It took Chris Paul 16 seasons to make it to reach The Finals and he did not disappoint in his debut on the game’s brightest stage. Paul delivered 32 points and nine assists to lead the Phoenix Suns to a 118-105 win over the Milwaukee Bucks in Game 1 of The 2021 NBA Finals. Let’s jump into the box score to take a closer look.
• Chris Paul scored 21 of his game-high 32 points in the second half as the Suns built a 20-point lead and answered every Bucks run en route to the win. Paul had 11 points (4-for-8 shooting), four assists and two turnovers at the half as the Suns led 57-49. But he absolutely took things over in the third quarter, scoring 16 points (6-for-7 FG, 3-for-3 3-pointers, 1-for-1 free throws) and dishing out two more assists.
• After missing the final two games of the Eastern Conference finals after suffering a hyperextended knee in Game 4, Giannis Antetokounmpo was able to return for Game 1 and finished with 20 points and 17 rebounds in 35 minutes. He attempted only 11 field goals, which is his lowest mark of the playoffs other than the game he left early due to injury (7-10 FG in 24 minutes).
• Antetokounmpo (14) and Deandre Ayton (12) are the playoff leaders in double-doubles as each added to their totals in Game 1, and joined some pretty strong company in the process. Giannis (20 points, 17 rebounds) and Ayton (22 points, 19 rebounds) are the first players to put up at least 15 points and 15 rebounds in their Finals debut since Tim Duncan (33 points, 16 rebounds) in 1999.
• In the final two games of the East finals without Giannis, the Bucks were led by Khris Middleton (29.0 ppg on 21 shots per game), Jrue Holiday (26.0 ppg, on 21.5 fga) and Brook Lopez (23.0 ppg on 13.5 fga). With Giannis back for Game 1, Holiday’s offense saw the biggest drop off as he finished with 10 points on 4-14 shooting, while Middleton scored a team-high 29 points and Lopez added 17. The Bucks are 5-1 this postseason when Holiday scores at least 20 points; they are 7-5 when he scores under 20 points.
• In a game decided by 13 points, the Suns had a 16-point advantage at the free throw line on Tuesday. Phoenix shot 25-26 (96.2%) from the line, while Milwaukee shot 9-16 (56.3%). While Devin Booker did not have a great shooting night from the field (8-21, 38.1%), he was a perfect 10-10 on free throws, as he outscored the Bucks at the free throw line single-handedly. For the playoffs, the Suns are shooting a league-best 87% on free throws, while the Bucks rank 15th out of the 16 teams at 70.6%.
• The Suns won the first quarter 30-26 and improved to 12-1 during the playoffs when they are either tied or lead at the end of the first quarter. Phoenix is just 1-3 when trailing after the first quarter. The Bucks don’t have the same disparity in success based on the opening 12 minutes; they are 7-3 when tied or ahead after the first quarter and 5-3 when trailing.
• Of the 80 games played this postseason, Game 1 of The Finals was played at the 10th-fastest pace (101.5 possessions per 48). It was the second-fastest game of the playoffs for the Suns, and the fourth-fastest for the Bucks. In Bryn Forbes’ 12 minutes on the court in Game 1, the pace jumped to 108.33 and the Bucks offensive efficiency climbed to 111.1 – the highest marks of any Buck that logged more than 10 minutes.
• Paul finished Game 1 with nine assists and two turnovers for a 4.5 assist/turnover ratio, which while impressive still brought his playoff mark down slightly from 5.55 to 5.46. It is still the seventh-highest assist/turnover ratio of any player in the postseason, and the best by far of any player in The Finals. Holiday leads the Bucks at 3.30 for the playoffs.
• Of all players that logged more than 10 minutes in Game 1, the Suns had the top three in true shooting percentage: Ayton at 87.0% (8-10 FG, 6-6 FT), Paul at 77.1% (12-19 FG, 4-7 3P, 4-4 FT) and Cameron Johnson at 72.7% (3-6 FG, 2-4 3P, 2-2 FT).
