Chris Paul was spectacular in Game 1 of the 2021 NBA Finals, leading the Phoenix Suns to victory with a game-high 32 points and nine assists.
Since then, the Milwaukee Bucks have been able to make life more difficult for the 11-time All-Star.
Paul had another big performance in Phoenix's Game 2 victory with 23 points and eight assists, but he also committed six turnovers. Not only was that a game-high, but it tied his season-high. Paul then turned the ball over four times in Game 3, followed by five turnovers in Game 4.
As noted by ESPN's Kevin Pelton, we haven't seen Paul commit this many turnovers over a three-game span in a very long time.
Chris Paul's 15 turnovers over the last three games are his most in a three-game stretch in the playoffs since 2012.- Kevin Pelton (@kpelton) July 15, 2021
What have the Bucks done differently to slow Paul down? Let's take a closer look.
The matchup data
The Bucks have switched things up since Game 1.
P.J. Tucker opened the series as Milwaukee's primary defender on Paul. Since then, Jrue Holiday has taken on the assignment.
The numbers point to Paul having a lot of success against Holiday as a scorer - he's scored 34 points on 14-for-18 (77.8 percent) shooting from the field with the two-time All-NBA Defensive First Team selection on him - but seven of his 17 turnovers in the series have come against Holiday.
For what it's worth, Paul had a total of nine turnovers in Phoenix's first-round series with the Los Angeles Lakers, five turnovers in its second-round series with the Denver Nuggets and eight turnovers in its third-round series with the LA Clippers. For Paul to have 17 turnovers through four games is highly unusual.
Tucker has defended Paul the second most on the Bucks, followed by Giannis Antetokounmpo. According to the matchup data, Antetokounmpo has been incredibly effective against Paul, holding him to nine points on 4-for-14 (28.6 percent) shooting.
The film room
Like the numbers suggest, Paul has had some success as a scorer against Holiday. More than anything, it speaks to how difficult Paul is to defend, especially in the pick-and-roll.
The Bucks switched everything in Game 1, but they've since gone back to their drop coverage with Brook Lopez on the court. It's kept Paul, Devin Booker and the rest of the Suns out of the paint - Phoenix is averaging 38.0 points in the paint in the Finals, a rate that would've ranked dead last in the league during the regular season - but Paul has been able to hurt them from midrange.
Paul has also been able to punish Holiday and the Bucks for being overly aggressive at times, both when he has the ball in his hands and when he's operating off-ball.
In saying that, Holiday has been able to make Paul uncomfortable.
Since Game 2, Holiday has gotten into Paul's airspace by picking him up almost the full length of the court. Again, Paul has been able to use that pressure against him on occasions, but Holiday has had his fair share of wins as well.
One of the league's best at navigating screens, Holiday has made it difficult for Paul to create separation from him in the halfcourt. His hounding defence has led to a number...
...turnovers from Paul.
It helps that Holiday has one of the league's best rim protectors behind him at all times, whether it's Lopez or Antetokounmpo because it allows him to be aggressive, knowing they have his back.
"I think I try to pick him up as close to full-court as possible just so that I can frustrate him, try to get him gassed, try to speed him up, and knowing that if I get beat or even him speeding up, I know that I have Brook behind me or my teammates behind me," Holiday said of Paul after Game 3.
As we saw in Game 1, there are still ways for Paul to attack Lopez when he's on the court, but he's had a much tougher time getting to his spots against Antetokounmpo.
Last season's Defensive Player of the Year, Antetokounmpo gives the Bucks the best of both worlds. Standing at 6-foot-11 with a massive wingspan, he is a huge presence in the paint, capable of anchoring their defence with Lopez off the court.
Antetokounmpo has come up with a few stops on Paul at the rim in this series.
Additionally, Antetokounmpo is nimble enough to hang with Paul on an island, giving the Bucks the option of switching more when they downsize with him at center.
Holiday and Antetokounmpo have had the most success against Paul, but it's easy to take for granted how big and physical this Bucks team is on the perimeter. Whether it's Tucker, Khris Middleton or Pat Connaughton, they almost always have size on Paul.
"I think it's just making him uncomfortable," Holiday said about Paul. "Always keeping bodies behind him, two and three people and not really just getting a clear view of what he wants to do. It's not me by myself. It's definitely a team effort."
How will Chris Paul and the Suns respond?
Paul took a lot of the blame for Phoenix's Game 4 loss.
"It was me, I had five of them," he responded when asked about Phoenix's turnovers. "It was bad decision making.
"That time we were down two and I tried to cross over right there, slipped, turned it over. I had some bad passes in the first half. They got a significant amount more shots than us, so for me I got to take care of the ball. We got 17 turnovers, we shoot the ball too well not to have those opportunities to score.
As Paul alluded to, those turnovers have been a huge source for the Bucks. According to NBA.com, Milwaukee is averaging 16.8 points per game off of turnovers in the Finals compared to 11.5 for Phoenix. Combine that with the 16.8 second-chance points per game they're averaging, and the Bucks are winning the possession battle by a large margin.
Points off of turnovers and second-chance opportunities aren't the only reasons this series is now tied at 2-2, but limiting the Bucks in those areas will be a point of emphasis for the Suns going into an all-important Game 5.
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