on the same page. So, you know, it’s just a credit to him. It’s really impressive what he did.”

It’s great that Antetokounmpo was cleared to play. He admitted after the game that he thought the gruesome looking injury would have him out for a year. A lot of hard work got him to play in Game 1. While he says he’s completely healthy, chances are he isn’t 100 percent since the injury occurred less than a week ago. Regardless, he competed as usual.

“You know, the medical staff cleared me to play, and you know, out there I had my balance,” Antetokounmpo said. “Thought my knee was stable. Did not feel pain. So I felt good.”

The Bucks are just going to need way more scoring out of the Greek Freak in the proceeding games. At least he was aggressive and didn’t settle for jump shots.

If you didn’t love the raucous Suns crowd counting how many seconds each Antetokounmpo free throw took—often 11-12 seconds, a tick or two longer than what’s supposed to be allowed—get a life. Yeah, Bucks fans might cringe a little at opposing fans harping on Antetokounmpo’s penchant to take his sweet ol’ time at the free throw line. But if hearing that deafening crowd heckle one of the game’s superstars didn’t get you a little jacked up as a basketball fan—after we spent so much time watching lifeless games sans fans, including last year’s Finals, while the pandemic raged—then you might not have a pulse.

The NBA Finals with fans again.

— Complex Sports (@ComplexSports) July 7, 2021

Antetokounmpo, who came into Game 1 shooting 53.7 percent from the free throw line this postseason, the lowest mark of his career, went 7-of-12 from the line. The Phoenix faithful will surely serenade him with more counting on Thursday.

“Like I know it’s not going to stop,” Antetokounmpo said. “You know, at the end of the day when it keeps going, like it fades away. You know, there’s times that the first free throw I hear it, but the fifth one, sixth one, I’m not hearing no more and I’m just focusing on what I’ve got to do and my routine.”

Unsung Performer of the Evening

Deandre Ayton Rebound Game 1 2021 NBA Finals

They all look pretty for the Suns. Their 20 fast break points stands out, but Phoenix was impressively 25-of-26 from the free throw line, coming up one make shy of setting and NBA Finals record for most makes without a miss. That deserves some shine. 

If you hate that block-y “NBA Finals” logo imposed on the court of Phoenix Suns Arena, you’re not the only one. Twitter once again rehashed a serious gripe from hardcore fans who lament the loss of the beloved script Finals logo of years past. Bring. It. Back.


— Shea Serrano (@SheaSerrano) July 6, 2021

Still No Answers on the Injuries

Adam Silver Game 1 Press Conf 2021

Whether you love it or hate it—count LeBron and Luka Doncic among those in the latter category—it sounds like the Play-In Tournament will be back for the 2021-22 season.

“I think ultimately although there were critics, not just LeBron, but others who weren’t in favor of it and maybe some teams who weren’t thrilled with it, I think overall it was very positive for the league and the players,” Silver said. “Certainly there’d been some suggestions about some tweaks we should consider, but again, I think once we bring it back to our owners for a vote and the Players Association meets and has an opportunity to consider it, it’s my expectation that it will continue for next season.”

The NBA was pretty pleased with its new product that added a layer or two of drama to the postseason, even if the Play-In Tournament technically weren’t considered traditional playoff games. The Celtics, Wizards, Lakers, and Grizzlies earned proper spots in the playoffs after advancing through the Play-In Tournament through its various qualifiers.

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