• While Jae Crowder had an offensive game he’s rather forget (one point on 0-8 FG, 0-5 3P), the Suns had their best defensive rating (91.7) during his 33 minutes on the court, just edging out Mikal Bridges (91.9). On the other hand, the Bucks had their highest defensive ratings when Bobby Portis (133.3 in 14 minutes) or Lopez (126.0in 23 minutes) were on the the court.
• In the postseason prior to The Finals, the Bucks averaged 50.9 points in the paint and won the paint battle by a league-high 12.1 points per game. In Game 1, the Suns outscored the Bucks 44-42 in the paint, marking only the third time this postseason that the Bucks lost the paint battle. Ayton led all players with 16 points in the paint in Game 1 as the Suns big man finished 6-6 in the restricted area and 2-4 outside the restricted area.
• In similar fashion, the Bucks led all playoff teams in second-chance points entering The Finals (16.6 ppg), but were outscored 7-3 on second-chance points in Game 1 against Phoenix.
• The Bucks committed more turnovers (13-9) and allowed more points off those turnovers (16-10) in Game 1 as the Suns took advantage of Milwaukee’s miscues. Paul led all players with six points off turnovers in Game 1, more than double his average entering The Finals (2.4 per game).
• Paul leads the playoffs in percentage of points scored on mid-range shots (34.4%) and led all players in Game 1 (25.0%). His 32 points were evenly distributed all over the court: 25.0% in the paint, 25.0% mid-range, 37.5% 3-pointers, 12.5% free throws.
• The Bucks scored 45.7% of their points from both 2-point range and 3-point range in Game 1. Milwaukee shot 16-36 (44.4%) from 3-point range in Game 1, which has equated to success throughout the season but not on Tuesday; the Bucks are now 25-7 between the regular season and playoffs when they make at least 16 3-pointers. Game 1 was their first loss in 17 games with at least 16 3-pointers on 44% shooting or better from beyond the arc.
• Phoenix more than doubled Milwaukee’s percentage of points from both the mid-range (13.6% to 5.7%) and the free throw line (21.2% to 8.6%). The Bucks are just 2-5 this postseason when they score 12% of fewer of their points from the free throw line; they are 10-1 in all other playoff games.
– team comp:
• Middleton made a game-high five 3-pointers in Game 1, but only one of those triples was assisted. In fact, that one 3-pointer was his only assisted basket of his 12 field goals made (91.7% unassisted). Heading into The Finals, only 62% of Middleton’s field goals had been unassisted; the only players that were above 90% were Paul (90.4%) and Luka Doncic (91.7%).
• Ayton scored 24.4% of Phoenix’s points, while using just 15.0% of the Suns possessions when he was on the court in Game 1. The only player with a greater disparity between scoring rate and usage rate than Ayton (9.4%) was Lopez (10%).
• Paul accounted for 56.3% of Phoenix’s assists and 32.7% of Phoenix’s points while he was on the court in Game 1. Paul either scored or assisted on 54 points in the Suns’ win, which according to Elias, is the third-highest total in a Finals debut behind Allen Iverson (61 in 2001) and Michael Jordan (60 in 1991).
• Cameron Payne finished with 10 points on 4-8 shooting in just 17 minutes off the Suns bench. While he was on the court, Payne attempted 27.6% of Phoenix’s shots – the highest percentage of any Suns player, edging out Booker (27.3%) and Paul (27.1%).
• The two stats that stand out most of the four factors in Game 1 are free throw rate (Phoenix’s 0.295 to Milwaukee’s 0.182) and turnover percentage (Phoenix’s 8.8% to Milwaukee’s 13.9%).
• The Suns finished the regular season ranked second in free throw percentage (83.4%) and lead all playoff teams at 87.0%. Since they convert at such a high rate, opposing teams must keep the Suns off the free throw line, so a disparity like we saw in Game 1 is a huge advantage for Phoenix.
• The Suns ranked fourth both in the regular season (12.6%) and the playoffs (11.8%) for lowest turnover percentage in the league. Fewer turnovers – particularly live-ball turnovers – lead to fewer easy baskets in transition for opposing teams.
