It took 16 years but Chris Paul finally made it to the NBA Finals.
In the 118-105 Game 1 victory, he led from the front with 32 points and nine assists. Putting on a clinic in the third quarter, as part of a game-changing run, Paul ensured the game ended on his terms but it didn't necessarily start how he would have liked.
In a close first quarter, where the Suns led 30-26, Paul was scoreless through seven minutes.
"I just missed my first couple shots," Paul said postgame playing down the scoreless period. "I think Book had 12 in the first quarter. That's just the way our team is. It's not just one guy that we depend on."
MORE: Player Ratings for Game 1 of the Finals
He was spot on. It's not 'usually' one guy for the Suns, however, through the middle two quarters it was, and that guy was Paul. In the second quarter, he scored (11) or assisted on 17 of the team's 27 second-quarter points.
In the third period, through the first 9:40 minutes, he created, scored or assisted on 23 of the team's 37 points.
"I saw the shots they were giving me and I was just missing them," Chris Paul said to ESPN's Malika Andrews postgame. "So, I just kept trying to be aggressive."
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
"I thought he was making the right plays," Suns head coach Monty Williams said postgame on CP3's third-quarter explosion.
"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."
TAKEAWAYS: CP3 and Booker lead Suns to victory
Paul was certainly in a mode. His Game 1 performance put his name alongside some elite company. He became the first player since Michael Jordan in 1991 to record at least 30 points and eight assists in a Finals debut.
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
His 73 points over the last couple of games, including the 41 in the clincher against the LA Clippers in the Conference Finals, is tied for the most he's ever scored over a two-game span in the regular season or the playoffs.
"Chris Paul, he's been a bucket, man. I mean, he obviously, gets his team involved," Devin Booker said postgame. "He's the greatest leader to play this game. But he's been a bucket for a very long time.... There's no scouting report that says Chris Paul can't get a bucket."
"So if I hear things like that (counting out Chris Paul), which I did, I take it as complete nonsense."
Booker dropped 27 to support Chris Paul's 32 while Deandre Ayton recorded a monster double-double of 22 points and 19 rebounds. The Suns also had three other players in double figures - Mikal Bridges (14), Cameron Payne (10) and Cameron Johnson (10).
"We know he can do this every game. Happy he did it in Game 1 and helped us get this win," Bridges said of Paul's Game 1 postgame.
"He prepared his whole life for this moment." - @mikal_bridges on @CP3's Game 1 performance#NBAFinals presented by YouTube TV- NBA (@NBA) July 7, 2021
Game 2: Thursday, 9pm/et on ABC pic.twitter.com/2YQDm9Y0RG
"I'm grateful for where I am now and happy to have this opportunity," Paul said postgame, putting his Finals appearance in perspective.
Despite the festivities surrounding the Game 1 victory and the praise he was receiving, Paul was focused on the task at hand and repeatedly mentioned postgame that Game 1 was just 'one' win.
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