The Phoenix Suns soared to a 115-105 victory as LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers were condemned to back-to-back defeats to start the 2021-22 NBA season.

Chris Paul fuelled the Suns with 23 points and 14 rebounds in Los Angeles, where the Lakers were no match for last season's NBA Finals participants and fell to 0-2.

Paul became the first player in NBA history with 20,000 points and 10,000 assists.

Devin Booker (22 points) and Mikal Bridges (21 points) also impressed for the Suns, while double-doubles from Anthony Davis (22 points and 14 rebounds) and Russell Westbrook (15 points and 11 rebounds) were not enough for the Lakers.

James finished with 25 points in front of the likes of Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Justin Bieber at Staples Center.

The Lakers' woes were compounded by a row between team-mates Davis and Dwight Howard on the bench during the second quarter as the pair had to be separated.

 

 

Durant's Nets spoil 76ers' opener

The Philadelphia 76ers looked in control and on track for victory but they were upstaged 114-109 by Eastern Conference rivals the Brooklyn Nets. Kevin Durant posted a triple-double of 29 points, 15 rebounds and 12 assists as the Nets used a 16-1 run to stun the 76ers in their first home game of the season in Philadelphia. James Harden had 20 points, while LaMarcus Aldridge added 23 points off the bench on 10-of-12 shooting. Seth Curry made all four of this three-pointers to finish with 23 points, the same amount as 76ers team-mate Tobias Harris.

Reigning MVP Nikola Jokic showed why he was crowned the league's best player last season, scoring 32 points, collecting 16 rebounds and supplying seven assists in a 102-96 win against the San Antonio Spurs. It was his eighth 30/15/5 game, doubling the rest of the Nuggets franchise history combined.

The Chicago Bulls' new-look team improved to 2-0 thanks to a 128-112 triumph over the New Orleans Pelicans. Lonzo Ball inspired the win behind his triple-double (17 points, 10 assists and 10 rebounds), while Zach LaVine (32 points) and DeMar DeRozan (26 points) also came up big.

The Utah Jazz stayed unbeaten courtesy of dominant displays from All-Star duo Donovan Mitchell (27 points) and Rudy Gobert (17 points and 20 assists) in the 110-101 road win at the Sacramento Kings.

Myles turner joined James, Harden, Durant, DeMarcus Cousins, Vince Carter and Tracy McGrady as the only players in NBA history to score 40 points, 10 rebounds, five three-pointers and three blocks in a game. The Indiana Pacers still lost 135-134 to the Washington Wizards in overtime.

 

Celtics lose again

The Boston Celtics were booed off the court at half-time and throughout the second half in their 115-83 defeat against the Toronto Raptors. Jaylen Brown was three-for-13 shooting for nine points and five turnovers, while Marcus Smart ended the game scoreless on 0-for-six shooting in 29 minutes as the Celtics fell to 0-2.

Chris Paul and Kawhi Leonard are expected to decline player options for next season ahead of the NBA free agency period opening on Monday, but the veteran stars may stay with their teams.

After leading the Phoenix Suns to the NBA Finals, Paul will not exercise his $44million option for the 2021-22 season, The Athletic reported. ESPN added that the Suns are optimistic they will be able to re-sign the 36-year-old. 

Yahoo Sports first reported Leonard would decline his $36m option with the Los Angeles Clippers and become an unrestricted free agent, but ESPN reports he is expected to remain with the Clippers on a new deal after suffering a season-ending knee injury during the playoffs. 

Even if they end up staying where they are, those two will be the two biggest names on the open market beginning on Monday, but others figure to be available in trades. 

Kyle Lowry of the Toronto Raptors may top that list as he is expected to move on from Toronto. ESPN reported that the Miami Heat's move to pick up Goran Dragic's $19.4m team option might have been designed to facilitate a sign-and-trade deal for Lowry. 

Ben Simmons also could be on the move from the Philadelphia 76ers, but Bradley Beal now seems set to stay with the Washington Wizards after they sent Russell Westbrook to the Los Angeles Lakers in a draft-night trade. 

