PHOENIX — How’s that for a first game in the NBA Finals?
In the Phoenix Suns’ 118-105 win over the Milwaukee Bucks in Game 1 on Tuesday night, starting point guard Chris Paul showed out with a game-high 32 points on 12-of-19 shooting, including a 4-of-9 clip from the 3-point line with nine assists and four rebounds.
Paul had 16 of his points in the third quarter, including 10 of Phoenix’s 12 points from 5:18 to 2:43 left in the period, when it built an 18-point lead. The Suns led by as many as 20 that quarter and saw their advantage fall to single digits for just 1:45 in the fourth.
“When it’s going like that, you just want to space the floor well and let him orchestrate,” Suns coach Monty Williams said. “I thought he was making the right plays, they were switching a ton and we have to offer that space and play faster if he gets off of the ball. But he was making shots, and when he’s in that mode, we just feed off of that.”
With Paul’s performance, he became the first player with at least 30 points and eight assists in an NBA Finals debut since former Chicago Bulls superstar guard Michael Jordan in 1991. His 73 points over his last two games also tied his most over a two-contest span over his entire career.
Chris Paul is the 3rd player at age 36 (or older) to score 30+ points in a NBA Finals game.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) July 7, 2021
He joins Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (6 times) and Tim Duncan (once). pic.twitter.com/n5nXZCXxSi
After the game, Paul spoke about his individual performance, that of his teammates and what the Suns can take into Game 2 on Thursday night.
On discussions throughout the season that enabled him, Suns starting shooting guard Devin Booker and center Deandre Ayton to mesh together:
“It’s been a lot, it’s been a lot. It was some tough ones. DA couldn’t have said it any better. Sometimes, people take it as arguing or whatnot, but I think it was all constructive. Talking about pace, they’ve been on me about getting the ball up the floor faster. Talking to DA about the angles of the screens, and you see as the season goes on how much that stuff is important. About hitting the bottom, getting out, making yourself open. I could show you play after play where it helped tonight.”
On how he felt during the opening minutes of the game and when he felt like he got in a rhythm:
“I just missed my first couple shots. I think that’s the way that we play. Book got it going, I think Book had 12 in the first quarter. And that’s just the way our team is. It’s not just one guy that we depend on. (Starting forwards) Mikal (Bridges) could get going, Jae might be hot, DA could get it going and we just feed off of each other. And it just sort of all game long — this guy, that guy, and we just try to find a way to win.”
If he noticed Suns fans enjoying what the team was able to do in Game 1:
“Not really. Not really. Probably maybe initially when we run out for warmups, but I’m just so locked into the game I ain’t really paying attention to much. Just trying to stay in the moment. It got crazy loud during those timeouts, but it’s exciting. That’s one win, and I think I’m just focused on the task at hand.”
On what he, Booker and Ayton were seeing in their screen-and-roll attack that allowed them to be so effective:
“We play a lot of basketball, so we sort of know. I was watching them soccer games today, which was crazy. I watched a hockey game last night. I’m watching that like, ‘Damn, how do they know to pass it there?’ And they probably think the same thing with us. But we do this so often, and we’ve seen just about every coverage you could possibly see, so it’s second nature. I think our coaches, the way they prepared us since training camp day in and day out, it seems repetitive to some, but for us it’s necessary.”
On the Suns scoring 20 fastbreak points and how Bridges contributed to those efforts:
“Yeah, they be on me bad about that, especially (Suns assistant) Willie Green. Willie was my teammate. Willie always said that I held on to the ball too long. You know what I mean? But it’s like I said, constructive criticism. In that (Los Angeles) Clipper game, the closeout game (Game 6), Willie came and said, ‘We need to get the ball over half court with 20 seconds [left on the shot clock].’ So I’m trying to make a conscious effort of making sure we’re playing with the right pace.”
On NBA commissioner Adam Silver’s positive comments about him before the game making the NBA Finals and if he’s thought about conversations dating back to when the league adjusted to COVID-19:
“Not too often. I’m just like everybody else. I got those memories that come up on my phone, that show you where you were like a year ago. (Suns backup forward) Abdel Nader came up to me in the locker room before the game, he was like, ‘C, a year ago today we left to go to the Bubble.’ So it’s amazing to think of all the things that have taken place since then. But I’m grateful for where I am now and happy to have this opportunity.”
On Suns coach Monty Williams’ message for the team to, ‘Go hoop,’ and how much that put the team at ease:
“I think it’s really good for our team, because I’ve said it all season long, one thing that we’re going to be is prepared. We’re going to be prepared for every game. We always talk about when preparation meets opportunity. So shootaround, Coach said, ‘Go hoop, y’all know what to do.’”
On the Suns playing successfully against multiple defenses and how much of it was scripted versus reading and reacting:
“Combination of both. Like I said, we play a lot of basketball, watch a lot and our coaches told us all the different things to be prepared for. We played against these guys twice. We prepared for (Bucks superstar forward) Giannis (Antetokounmpo) 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.”
On what he’s most proud of with Ayton’s play this postseason:
“I sat in the background during DA’s press conference right now, just seeing him talk, just seeing the maturity in him not only as basketball player but as a person. Everybody doesn’t get a chance to know him off the court, but he has the biggest heart. One of the best guys you’ll ever meet. So the success and the recognition that he’s getting right now is well deserved, and I couldn’t be happier for another guy on our team.”