Suns hit first with Chris Paul artwork

Antetokounmpo played but the Bucks were far inferior to a Suns without weak points and with a masterful Paul in the direction. Excellent Ayton.

Suns-hit-first-with-Chris-Paul-artwork

It was his 1,214th NBA game. In the year 16. Fifteen after being Rookie of the Year, more than a decade after being among the MVP contenders. With his fifth jersey (Hornets, Clippers, Rockets, Thunder, Suns). Only the endless Kevin Willis (he played in the NBA at 44 years and 224 days) spent more total games (1,429) until reaching the Finals. Only Derrick McKey played more than playoffs (128, Paul had 123 as of tonight) before participating in the fight for the ring. And only Kevin Garnett and Oscar Robertson had been all-star so many times (eleven, like him) before being finalists. It has been a long, difficult road, full of teaching nights erased by misfortunes in the qualifying rounds; mistakes, injuries (lots of injuries), impossibly good opponents… until now. Chris Paul, one of the best point guards in history, the Point God, appeared in his first Final with a Mona Lisa, a work of art that leaves him (118-105 final) three games away from the dream ring and a reconfiguration full of his legacy.

Accustomed to bad luck at the worst moment, Paul has dodged in these playoffs a good catalog of misfortunes: shoulder injury, passage through health protocols, hand injury. But you have come to the right place at the right time. At 36 years and two after the Rockets hung the poster for the worst contract in the NBA (the extension they signed: 160 million for four seasons) before releasing draft rounds to get rid of it and try (it went wrong ) with Russell Westbrook. With all that on top, with his reputation as an extraordinary but edgy player, grating on the dirty, and his complex duties as president of the players' union (a lot of work in times of pandemic), Paul unleashed a storm of math and art on the Bucks. science and letters: basketball.

He finished with 32 points, 4 rebounds, 9 assists, a 12/19 shooting (4/7 on 3s) and just two losses. And the game broke in a fabulous third quarter, an ode to wisdom, a perfect dissection of a rival that ended up open on the channel. The 57-49 at halftime came to 88-68 in ten minutes of a perfect storm at Arizona. In that stretch, Paul added 16 points and 2 assists with a 6/7 shooting. And he attacked on all fronts, exploding every angle, demolishing the body language of an unanswered rival. In the first part (he did not score in the first quarter) he collected information. In the second, he used it for destruction. When the Bucks waited for him under the rim, he scored from middle distance. When he was chased far from the basket, he led the attack towards the released shooters. And every time his defender on the block was in no-man's-land he facilitated easy finishes by DeAndre Ayton. Chess, anatomy, algebra, physics, chemistry and humanities: basketball. The Point God, the god of game direction. For this reason, because of everything seen during the season and because of the winning cadence of this first battle for the ring, the Suns bet on him. With his 36 years and his toxic contract. The one who risks does not always win, but it is almost impossible to win without risking.The Suns, a team with all the records

The 1-0 came by logic, due to the natural inclination of the scale towards the side with more matter. The Suns had not made the playoffs since 2010 and have (30%) the worst percentage of victories of a finalist in the five years before fighting for the title. Hell, they won 19 games just two seasons ago. Before yesterday. But they are a concrete block, a team with balance, depth and a lot of collective intelligence. That wins in dense and attack, fast and slow, in transition and in the middle court, inside and out, with big and small quintets. Monty Williams is rising as an elite coach, and Chris Paul's vision as he forced his way from OKC to Arizona is proving to be true: The Suns' youth are very good… and well prepared. Or rather, they are so good that it was impossible that they were not prepared. Cameron Johnson (10 points) and Mikal Bridges (14), a Swiss Army Knife, did everything their team needed from them. DeAndre Ayton (number 1 in Luka Doncic's draft, the one in 2018), gave another notch in his claim, with some wonderful playoffs, of his value and that of (still) the classic pivot: 22 points, 19 rebounds, 8 / 10 in shots, intensity behind and intelligence to press the assists after the blocks of the Bucks defense, with no room to breathe due to his finishes near the basket.

Y Devin Booker, of course: a perfect start (12 points in a tremendous first quarter) and little prominence afterwards (27 total, 11 after the break); only 8 baskets (8/21) but 10/10 in free throws and the intelligence to sit in the passenger seat as soon as Chris Paul took the controls. From there, he limited himself to adding points surgically, in small moments of pressure. A perfectly functional performance from superior talent in a team with enormous collective commitment, with a clear common idea and an obvious sense of sacrifice in pursuit of a goal. From a dream: The Suns were much better in this first game and went home with no other concern than Dario Saric's injury, which leaves them very depleted in their internal rotation. The rest came out, basically, to ask of mouth.

The Bucks are going to need a lot more

What about the Bucks? From the outset, cornered. But it is better to avoid the temptation to discard them because, after notorious shocks (2019, 2020 ...), they have shown that they know how to play belly up, drop bites, squeeze themselves physically and mentally: survive. This is just a loss, and of course they already knew that the Suns are a tremendous team against whom they will not be worth anything other than their best version in a sustained, constant way. The good news, excellent in fact because thanks to it we have Finals, is that Giannis Antetokounmpo is there. A week after a very ugly knee injury, the Greek arrived on time and showed that he is not too far from an optimal version. He played more than 35 minutes, added 20 points, 17 rebounds and 4 assists, left a poster cap and finished with a +1 that leaves the rest of the Bucks at -12 in just over 12 minutes without him. In some plays he did not go to the basket with the usual decision and in a few defenses he avoided extending help, but he is. And that was the first premise for the Bucks, a block in surviving format, to have options.

From there, more will be needed. The Bucks got really stuck on offense. Khris Middleton was slow to bring out his best version: 29 + 7 + 4 but almost all the damage when the match had already escaped. Jrue Holiday (10 + 7 + 9 but 4/14 in shots) was very far from the level that his team needs from him, clumsy in attack and almost without incidence in a defense of constant changes that left him far from the creators of the Suns. And Brook Lopez (17 + 6) supported his team during the worst stretch of the match, when victory was tied to the local dressing room, but he left the track in the last quarter, perhaps a prologue of what is to come: desperate , the Bucks went to play without a center and to be more aggressive in their defense of permanent changes (until recently, anathema in Wisconsin). Thus there was a threat of return (from the aforementioned 88-68 to a 101-94 with seven minutes left) that aired between Booker and Paul. And so the Bucks may have to play many more minutes, even if Brook Lopez is at a very good level in his sections on the track.

The Bucks are missing a piece for those small quintets to really bite, surely that Donte DiVincenzo that they have injured. Mike Budenholzer, who is making the adjustments that everyone has been crying out for for three years, has to decide how he structures his defensive plans against an opponent with answers (apparently) for everything. And it has to do with what he does with a very short rotation, a problem of the first magnitude against a visibly deeper opponent. And all that with Antetokounmpo in a pure miracle (a week after his knee hyperextension) and against a Chris Paul on a mission to the ring that seems very difficult to abort. But allowance must be made for these Bucks who have put out fires, climbed mountains and found answers, sometimes barely, throughout the playoffs. It's just a game, after all. One, yes, marked by the magisterium of Point God, the knot of the last great chapter in the legacy of one of the best bases in history: Chris Paul and his Suns already only need three victories to be, him and the team, NBA kings for the first time. Tomorrow, round two.



Photos from as.com
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