Phoenix Suns guard Chris Paul insists he is not retiring and is determined to go one better after losing the NBA Finals with a 105-98 Game 6 defeat to the Milwaukee Bucks on Tuesday.

Paul, 36, made his maiden NBA Finals appearance in his 16th season in the competition but missed out on the ultimate glory, as the Suns let slip a 2-0 series lead.

The veteran was visibly devastated at the defeat but vowed to return to the NBA Finals having waited so long for his shot at the title.

"It'll take a while to process this," Paul said at the post-game news conference. "Same mentality, get back to work. I ain't retiring. Back to work."

The Bucks became only the fifth side in NBA Finals history to come back from 2-0 down to take the title.

Scores had been level through three quarters in Game 6, but Paul acknowledged the Bucks were better down the stretch, offering lessons for his side.

"Right now, you've just got to try to figure out what you could've done more," he said.

"It's tough. Great group of guys, hell of a season but this one is going to hurt for a while."

Phoenix's run to the postseason snapped an 11-year playoff wait, while they had not made the NBA Finals since 1993, but Paul took little comfort in that.

"For me, it means back to work. Nothing more, nothing less," he said. "There ain't no moral victories.

"We saw what it takes to get there. Hopefully we saw what it takes to get past that."

Suns team-mate Devin Booker scored 19 points on eight-for-22 shooting in Game 6.

The 24-year-old had an outstanding season but was not able to perform at his best consistently throughout the Finals.

"This isn't something you want to feel," Booker said. "I haven't felt hurt like this in my life.

"That's what I say, we have a base and a foundation. Championship basketball at all times."

Suns head coach Monty Williams, who entered the Bucks locker room to congratulate them on their victory, fought back tears at his news conference.

"I think it's going to take me a minute. I just don’t take it for granted," he said. "It's hard to get here. I wanted it so bad. It's hard to process right now. it's hard."

The Suns, who were founded in 1968, are still chasing their first NBA title in franchise history.

Giannis Antetokounmpo has produced a performance for the ages to lead the Milwaukee Bucks to their first NBA title since 1971 after a 105-98 win over the Phoenix Suns on Tuesday.

The Greek forward scored 50 points with 14 rebounds and five blocks in a monster Game 6 performance, including a 20-point third quarter after the Suns charged back in the second.

Antetokounmpo's haul was his third 40-plus-point display in the NBA Finals, while he reached 20 points in a quarter for the second time in the series, which is a feat which had not been achieved since Michael Jordan in 1993.

The 26-year-old, who shook off his demons to be exceptional from the free-throw line with 17-from-19, also becomes only the seventh player in the history of NBA Finals to have a 50-point game.

It came as no surprise as Antetokounmpo was named MVP of the NBA Finals after a heroic series. His achievement is more remarkable given he overcame injury after he hyperextended his knee in the Conference Finals.

Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday were subdued early in Game 6, with Antetokounmpo ably taking the lead role. Middleton came through with some key late buckets, finishing with 17 points, while Holiday had 12 points, nine rebounds and 11 assists.

Veteran Suns guard Chris Paul scored 26 points with five assists, while Devin Booker's shooting radar was off, with 19 points at 36.4 per cent from the field.

Antetokounmpo was the lead act as the Bucks ended their half-century wait for an NBA title, helping Milwaukee get off to a flying start with a 29-16 opening quarter at the Fiserv Forum.

Bobby Portis provided early support with 10 points as Holiday struggled for offensive impact, before the Suns responded with an 8-0 second-quarter run to lead 47-42 at half-time.

Phoenix led by as much as seven points early in the third quarter but Antetokounmpo was at the forefront of the Bucks' response, with a memorable 20-point period.

The Suns got as close as four points with less than 90 seconds remaining after Jae Crowder's pair of free-throws, but Middleton's jumper followed by a duo from the stripe sealed victory for the Bucks.

The Milwaukee Bucks can clinch a first NBA title since 1971 with victory over the Phoenix Suns in Game 6 of the Finals on Tuesday, with Giannis Antetokounmpo preaching the importance of a team-first approach and staying in the moment.