• Looking at the contested vs. uncontested shot numbers there is good news and bad news for the Bucks. The good news is that they actually shot better on contested shots (48.6%) than uncontested shots (43.1%), so if they can knock down some more open jumpers moving forward that should give their offense a boost. The bad news is that while they attempted 51 uncontested shots in Game 1, they allowed Phoenix to attempt 65 uncontested shots. And the Suns took advantage of their open looks, knocking down 31 of them (47.7%), with 11 of those buckets coming from Paul (11-17, 64.7%).
• One of the key questions coming out of Game 1 and with only one off day before Game 2 is how will Giannis’ knee feel after he logged 35 minutes in Game 1. He traveled 2.59 miles during Game 1, which is just slightly lower than his playoff average in his first 14 games prior to the injury (2.65 miles per game).
• How good was Ayton on the boards? He finished with 19 rebonds in 24 rebound chances (79.2%) in Game 1. Antetokounmpo finished slightly behind at 77.3% (17 rebounds in 22 chances) as both players only missed five boards when they were in the vicinity of the rebound.
• Crowder and Cameron Johnson reach recorded five deflections in Game 1 as the Suns finished with 20 compared to 13 for the Bucks.
• Antetokounmpo recorded a game-high four screen assists, which led to nine Bucks points. Crowder and Ayton had three apiece for the Suns, which resulted in a combined 13 points.
• While the Bucks won the rebound battle 47-43, the Suns had more box outs than the Bucks in Game 1, 14-10. Lopez and Crowder led their respective teams with four box outs apiece. Throughout the playoffs, the Bucks have won the rebound battle by an average of 7.4 per game (49.7-42.3), compare to a 1.2 advantage for the Suns (44.0-42.8).
• Holiday held his defensive matchups to eight points on 3-10 (30%) shooting from the field and 2-7 (28.6%) from 3-point range in 14:33 of defensive matchup time.
• Booker held his defensive matchups to five points on 2-13 (15.4%) shooting from the field and 1-10 (10%) from 3-point range in 13:29 of defensive matchup time.
• Ayton allowed 26 points on 26 shot attempts in Game 1. His opponents shot 6-18 (33.3%) on 2-point shots and 4-8 (50%) on 3-point shots in his 12:37 of defensive matchup time.
• Exploiting mismatches was key to Paul’s and Phoenix’s success in Game 1. He scored just eight points on six shot attempts in a combined 8:32 of matchup time against either P.J. Tucker or Holiday, which accounted for 62% of his offensive matchup time. But he had 12 points on 5-7 shooting in just 1:43 of matchup time (12.4% of total) against Lopez.
• Holiday defended Booker for a team-high 6:52 (45.5% of Booker’s offensive matchup time) in Game 1. He held Booker scoreless on 0-6 shooting from the field, including 0-4 from 3-point range, and forced two turnovers compared to just two assists for Booker.
• The Holiday-Booker matchup ended up being a bit of a draw as Booker also held Holiday scoreless in 6:34 (52.2% of Holiday’s offensive matchup time). Holiday attempted four shots – all from 3-point range – and had two assists and two turnovers against Booker.
• Antetokounmpo scored eight points against each of his top two defensive matchups in Game 1. In 5:19 (47.4% of offensive matchup time) against Ayton, Giannis shot 3-7 from the field, 0-1 from three and 2-4 at the free throw line, drawing a pair of shooting fouls. In 2:23 (22.4%) against Crowder, Giannis was 3-3 from the field, including one 3-pointer and split a pair of free throws from one shooting foul.
• The Suns had four players defend Khris Middleton for at least 10% of his offensive matchup time. Mikal Bridges defended him for 4:16 (30.2%) and allowed only five points (17.2% of his 29-point total). Of the five players that defended Middleton for at least one minute of matchup time, only Devin Booker allowed fewer than five points as Middleton had only two points on 1-5 shooting in 1:30 against Booker.