The Phoenix Suns take care of business at home in Game 1 with a comfortable 118-105 victory.
Behind a combined 59 points from their backcourt of Chris Paul and Devin Booker, the West champions ran away with it in the third quarter.
The Bucks knocked down 16 3-pointers and got plenty from a returning Giannis Antetokounmpo (20 points, 17 rebounds, four assists, two steals) but the Suns' guard duo dominated the mid-range as Phoenix shot 30-of-54 from inside the arc while also going a near-perfect 25-of-26 from the free-throw line.
MORE: Giannis channels LeBron with chasedown block
Nearly every Suns player who checked into the game played their key role to perfection while the Bucks got some work to do, especially on their pick-and-roll defence before Game 2.
That said, here are the player ratings from Game 1 of the 2021 NBA Finals:
Chris Paul - 9.5
16 years in the making, Chris Paul had a great Finals debut.
It didn't start well as he scored zero in the first quarter but he began to nail shots and find his rhythm. He scored 11 in the second quarter and then put up a masterclass as part of a game-changing third-quarter run.
CP3 (27 PTS) went to work in the 3rd, scoring 16 in the quarter! #NBAFinals@Suns up 17 as we head to the 4th in Game 1 on ABC pic.twitter.com/RsSAnZMCzw- NBA (@NBA) July 7, 2021
Punishing Milwaukee's pick-and-roll defence, whether it's the switch or drop, Paul wasn't just scoring. In his 9:40 minutes in the third period, he nearly outscored the Bucks by four by himself as scored or assisted on 23 of the team's 35 points.
He finished the game with 32 points and nine assists on 12-of-19 shooting from the field (63.2%), making him the first player to have at least 30 points and nine assists on Finals debut since Michael Jordan in 1991.
His 73 points over the past two games, including 41 in the clincher of Conference Finals, is the most he's ever scored over a two-game span in the regular season or the playoffs.
Giannis Antetokounmpo - 9
Coming off two missed games due to a hyperextended left knee, an injury he suffered a week prior, Giannis Antetokounmpo was a late 'go' for Game 1. Considering that, he looked phenomenal in this contest.
He showed great signs early, as he seemed his bouncy self and didn't seem to be any discomfort. He showed that with a couple of dunks in the first quarter and then, he confirmed his hyperextended knee was alright when he put his length and athleticism on full display in this chasedown block late in the second quarter.
Another look at this INCREDIBLE rejection by Giannis! 😱 #ThatsGame- NBA (@NBA) July 7, 2021
2nd half of Game 1 coming up on ABC. #NBAFinals pic.twitter.com/XgdrloCDX5
On the whole, given the circumstances, he played great in his 35 minutes as he was the only Bucks starter to finish with a positive plus-minus.
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Once Milwaukee switched to their small line-up with him at the center, they seemed to have made the game more competitive and looked threatening to make a comeback.
Deandre Ayton - 9
It's been quite the debut postseason for the 22-year-old. He's not just grown over the course of the 2020-21 season but has shown development and improved play through each round of the 2021 playoffs.
Finishing with a monster double-double of 22 points and 19 rebounds, he became the first player since Tim Duncan in 1999 to finish with at least 15 points and 15 rebounds on Finals debut.
Players with 20+ PTS, 15+ REB, 80+ FG% in a Finals game in the shot clock era (since 1955):- StatMuse (@statmuse) July 7, 2021
Deandre Ayton pic.twitter.com/r6ARRXeanx
His stat line also makes him the sixth player in NBA history to record such a 15-15 double-double while 22 years or younger. It also increases his tally of playoff double-doubles to 12, good for second-most in franchise and just 10 shy of Charles Barkley's leading tally.
He shot 8-of-10 from the field and knocked down all of his six free throws. More importantly, his lateral movement on defence allowed him to play as many as 39 minutes and not come off the floor the moment the Bucks went small.
Devin Booker - 8
The fact that the Suns won by 13 while Booker scored 27 on a poor shooting game of 8-of-21, including 1-of-8 from 3-point range, says a lot.
Book things 💥 pic.twitter.com/8n0tRR40VJ- Phoenix Suns (@Suns) July 7, 2021
Despite the rough night, Booker joined-in on Paul's party and made the Bucks pay for their defensive schemes multiple times from mid-range. He also ranks high up here because despite shots not falling, the 24-year-old shooting guard still contributed six assists and three steals.
Jae Crowder and Cameron Johnson - 8
Provided their playing time and 'role' on the team, Jae Crowder and Cameron Johnson had huge games.
Crowder failed to nail a single shot, going 0-of-8 from the field including 0-of-4 from long range, but he grabbed nine rebounds as part of his impeccable defence and finished with a team-high plus-minus +19.
Cam Johnson stops, pops, puts the @Suns up 12 and has the building buzzing! #NBAFinals- NBA (@NBA) July 7, 2021
5 minutes left in Game 1 on ABC pic.twitter.com/Y2dp7SXB7D
Meanwhile, reserve Cameron Johnson was the Suns spark off the bench. In 21 minutes, he did a little bit of everything to finish with 10 points, three rebounds, two assists and two steals.
Khris Middleton - 7.5
After the hot streaks he's shown in these playoffs, Khris Middleton leaves us wanting for more even when he shoots a decent 12-of-26 (46.2 percent) from the field and 5-of-12 (41.7 percent) on 3s.
He finished with a team-high 29 points but there were a couple of glaring figures - five turnovers and zero free-throws. Having said that, if the Bucks looked threatening in the fourth when they brought the lead down to seven, it's because of Middleton's third quarter.
Khris put up 10 points in the third. pic.twitter.com/WyLS980Hr0- Milwaukee Bucks (@Bucks) July 7, 2021
He scored or assisted on 15 of their 27 points in the period and scored the team's final 10 points to ensure the game didn't completely run away from them.
Jrue Holiday and Brook Lopez - 6.5
The Bucks need more from Jrue Holiday and he's shown, especially in Game 5 and 6 against the Atlanta Hawks, that he's more than capable of doing so. In this one, he played nearly 40 minutes and finished with 10 points, nine rebounds and seven assists but along with Middleton combined for eight of the team's 14 turnovers.
He might have sparingly made his presence felt on defence, the Bucks need him to knock down more shots and to do so efficiently as he finished Game 1 just making four of his 14 attempts from the field including 0-of-4 from beyond the arc.
Regarding Brook Lopez, this isn't necessarily on him but the superior mid-range game of the Suns' backcourt forced him into only playing around 23 minutes and those too came because he was producing offensively - 17 points including nine from 3-point land.
He's most likely to face limited minutes, like Game 1, for the rest of the series. So, Milwaukee must look to use him smartly and make the most of his scoring prowess when he's on the floor.
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