Having fallen 2-0 behind in the series with back-to-back defeats in Phoenix, the Bucks are on the cusp of glory having reeled off three successive wins.

Milwaukee clinched a dramatic Game 5 triumph in Phoenix on Saturday, Jrue Holiday combining with Antetokounmpo for the defining play late in the fourth quarter as he stole the ball from Devin Booker and then lofted a pass for the two-time MVP to send down a thunderous dunk.

That has set the stage for the Bucks to end their 50-year wait in front of their home fans, but Antetokounmpo is not focusing on the potential celebrations should the Bucks close out the series.

"It's going to be amazing. Hopefully we can focus what we got to do and be in the present, compete as much as possible, play good basketball and be the team that wins at the end," said Antetokounmpo 

"Hopefully we can enjoy it with our family and with the fans and they can enjoy it also. I feel like it's something that you can feel the excitement in the city. The last time we were in the NBA Finals was 1974.

"It's been a while. I'm happy that the fans are enjoying it. There's 20,000 people in the arena, 25,000 people outside the arena. But we got to focus. We got to do our job. Then they can do their job celebrating at the end. But we got to do our job first.

"So we got to be in the present as much as possible. I can't focus on celebrating. I can't focus on that right now because I feel like you get too ahead of yourself. We got to focus. I got to focus right now, and then when the game comes tomorrow, focus on each possession at a time, a possession at a time.

"As I said, play good basketball, compete as hard as possible and put ourselves in a position to be able to win that game. That's all can you ask for. Hopefully we win.

"If we win, great. If we don't, we have one more chance. But if we win, it would be nice to celebrate with the fans inside and outside and with our families, because this is something historical that is happening in the city right now."

While Antetokounmpo is averaging a double-double in the series with 32.2 points and 13 rebounds, Holiday and Khris Middleton have each played a pivotal role for the Bucks.

The Bucks have scored 344 points in the Finals when that trio have been on the court, with images of Antetokounmpo leaning on Holiday or Middleton a frequent feature of this series.

 

Asked if he has improved at making it a "we not me" journey, Antetokounmpo replied: "Have to. Everybody is a part of this process. I don't think there's been anybody that has gone through this process by himself and go all the way and win the NBA championship.

"We have to do it together. I need Khris to be great, I need Jrue to be great, I need Bobby [Portis], all of those guys to be great.

"I'm tired. I look next to me, Khris is tired and Jrue is tired or whatever the case might be. It's like they're my brothers. That's when you want to hug them, put your arm around them and, like, we got this, we got this together, we got to keep doing this together until the end."

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Milwaukee Bucks – Jrue Holiday 

All the focus will be on Antetokounmpo but, as he proved in Game 5, Holiday is just as key to the Bucks' hopes.

He is averaging a series-high nine assists per game in the Finals, and his influence on Antetokounmpo is clear.

Antetokounmpo is averaging 41.1 points per 100 possessions with Holiday on the court in the Finals, compared to 38.2 when he is off the floor.

The Finals' top facilitator and top scorer must each be at their best to ensure the Bucks are celebrating come the final buzzer.

Phoenix Suns - Chris Paul

Paul had a double-double in Game 5 with 21 points and 11 assists, but there is evidence to suggest his influence has waned over the course of the series.

He had a plus/minus of -6 on Saturday, the third consecutive game he has finished in the negative column in that regard.

If the Suns are to keep their hopes of a first title alive, they may need a repeat of his 32-point showing from Game 1. 

In search of his first championship in his 16th NBA season, Chris Paul has written a mantra on his shoes throughout the playoffs. 

"Can't give up now" has become a rallying cry for Phoenix Suns fans and the sentiment has never been more appropriate than it is now. 

Tuesday's Game 6 of the NBA Finals against the Milwaukee Bucks will be the Suns' 22nd playoff game this season, and it will be the first in which they have faced elimination. 

"It's for real," Paul told reporters Monday. "It's no looking back now. We got to come out, be ready to play and it's either win or go home.

"Coach [Monty Williams] has said all season long, everything you want is on the other side of hard, and it doesn't get any harder than this.

"So we know that this is a must-win game for us. Nothing more than that. Now we got to hoop."

