Chris Paul has waited his whole life for a shot at an NBA championship, and if Tuesday was any indication, he has no intention of letting it get away. Paul went for 32 points and nine assists in Phoenix's 118-105 Game 1 victory over the Bucks. He shot 12-for-19 from the field, including 4-for-7 from 3-point range, and joined some fairly decent company in the process.
Elite company 👀— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) July 7, 2021
Chris Paul is the first player with 30 points and 8 assists in an #NBAFinals debut since Michael Jordan in 1991. pic.twitter.com/6gNKVNQvcd
Chris Paul had 32 points and 9 assists tonight. He passes LeBron for the oldest player in #NBAFinals history to have 32 & 9 in a game— Basketball Reference (@bball_ref) July 7, 2021
Only Steve Nash and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar had 32 points and 9 assists in any playoff game at an older age than CP3 pic.twitter.com/BlpoJkpRUp
If you were just castally paying attention to the start of the game, you might've thought Paul was feeling the jitters in his first Finals game. He didn't score in the first quarter. But a closer examination revealed he was getting the shots he wants. Eventually, he was going to start making them. He scored 11 points in the second quarter and 16 in the third.
The Bucks tried to give him multiple pick-and-roll looks. He cooked them all. Mike Budenholzer has been more willing to abandon his preferred drop coverage, and on Tuesday he indeed charged big men Brook Lopez and Bobby Portis to switch onto Paul and defend him one on one in space. Whether he was pulling up for 3 or blowing past the bigs to the rim, it didn't go well for Portis.
Chris Paul’s 1st NBA Finals Game🔥— Ballislife.com (@Ballislife) July 7, 2021
16 PTS in 3rd Quarter
Lopez didn't fare any better on the perimeter.
Suns are COOKING— ClutchPoints Betting (@CPBetting) July 7, 2021
Deandre Ayton, Chris Paul, and Mikal Bridges have all cashed their point props. We still have a whole quarter left. pic.twitter.com/cWWm3uPww4
Watch the first play in this next clip as Pau just walks a helpless Lopez down until he finds his sweet spot.
Simple stuff from the Suns getting the switch on Brook Lopez for Chris Paul and Devin Booker. Timeout by the Bucks after the Booker make. Let's see if Mike Budenholzer switches up the pick-and-roll defense. pic.twitter.com/qaswtF2pfx— Kevin O'Connor (@KevinOConnorNBA) July 7, 2021
When the Bucks switched it up and went back to dropping Lopez into the paint, Paul probed his way into snaking elbow jumpers and late lobs to Ayton as Lopez lingered in no-man's land.
BEAUTIFUL ball handling by @CP3 finished off by @DeandreAyton 👏— The Association on FOX (@TheAssociation) July 7, 2021
(via @NBA) pic.twitter.com/3u8TG10Qhh
Though it's early in the series, you wonder what other plays Milwaukee has for defending Paul, who can smell his first title and is going to be in attack mode the rest of the way. The most obvious move, it would seem, would be going small with Giannis at the center spot, but honestly, Giannis is vulnerable in space vs. Paul, too.
Giannis tried to pick up Chris Paul at halfcourt, and it predictably did not end wellpic.twitter.com/y3mxCNwULT— Ben DuBose (@BenDuBose) July 7, 2021
Also, if Lopez and Portis indeed get played off the floor, that negates Milwaukee's chances of beating Phoenix up on the offensive glass and Bryn Forbes and Pat Connaughton are going to get switch hunted anyway. At times the Bucks tried to trap Paul, and he simply pulled Antetokounmpo and Jrue Holiday away from the basket before firing a dime to a free-rolling Ayton for a dunk.
When Milwaukee switches off the ball to jam up certain actions for Booker and others coming off screens and Ayton rolling, it doesn't matter when Paul just keeps the ball and attacks whatever unlucky soul ends up guarding him. The long and short of it is this: The Bucks tried a series worth of adjustments in the first game, and it doesn't appear they can keep Paul from getting the shots he wants. Which means it's a make-or-miss series. If Paul keeps making these shots the Bucks can't stop him from getting, the Suns are going to be in great shape.