Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo looked in picture-perfect health and played Game 1 of the NBA Finals. And it didn’t matter one bit. The Suns have too many weapons.
The stars shined in the Valley of the Sun, and it was mostly the cast on Phoenix. Chris Paul led a third-quarter demolition and finished with 32 points and nine assists in a spectacular Finals debut in which he floated in 12 of 18 shots.
“He’s just a really good basketball player who can see the floor and knows where all five guys should be,’’ Suns coach Monty Williams said of Paul.
Backcourt partner-in-crime Devin Booker had a scorching start and pumped in 27 points Tuesday as the Suns routed the Bucks, 118-105, at Phoenix Suns Arena.
Old-school center Deandre Ayton was fearsome inside and racked up 22 points and 19 rebounds. It’s the first 15-and-15 game in a Finals debut since San Antonio’s Tim Duncan against the Knicks in 1999.
Suns small-forward standout Mikal Bridges, whom the Knicks bypassed in the 2018 draft in favor of Kevin Knox, was a rolling dynamo and racked up 14 points. And for the unheralded stat of the night, the Suns hit their first 24 free throws.
There were no first-ever Finals nerves for these Suns as Phoenix’s high-tempo, quick-passing attack was a joy to watch, hitting 10 of their first 18 shots in the franchise’s first Finals appearance since 1993. They took a 57-49 halftime lead despite Antetokounmpo being a force.
The Greek Freak finished with 20 points and 17 rebounds in 34 minutes after Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said 90 minutes before tipoff he may not play.
’We planned on him to play,’’ Williams said. “Just a guy like Giannis, how hard he works on his body, we figured a guy who works that hard would find a way back on the floor for The Finals. This tis time of year you sacrifice everything.’’
From the opening possession, it was clear the Bucks’ listing of Antetokounmpo as doubtful on the eve of the Finals was pile of rubbish. He looked as limber and athletic as ever — no signs he had suffered a hyperextended knee a week before.
He skied for an alley-oop pass on the first possession. Though it got broken up, he was fouled on the play and went to the line. He lived down to his free-throw reputation by badly missing the first attempt with the loud crowd counting to 10 — ala Nets’ fans.
But he wound up with 10 points, five rebounds and three assists by intermission, attacking the rim with abandon. He also had a sensational block in the final minute of the half, racing back to bat off the glass what looked to be an uncontested fast-break layup attempt by Bridges. Antetokounmpo also committed a goaltending on Booker, leaping well above the rim with the Suns up eight.
No, Antetokounmpo was 100 percent, and the Suns thankfully had planned for both circumstances, coach Monty Williams said before the game.
The Suns’ offense was too snazzy and high tempo, however, for Antetokounmpo to be a difference-maker.
Booker was terrific, finishing with 16 first-half points and throwing up a handful of lobs to big center Ayton, who made 5 of 6 shots for 10 points. Paul was solid (11 points, four assists).
And their bench play was solid, too, with unsung Cam Johnson and backup point guard Cameron Payne banging in big 3s. Each finished with 10 points.
Phoenix salted it away in the third quarter to go up as many as 20 points behind a 16-point Paul period.
A flagrant foul by Brook Lopez on a Paul 3-point attempt started the surge. He stepped in the landing path of Paul as he drained a 3-pointer, picking up a flagrant as the Suns legendary point guard twisted his left ankle. It resulted in a four-point play.
Two possessions later, Bridges ripped the ball from Jrue Holiday, springing a fast break. Booker fed Bridges for the finish.
Paul continued to get hot from the 3-point line, hitting two straight — the second one over Bobby Portis to put the Suns up 18 with an 86-68 lead late in the third. In the final minutes, the famed “Deer District” outside the Milwaukee arena was almost emptied out.