The Suns have done just that throughout their playoff run, winning nine in a row across three series at one point. 

They have now dropped three straight games for only the second time this season, the other skid coming in late January. 

Despite those setbacks after taking a 2-0 series lead, multiple Phoenix players spoke Monday about embracing the challenge. 

Suns forward Jae Crowder was in the same position as a member of the Miami Heat last season, and although they lost Game 6 and the Finals to the Los Angeles Lakers, he will take what he remembers from that disappointment into Tuesday's game. 

"As a player, it brings out a sense of desperation," he said. "It brings out a sense of urgency. It brings a sense of collectiveness within your group, knowing what you're battling and knowing what you're going up against.

"I just feel like you have to continue to fight each and every position. You have to take it a possession at a time. It's a dogfight. I've been on both sides of it. I've tried to close out teams and I know how hard it is.

"It's just a sense of desperation on our end, a sense of just collectively get the job done by any means, have a positive mindset and just have a mindset of just get the job done by any means necessary, and that's each and every possession, just giving it your all, selling out each and every possession for your team and for your team-mates."

With no margin for error, the Suns remain appreciative of the opportunity they have, particularly on the heels of a 34-39 campaign in 2019-20. 

"It's definitely exciting," said Paul. "Something that Coach and everybody has been saying: If you went to the beginning of the season and said we had a chance to be where we are right now, would you take it? Absolutely. Absolutely.

"And we get a chance to determine the outcome. It's not like the game is going to be simulated or somebody else got to play. We get a chance. We control our own destiny."

The Phoenix Suns will be grateful to be back home as they attempt to respond when hosting the Milwaukee Bucks in Game 5 of the NBA Finals on Saturday.

Phoenix had headed out on the road holding a commanding 2-0 cushion after a pair of impressive wins in front of their own fans, increasing the belief that this could be the year the franchise finally secures a first ever title.

However, the trip to Milwaukee did not pan out as hoped. Back-to-back defeats have put the best-of-seven series level at 2-2, with the Bucks now aiming to stop the Suns – and their bench in particular – rising to the occasion upon a return to familiar surroundings.

"It's always tough winning on the road in this league – it's always tough winning, period. But them especially, they really, really feed off the crowd and get going," Bucks big man Bobby Portis told the media.

"All their supporting cast play well at home, so we've got to try to limit them as much as we can.

"Obviously, it's going to be a hostile environment, but that’s what we play this game for. That’s why we work so hard in the offseason, during the season. This is why we sacrifice so much – to be in this position to lift the Larry O'Brien Trophy. I think everybody is locked in."

The key to the comeback for the Bucks has not just been about playing at home, though.

Phoenix had an offensive rating of 119.8 over the opening two games yet dipped to 104.6 across successive losses to a Milwaukee team determined to make a greater impact on defense.

Chris Paul had a combined 55 points in the Suns' wins but was stifled during the away trip. The veteran point guard managed just 10 points in Game 4, yet he insists experience has helped him quickly forget about such outings.

"In this league, when you play long enough – and I feel like I’ve played for at least a little while – you have to have a short memory. You can't dwell on it, win or lose," Paul said on Friday.

"You can win by 20 or lose by 20, you then start back at zero-zero and go from there. That's always been the mindset."

The Suns did lose by 20 in Game 3, before going down by just six points last time out. Their cause was not helped by shooting 30.4 per cent from deep in that most recent defeat, a statistic that needs to be a temporary blip rather than a set-in trend if they are to wrestle back the advantage, particularly when facing a Bucks team used to going the distance in these playoffs.

 

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Phoenix Suns - Mikal Bridges 

As Portis mentioned, the Suns were able to get contributions from a number of role players during the meetings in Phoenix. Bridges certainly played his part, too, scoring 41 combined points, including 27 in Game 2 as he played for over 37 minutes.

However, he struggled to have anywhere near the same impact on the road, taking just eight shots in total as he mustered 11 points. Phoenix needs him to get more heavily involved again in the offense again, particularly when it comes to outside shooting.

