Combined with the red-hot shooting of young superstar Devin Booker — who scored 27 points — and the continued breakout dominance of 22-year-old Deandre Ayton, Paul and the Suns took one step towards lifting the Larry O’Brien trophy.
Paul’s big third quarter was a vital part in the Suns pulling away from the Bucks in the second half, as the 11-time All-Star scored 16 points in the quarter to assert his will on the game.
In what was the first NBA Finals game in Phoenix since Jordan’s Chicago Bulls won their third straight championship in 1993, Paul masterfully picked apart the Bucks defense.
Afterward, Booker — who is making his debut appearance in the playoffs this season — praised the performance of his more experienced teammate.
“Anybody that counted Chris Paul out,” Booker added. “You can’t ever count any guy out that has done the things that he’s done on the court.
“So if I hear things like that, which I did, I take it as complete nonsense. If he doesn’t play another game for us, you can still pay him his contract. His effect is that big, you know what I’m saying?”
Heading into the Finals, the health of two-time Most Valuable Player Giannis Antetokounmpo was a big concern for the Bucks.
The “Greek Freak” hyperextended his knee in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Atlanta Hawks, missing the final two games of the series.
The 26-year-old was cleared to appear in the series opener just hours before it began, and showed no signs of holding back in the opening stages, throwing himself about from the outset in the hopes of giving the Bucks a chance at victory.
He finished with 20 points and 17 rebounds in 35 minutes while Khris Middleton led the team with 29 points.
Afterwards, Antetokounmpo was just appreciative of the fact he was able to be out on the court competing.
“When I went down, I thought I’m going to be out for the year,” he continued. “I thought I’m gone. I thought I’d turn — I’d hurt everything in my knee. Just being able to be on the bench and not be on a cold table getting surgery and supporting those guys, watching the game and walking around and sharing with them.”
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