2021 NBA Finals

24 Thoughts on Game 1 of 2021 NBA Finals

Instant observations and real-time Tweets from Game 1 of The Finals as it happened in Phoenix on Tuesday night.

Brian Martin, for NBA.com

Chris Paul and Devin Booker combined for 59 points to lead the Suns to their first Finals win in 28 years.

Welcome to the 2021 NBA Finals between the Phoenix Suns vs. Milwaukee Bucks. It’s a matchup that not many predicted when the season tipped off, but it brings new blood to the Finals stage as no player in this series has ever won an NBA championship. Will Phoenix win its first title in franchise history? Or will Milwaukee earn their first title in 50 years? It will all be decided by July 22, but it starts tonight in the Valley as the Suns host their first Finals game since 1993.

Here are 24 thoughts on Game 1 as it happened. I’m honored to continue this Finals feature story after it had been penned (well, typed) by the great Sekou Smith for so many years. I hope I can do it justice over the course of this series.


24 — Giannis giving it a go. The biggest question heading into Game 1 was the status of the two-time MVP’s left knee after he suffered a hyperextension in Game 4 of the East Finals and has not played since. The Bucks closed out the Hawks without him, but if the Bucks are to hoist the Larry O’Brien trophy for the second time in franchise history, they will need the Greek Freak. Of course, the next question is how healthy is the knee and how much can he give not just tonight but for the rest of The Finals?

 

23 — The NBA Finals 2021 intro is officially a Spike Lee joint. Always look forward to the intros for Game 1 of The Finals to see what ABC has in store to get everyone hyped. This worked well for me.

 

22 — Judith Hill absolutely crushed the anthem. How she didn’t win The Voice a few years back is baffling.

 

21 — First play is a pick-and-roll alley-oop attempt for Giannis. He looked just fine elevating for the ball and earned the foul. The Suns crowd continues the trend of counting during Giannis’ free throw attempts. He splits the pair. Two thoughts here: 1) If I’m the Suns crowd, I would just yell out random numbers instead of going in order. I actually think them going in order starts to give Giannis a rhythm at the line. 2) Can we get a one-one thousand, two-one thousand or a one-Mississippi, two-Mississippi from the crowd to avoid the quick counts?

 

20 — Devin Booker has 8 of Phoenix’s first 18 points. The last two came on a pair of free throws after Brook Lopez switched on him and Booker got the big man to bite on a pump fake and drew the contact on a jumper in the lane. Will be interesting to see if Milwaukee continues to switch on screens or be forced to rethink the strategy.

 

19 — After missing their first four 3-pointers of the game, the Suns get back-to-back triples by the Camerons (Johnson and Payne) to set the crowd into a frenzy and force a Bucks timeout.

 

18 — Yeah, it looks like Giannis is just fine.

 

17 — Suns lead 30-26 at the end of the first quarter. The Suns are 9-1 this postseason when leading after the first quarter, and unbeaten when leading by more than 1 point.

 

16 — From the “If it ain’t broke don’t fix it file”

Meanwhile, the NBA Sneaker King P.J. Tucker claims to not have any special kicks in his rotation for The Finals. Let’s keep an eye on that.

 

15 — Suns trying to close out the first half on a run — already on a 5-0 run, with a fast break off a live-ball turnover by Jrue Holiday, but Giannis with the LeBron-like chase down block on Mikal Bridges. We could insert the Spider-Man pointing at Spider-man meme here as those two Finals blocks will run side-by-side for a long time.

 

14 — Suns lead 57-49 at the half as the stars have all delivered in first 24 minutes of Game 1.

Key stat of the half: Suns are +10 on free throws. Phoenix is 12-12 at the line (8-8 from Booker), while Milwaukee is just 2-4 (all by Giannis).

 

13 — Giannis Antetokounmpo (13) and Deandre Ayton (11) lead the postseason in double-doubles and are on their way to adding to those totals in Game 1. At the half, both players already have 10 points, Giannis only needs one more rebound, while Ayton needs two boards. Giannis also has a 2-0 edge in blocks.

 

12 — First possession of second half, Chris Paul forces a switch to get Brook Lopez on him and drains his patented mid-range jumper. Two possessions later, another switch, Paul pulls up for 3-pointer at end of shot clock, knocks it down and the foul.

Paul tweaks his left ankle on the landing, play is reviewed and Lopez is assessed a flagrant foul for being in Paul’s landing area. Now it’s a four-point play and the ball for the Suns, who lead by 11 for their biggest lead of the game.

 

11 — Mikal Bridges giving the Suns a great boost with strong defense, running the break and knocking down the three. He’s up to 14 points, which equals the Suns lead with 8:33 left in the third.

 

10 — With Lopez now playing drop coverage against the pick-and-roll, he stays in the lane, while Booker uses the Ayton pick on Holiday, gets to the free throw line for a pull-up jumper that drops and gives the Suns a 16-point lead. Timeout Bucks.

Sometimes you set screens to get a teammate a shot, other times its for you to end up with a dunk.

 

9 — CP3 beats Bobby Portis off the dribble for the layup to put the Suns up by 18. Bucks get a three, then Paul gets Portis again and knocks down a three of his own. The Suns have been able to dictate the matchups and are using it to their full advantage.

 

8 — Chris Paul goes to bench to get wrist taped. Initial injury happened during the West Finals vs. the Clippers but he appears to re-aggrevate it on a drive vs. Portis.

 

7 — Khris Middleton doing whatever he can to keep the Bucks within striking distance. He finished with 11 points in the third quarter — all coming in the final three minutes.

 

6 — Suns take a 17-point lead into the fourth quarter. Chris Paul with 16 points in the third quarter to put the Suns in command with 12 minutes to play.

 

5 — That’s pretty good company.

So is this:

 

4 — Here come the Bucks! Bryn Forbes knocks down a right wing three to cut the Suns lead to nine points with 7:46 to play. Bucks have outscored the Suns 16-9 through the first 4:14 of the quarter. Four points each for Middleton and Holiday, a 3-pointer apiece from Connaughton and Forbes and a bucket from Giannis.

 

3 — Booker ends a 7-0 Bucks run (that had cut lead to 7) with a 3-pointer to push lead back to double-digits. Bucks come up empty on multiple possessions (two turnovers and missed shots) and Suns push lead back to 12 with 5:14 to play and force a timeout.

 

2 — Remember in Top Gun when Maverick says “I’m gonna hit the brakes, he’ll fly right by.” Well, Chris Paul is more like, “I’m gonna hit the brakes, he’s going to crash into my back, I’m still gonna make the shot, and get the 3-point play, and give my team a 14-point lead.”

 

1 — The Suns take Game 118-105 behind a brilliant performance by Chris Paul, who finished with 32 points and nine assists in the first Finals game of his 16-year NBA career.

Phoenix had six players score in double figures: Booker 27, Ayton 22 (and 19 boards!), Bridges 14, Payne 10 and Johnson 10.

For the Bucks, Khris Middleton finished with 29 points, while Giannis had 20 and 17 in his first game back. Game 2 tips off in less than 48 hours.

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