Milwaukee Bucks – Giannis Antetokounmpo

Who else, right? Antetokounmpo had 26 points and 14 rebounds in Game 4, yet his biggest play was the astonishing block on Deandre Ayton as the Suns center attempted a dunk.

The Bucks finished that contest shooting at a mere 40.2 per cent, in comparison to Phoenix's average of 51.3 per cent. Taking 29 free-throws (the Suns had 19) helped mask the deficit, but Milwaukee will be aware they must do better from the field, having landed just seven of their 29 three-point attempts on Wednesday.

Phoenix Suns head coach Monty Williams is bullish that Chris Paul will respond in Saturday's Game 5 after an uncharacteristic display with five turnovers in Game 4's defeat to the Milwaukee Bucks.

The Bucks squared up the NBA Finals at 2-2 with Wednesday's 109-103 win over the Suns, with Williams ruing his side's 17 turnovers which led to 24 Milwaukee points.

Paul was guilty of five turnovers, including a crucial late error allowing Khris Middleton to score as the Bucks raced away in the final quarter after trailing by six points at three-quarter time.

The 36-year-old Suns guard also only managed 10 points for the game, shooting at 38.5 per cent from the field and failing to hit one three-pointer but Williams backed him to respond in Game 5 back in Arizona.

"A blip on the screen, that's how I would term it," Williams told the pre-game news conference. "You're not going to see Chris having those kinds of games frequently.

"I've been around long enough and coached against him long enough. I'd term it a blip on the radar."

He added: "There's not a person in our locker room that's not expecting to not come out and play really well the next game."

Williams added that Paul, who has battled hand and shoulder injuries during the postseason, was fine physically and fully focused.

"I just see Chris being Chris," Williams siad. "He's always intentional about everything, he's focused.

"I find myself struggling when I can't help him. That's what we've talked about the last couple of days.

"Chris is fine. He's focused. He's all about winning. The conversations are all about basketball right now. We know what's in front of us."

Paul has averaged 18.7 points per game and 8.6 assists per game this postseason, shooting at 48.5 per cent from the field.

Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker was sensational with 42 points in Game 4 of the NBA Finals, but he said his performance "doesn’t matter at all" as his team lost.

The Milwaukee Bucks squared up the series at 2-2 with Wednesday's 109-103 win over the Suns.

Booker had scored 18 points in the third quarter to earn Phoenix a six-point lead heading into the final chapter, but the Bucks responded with an impressive 33-21 last-quarter charge.

The 24-year-old had a poor shooting display in Game 3 with 10 points, shooting at 21.4 per cent from the field.

But Booker's 38 points across the first three quarters in Game 4 was tied for the second most at that stage of a game in the NBA Finals across the last 25 years, behind only Stephen Curry (40) in 2019 and level with Allen Iverson in 2001.

Booker also surpassed Rick Barry (521) and Julius Erving (518) for most points scored in a player's first NBA playoffs campaign.

"It doesn't matter at all," Booker said at the post-game media conference when asked about his individual performance.

"I said that after last game too when I struggled shooting it. The main objective is to win the game. Anything that goes on throughout the game it doesn’t matter, for real."

Booker's team-mate Chris Paul had five turnovers for the game as the Suns offered up 17 as a team, which head coach Monty Williams identified as a chief reason for the defeat.

Paul took a back seat to Booker but was below his best, finishing with only 10 points, shooting at 38.5 per cent from the field and missing both of his two three-point attempts.

Williams insisted 36-year-old Paul, who has had injury troubles throughout these playoffs, was not hampered.

"He's fine," the Suns head coach said. "Great players have games like that. We expect him to bounce back.

"He had five [turnovers], but we had 17 and they scored 24 points [from turnovers]. That was pretty much the game right there, when you double that up with the offensive rebounding.

"It wasn’t just Chris. We've got to take better care of the ball."

Williams added that he knew Booker was ready to respond in Game 4 after his ordinary shooting display in the previous outing.

"When he can stop on a dime and get guys up on the air, he has his legs underneath him, it's something I see in the shootaround," he said. "I can see when he's got his legs."

The NBA Finals returns to Arizona for Game 5 on Saturday.

