The Phoenx Suns strike first in the NBA Finals.
Led by Chris Paul and Devin Booker, who combined for 59 points, the Suns turned it up in the second half to cruise to a 118-105 win and take a 1-0 series lead.
The Suns played with a desperation that the Bucks couldn't match, hustling for loose balls, playing the passing lanes and lifting the intensity when needed.
Khris Middleton led the Bucks with 29 points, while Giannis Antetokounmpo added 20 and Brook Lopez 17.
Let's jump into the key takeaways at the buzzer:
Chris Paul siezes his moment
After being held scoreless in the first quarter, Chris Paul came to life across the final three quarters, finishing with a game-high 32 points and nine assists on 12-of-19 from the field and 4-of-7 from the 3-point line,
The Suns went into half-time with an eight point lead, before they blew the game open in the third, outscoring the Bucks 35-27, with Paul accounting for 16 of those points on 6-of-7 shooting.
He became the third player aged 36 or older to score 30+ in a Finals game, joining Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (6x) and Tim Duncan (once), per ESPN Stats & Info.
After half-time he was feeling it, isolating defenders on the 3-point line, putting big men on skates and stepping up whenever the Suns needed a bucket.
Chris Paul from deep... plus the foul! #NBAFinals@Bucks 52@Suns 62- NBA (@NBA) July 7, 2021
2nd half of Game 1 on ABC pic.twitter.com/YRk9u79kNo
Antetokounmpo was 'doubtful' to play in Game 1 just hours before tip-off, but he laced them up for Game 1, turning in a spirited performance, just days after hyperextending his left knee.
Showing some signs of rust, the Greek Freak didn't settle for jump shots, attacking the rim and pulling off a string of athletic players - none better than this monster chasedown block!
"Blocked by Antetokounmpo... WHAT A RECOVERY!" 🤯#NBAFinals on ABC pic.twitter.com/HgJw9vjA15- NBA (@NBA) July 7, 2021
He recorded 20 points, 17 rebounds, four assists and two steals, but he couldn't make an impact on the offence, attempting just 11 shots on the night.
On a night where Antetokounmpo wasn't at his best, the Bucks needed more from Jrue Holiday, who connected on just 4-of-14 for his 10 points, He added nine assists and seven rebounds.
Bridges and Ayton rise to the occasion
In their first Finals appearance, the Suns youngsters looked right at home.
Bridges was active on both ends, slicing up the Bucks defence with some timely cuts to the basket, playing solid defence and knocking down threes, while Ayton dominated in the paint, hauling in a game-high 19 rebounds.
Ayton finished with an impressive line of 22 points and 19 rebounds on 8-of-10 from the field, while Bridges recorded 14 points on 5-of-13 from the field.
Ayton rebounds, runs the floor and throws down the lob from CP3! #NBAFinals@Suns up 16 in Game 1 on ABC pic.twitter.com/e7cnZEPI3O- NBA (@NBA) July 7, 2021
Ayton was critical to the Suns' offensive success, with his smart screen setting opening up shot after shot for Booker and Paul from mid-range...which brings us to the next point.
Suns torch Bucks defensive coverages
Against two of the best mid-range shooters in the league, the Bucks struggled to contain the Suns' pick-and-roll action and dribble hand-offs.
Both Chris Paul and Devin Booker got to their spots, draining jumper after jumper, leveraging the threat of Deandre Ayton at the rim to find space.
It was pick your poison - switch everything and give up open threes off drive and kicks or get mid-ranged to death.
👨🍳 Chef'n https://t.co/BVaEz76zjW pic.twitter.com/MaCiO20Fga- Phoenix Suns (@Suns) July 7, 2021
Every coverage the Bucks threw at the Suns, they had an answer for, leaving coach Mike Budenholzer with plenty of adjustments to make for Game 2.
Down the stretch, Antetokounmpo saw some minutes at center, both against the small ball lineup and Ayton. As Lopez and Bobby Portis struggled to stay in front of the Suns guards, could this be a look we see more of from the Bucks as the series progresses?
Hit your free throws kids
Despite a tough shooting night in the first half (4-of-11 from the field and 0-of-3 from deep), Booker kept the Suns offence ticking with his aggressive play, going 8-of-8 at the free throw line.
That was the theme for the rest of the game as the Suns connected on 25-of-26 at the charity stripe, while the Bucks went just 9-of-16 at the line.
Saric goes down
Suns forward Dario Saric's first NBA Finals game only lasted 2:24 minutes as he exited for the locker room after landing awkwardly on his right knee in the closing minutes of the first quarter.
He was later ruled out of the game upon evaluation.
Injury Update:- Phoenix Suns (@Suns) July 7, 2021
▪️Dario Šarić (right knee injury) will not return tonight
Saric has been invaluable for the Suns off the bench. A reserve in 46 of the 50 regular-season games in the 2020-21 season, the 6-foot-10 forward averaged 8.7 points and 3.8 rebounds in just 17.4 minutes.
The Bucks will look to level the series in Game 2, scheduled for Thursday, July 8, with tip-off at 9:00 p.m. ET.
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