CHRIS Paul scored 32 points and handed out nine assists while Devin Booker contributed 27 points as the Phoenix Suns leaned on their trusted guard play Tuesday to earn a 118-105 victory over the visiting Milwaukee Bucks in Game 1 of the National Basketball Association (NBA) Finals.
Deandre Ayton had 22 points and 19 rebounds for the Suns, who are playing in their first NBA Finals since 1993. Phoenix has never won an NBA title.
Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo, who returned from a hyperextended left knee, finished with 20 points and 17 rebounds in 35 minutes after missing the last two games of the Eastern Conference finals. Khris Middleton had 29 points for Milwaukee, and Brook Lopez scored 17.
Paul, who was playing in his first Finals game in his 16th NBA season, scored 10 of Phoenix’s 12 points in a 2:35 stretch late in the third quarter to turn a 74-62 Suns lead into an 86-68 advantage.
Paul scored 16 total points in the third as the Suns outscored the Bucks (35-26) to take a 92-76 lead into the final period.
The Bucks cut the deficit to 101-94 on a basket by Antetokounmpo with 7:16 to go before Booker and Paul made back-to-back baskets for the Suns. Milwaukee never got closer than nine the rest of the way.
Appearing inspired by Antetokounmpo’s return, the Bucks took a 20-18 lead with 3:37 remaining in the first quarter. A 3-pointer by Cameron Johnson seven seconds later gave the Suns a 21-20 advantage, and they never trailed again, leading 30-26 at the end of one quarter and 57-49 at half time.
Mikal Bridges ended the night with 14 points while Johnson and Cameron Payne had 10 each for the Suns. Phoenix starting forward Jae Crowder, the only player on either team with NBA Finals experience, scored one point and was 0-for-8 from the field.
Paul and Booker, who led the Suns in scoring during the regular season, were a combined 20 of 40 from the field and 5 of 15 from 3-point range. The Suns shot 32.4 percent (11 of 34) from distance overall while the Bucks were at 44.4 percent (16 of 36).
Jrue Holiday compiled 10 points, nine assists and seven rebounds for the Bucks, who were just 9 of 16 on foul shots. Antetokounmpo was 7 of 12 from the line.
The Suns made 25 of 26 free throws.
The Suns won despite losing backup big man Dario Šarić to a knee injury in the first quarter. Saric entered the night averaging 4.8 points and 2.6 rebounds in 13 playoff games this year. — Reuters