Paul added: "You can't just bank on the fact you've got home court. You've got to go out and play the game and execute. We'll do that.

"We tend to respond well. we know what we've got to do. Be better."

The Phoenix Suns received a "tough lesson" in Game 3 of the NBA Finals against the Milwaukee Bucks, but head coach Monty Williams expects his players to bounce back from the defeat.

Having won the opening two games of the best-of-seven series in Phoenix, the Suns went down 120-100 to a determined Milwaukee team on Sunday. 

Giannis Antetokounmpo posted 41 points - making him the first player to reach 40 in back-to-back outings in the NBA Finals since LeBron James in 2016 - but it was far from a one-man show for the Bucks, as four other players also reached double digits.

Williams had warned his team to expect a backlash from their opponents, whose aggressive approach - Milwaukee had 13 offensive rebounds and attempted 26 free throws - helped spark life into the battle to decide the identity of this season's NBA champions.

"There's a lot of ways you can spin it, but they played with a great deal of aggression for longer stretches than we did," Williams told the media.

"We knew it was coming. We did not respond to it well tonight, especially in the second and third quarters.

"The turnovers certainly hurt us, points in the paint, everything we have been talking about the whole series. So it was a tough lesson for us to learn.

"You know what was coming, but just didn't do enough consistently to withstand their attacking the paint, whether it was penetration, offensive rebounding.

"We gave them so many possessions, so we lost a shot and then they scored off of it. It was a double whammy."

He added: "I think we know that we have to play with an unreal amount of aggression and energy for 48 minutes. That's the deal. All of our guys know that we didn't.

"We have had this happen to us before in the playoffs, and so I expect our guys to bounce back."

Chris Paul had 19 points for Phoenix and Deandre Ayton contributed 18 before running into foul trouble, restricting the center to just 24 minutes of action. Without him, Phoenix struggled to get defensive stops.

"He's a big part of our team, especially he's the anchor of our defense," Paul, who also had nine assists but landed just one of his four three-point attempts, said about Ayton.

"I feel like any team would love for him not to be on court offensively and defensively. So, yeah, we got to protect him better and make sure that we're showing that wall."

It was not just Paul who struggled from long range for the Suns, with the visiting team making just nine of their 31 attempts from beyond the arc for a success rate of 29 per cent.

The Suns had not trailed by more than seven at the half in the playoffs prior to Game 3, when the deficit stood at 15 following a dominant second quarter by the Bucks.

Game 4 takes place in Milwaukee on Wednesday.

"I said after last game, this team is not going to give in," Suns guard Devin Booker told the media.

"They're going to keep playing all the way through, so we have to bring that same effort that we had in the first two games and I think we'll be in good shape."

Giannis Antetokounmpo's 41-point outing saw the Milwaukee Bucks to an important 120-100 win over the Phoenix Suns in Game 3 of the NBA Finals.

With the Bucks trailing 2-0, they needed a response at home at Fiserv Forum and Antetokounmpo helped them deliver.

Antetokounmpo finished with 41 points on 14-of-23 shooting, along with 13 rebounds and six assists.

He was the first player to score 40-plus points in back-to-back NBA Finals games since LeBron James in 2016.

The dominant win halved the Suns' series lead ahead of Game 4 in Milwaukee on Wednesday.

Jrue Holiday (21), Khris Middleton (18), Brook Lopez (11) and Bobby Portis (11) also had double digits in points for the Bucks.

Milwaukee put together powerful runs to finish the second and third quarters which set up their win.

They went 16-3 to finish the first half and 16-0 to end the third quarter.

The 15-point deficit marked the first time in these playoffs the Suns had trailed by more than seven at half-time.

Phoenix were unable to get much going as Chris Paul finished with 19 points, while Devin Booker was three-of-14 from the field for his 10 points.

Cam Johnson had 14 points off the bench for the Suns, including a huge dunk in the third quarter.

Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker says his side will revert back to a "0-0 mindset" despite taking a 2-0 lead in the NBA Finals with a 118-108 Game 2 win over the Milwaukee Bucks on Thursday.

Booker starred with 31 points, including seven three-pointers, along with five rebounds and six assists in the victory.

Three of Booker's three-pointers were in the final quarter when the Bucks closed within five points.

The victory means the Suns become the 36th side to take a 2-0 lead in the NBA Finals, with 31 of those previous 35 sides going on to lift the title.

Booker was not getting carried away as the series moves to Milwaukee for Game 3 on Saturday.

"It's a 0-0 mindset going into Game 3," Booker said post-game. "It's a Game 7 for us. Every game is a Game 7 at this stage of the season.

"We're locked in. We know it gets rowdy there in Milwaukee but we're ready for it."

Booker brushed off any individual plaudits at the post-game news conference, nor praise for keeping his cool with his fourth-quarter shooting.

"It's just team basketball," Booker said. "A few of them were open. We prepare for these moments. Nobody is running from any action or any moment.

"It's not just me, setting my man up Deandre [Ayton]. Setting a screen from Chris [Paul] to get me open, it's all a collective group.

"That's why I feel we've been successful for most of the year."

All five Phoenix starters finished with points in double digits, with Paul having 23 points as well as eight assists. Mikal Bridges had a personal playoffs high of 27 points.

The Suns' depth will be tested with Torrey Craig going down injured in the third quarter with a right knee contusion, with Dario Saric already ruled out of the NBA Finals after tearing his ACL in Game 1.

Booker played 44 minutes before sitting out the closing stages with the Suns in a strong position.

"Just preserving my body," he said. "I felt like we had it in a good place. We believe in our team. Two days to get right, then we're back in Milwaukee."

Booker won special praise from Paul, who has offered him a license to shoot.

"[He's] big time. He's trained and work his whole life for these moments," Paul said. "Our team all season long, you put the work in, they get the results. When Book's shooting, I expect it to go in, I get mad at him when he doesn’t shoot."

The Phoenix Suns have shot their way to a 2-0 lead in the NBA Finals with a 118-108 Game 2 victory over the Milwaukee Bucks on Thursday.

The Suns drained 20 three-pointers, including eight in the first quarter, shooting at 50 per cent from beyond the arc on their way to victory, headlined by young guard Devin Booker with 31 points, five rebounds and six assists.

Booker hit seven-from-12 three-point attempts, while veteran Chris Paul scored three three-pointers in his 23 points for the game, along with eight assists.

Mikal Bridges scored a personal playoffs-high 27 points, while Deandre Ayton was slightly subdued in the paint, finishing with 10 points and 11 rebounds.

Giannis Antetokounmpo, in his second game back from his knee hyperextension, was heroic for the Bucks with 42 points including a massive third period but could not inspire his side to victory.

The Greek forward shot at 68.2 per cent from the field, but only hit one from five beyond the arc. He also had 12 rebounds, three blocks and four assists.

But Antetokounmpo lacked support, with Khris Middleton struggling with 11 points shooting at 31.3 per cent from the field. Jrue Holiday managed 17 points but only shot seven from 21 from the field.

The Bucks started strong in the first quarter, scoring 20-0 in the paint and leading by as much as nine points, before Phoenix hit back with a 30-16 second quarter to open up an 11-point half-time lead.

Antetokounmpo scored 20 points in the third quarter to keep Milwaukee in the hunt, trailing by 10 points at the final change. The Greek's 20 was the most in an NBA Finals quarter since Michael Jordan's 22 against the Suns in 1993.

The Bucks got within five points in the last but the Suns always had the answers when challenged, with Booker and Paul knocking down crucial final quarter threes.

Booker was benched late, in order to preserve his body after playing 44 minutes, after Phoenix lost another player Torrey Craig to injury, to join Dario Saric on the sidelines after the Croatian tore his ACL in Game 1.

An uncharacteristically speedy Phoenix Suns performance left a half-fit Giannis Antetokounmpo and his Milwaukee Bucks chasing shadows in Game 1 of the NBA Finals.

The Suns, who had 98 possessions per game in the regular season (ranking 24th), had 102 possessions on Tuesday as the usually more methodical Chris Paul picked up the pace.

Point guard Paul, 36, was the standout star as he belatedly made his Finals debut, finishing with 32 points and nine rebounds in a 118-105 Phoenix win.

Only Michael Jordan in 1991 had previously tallied 30 or more points and eight or more assists in a first career Finals game.

Even as the Suns attacked apace, Paul's steady hand limited the Western Conference outfit to nine turnovers – of which just two were his – to Milwaukee's 13.

The series is far from over ahead of Thursday's Game 2, but the Bucks need a response and will hope Antetokounmpo, their own elite performer, can provide it.

The 'Greek Freak' recovered from a hyperextended left knee sustained in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals to start the opener in Phoenix and initially impressed.

Antetokounmpo had eight points, five rebounds and two assists in a first quarter in which he played just over eight minutes, but he had only improved to 13 points by the end of the third.

"I wasn't nervous about my knee, I wasn't thinking about my knee," Antetokounmpo said on Wednesday.

"But hopefully, going into Game 2, I can feel more comfortable, more confident of going downhill, making more plays. We'll see. We'll see how it's going to be. Hopefully I can be in a position where I can make more plays."

Although the two-time MVP just about finished with a positive plus/minus, Milwaukee require more from their talisman – especially if the supporting cast continue to fluff their lines.

Khris Middleton had 29 points but five turnovers and just four assists; Jrue Holiday (10 points, eight rebounds, nine assists) was close to one of the most underwhelming triple-doubles in Finals history; Brook Lopez was a defensive liability, his -17 plus/minus a miserable game low.

Antetokounmpo, Middleton and Holiday are on course to become the first trio of team-mates to each average at least 15.0 points, 5.0 rebounds and 5.0 assists in the same postseason, but none of them reached that mark in Game 1.

 

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Milwaukee Bucks – Jrue Holiday

The Bucks gave up two first-round draft picks and two potential pick swaps to get Holiday. With limited assets left, they need this to work. In Game 1, it did not. The All-Defensive First Team selection has been frustratingly inconsistent and his four steals in Game 6 against the Atlanta Hawks were followed by none against the Suns.

As Milwaukee switched on defense, Paul – Holiday's direct opponent at point guard – found joy with 27 points across the second and third quarters combined before the former New Orleans Pelican took matters into his own hands. "I really just saw him being aggressive, so at that point I felt like I wanted to just annoy him, get him off rhythm, make him pass the ball and take tough shots," Holiday said. "That's something we're going to have to make an adjustment to in Game 2."

Phoenix Suns – Deandre Ayton

The Suns have a significant drop-off at center, with Dario Saric tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee in Game 1, meaning Frank Kaminsky may now have to be trusted with playoff minutes. Fortunately, starter Deandre Ayton has shown himself capable of more than making up the deficit during his time on the floor.

A breakout postseason continued against the Bucks as Ayton finished with 22 points and 19 rebounds for a fourth consecutive double-double. It is tough to see how Milwaukee can live with the Phoenix big man, who shot eight-for-10 from the field and made all of his free throws – indeed, the Suns only missed once from the foul line.

The Phoenix Suns have revealed forward Dario Saric tore the ACL in his right knee in Game 1 of the NBA Finals and is out indefinitely.

The Croatian's knee buckled in the first quarter of Tuesday's 118-105 win over the Milwaukee Bucks, as he drove on Bucks center Brook Lopez.

Saric did not return to the court and the Suns did not provide an update on his condition post-game.

Phoenix have since confirmed Saric's diagnosis, ruling him out indefinitely with a torn ACL.

"It's just one of those situations that literally breaks your heart," Suns coach Monty Williams said on Wednesday.

"Dario is a guy that I've been with twice. I coached him in Philly, and to get a chance to be with him here, he's what Suns basketball is about. Hard worker, unbelievable guy, and he was so looking forward to playing in these Finals.

"And to play a few minutes and have that kind of injury, it was a tough thing to hear this morning."

Saric, who has been used as a back-up center to Deandre Ayton this postseason, averaged 8.7 points and 3.8 rebounds in the 2020-21 NBA season. The 27-year-old has seen action in each of the Suns' past 11 games.

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