Devin Booker added 27 points of his own and Deandre Ayton had a double-double of 22 points and 19 rebounds in Phoenix’s first Finals win since they took Game 5 of the 1993 NBA Finals on June 18, 1993.
The Suns took control of the game midway through the first quarter, led by as much as 20 points in the game, and looked to be in control of the game nearly all the way through.
Here are a few takeaways from the Suns’ big Finals-opening victory.
The Bucks have to drop the drop coverage
Crazy as it may be to say, given the fact this was such a large aspect of how they made the Finals in the first place, but the Bucks can’t go with their traditional drop coverage against this Suns team and this shot chart from Game 1 is why:
What you see here is the combined shot chart of Paul and Booker from Game 1 of the Finals.
Do you notice where most of those green circles are?
Though it might pain analytics proponents, the mid-range game is very much alive and well and, as evidenced by the job Paul and Booker did on Monday, can still be a deadly weapon, if given the opportunity.
Phoneix’s star backcourt absolutely ate up Milwaukee by finding soft spots to take lay-up like mid-range shots for themselves while a Milwaukee big, like Brook Lopez, is on his heels trying to recover back to the basket.
Drop coverage is as simple as it seems. The philosophy behind it is to prevent lay-ups and easy looks at the rim by having players drop back to protect the paint and rim, but by doing that, the entire mid-range areas of the floor are ripe for the picking. Giving mid-range shooters like Booker (40.9 per cent during the post-season from the mid-range) and especially Paul (48.9 per cent during these playoffs), open looks from the mid-range is suicidal for the Bucks.
Milwaukee head coach Mike Budenholzer isn’t known much for making adjustments, let alone ones as big as re-working his team’s defensive system, but this series will be a very short and bitter memory for him and his team unless he switches things up a little to prevent some of those easy mid-range jimmies Paul and Booker got in Game 1.
Suns’ role players just look better
Another major area of concern for the Bucks, that’s out of Budenholzer’s control, is just how much better the Suns’ role players looked compared to the Bucks’.
Though it might be a bit of a stretch to call him a role player now given how well he’s performed during these playoffs, Milwaukee looks to have no answer for Ayton, particularly when he’s rolling to the basket after setting a screen for Paul.
He’s simply too athletic for Lopez and Bobby Portis to have any hope of slowing down, and if you foul him after he catches the lob, he’s proven himself an OK enough free-throw shooter that hacking him won’t get you very far, either.
Additionally, Mikal Bridges was quietly huge for Phoenix in Game 1 as he played great defence, making use of his length to disrupt passing lanes, and he hit timely shots to boot.
As well, it had to be encouraging for Phoenix to see bench sparkplugs Cameron Payne and Cameron Johnson getting buckets in the fourth quarter to finish with 10 points each. If they can get hot for Phoenix during a period of time when the game is more in doubt then that’s just another added layer of offence that the Bucks have to worry about.
Especially because, by comparison, Bucks’ role players like Pat Connaughton and Bryn Forbes just weren’t aggressive enough looking for their shots in Game 1. The kick out that came to them should’ve resulted in more launched threes.
Of course, had Jrue Holiday played better, the poorer performances from the ancillary guys on Milwaukee wouldn’t have stood out as much, but as has been the case for this entire post-season, Holiday has been wildly inconsistent, going from games where he looks like an all-star to others where he’s been a straight scrub. Monday was the latter and the Bucks suffered greatly for it.
At least Giannis looked good
A lot went wrong for the Bucks Monday, but the two biggest questions coming into the start of the championship series were answered emphatically: Will Giannis Antetokounmpo play? And if he does, how well will he look?
The answer to these questions ended up being that the Greek superstar did, in fact, play and he looked alright out there.
There was great concern after Antetokounmpo suffered a hyper-extended knee in Game 4 of the Bucks’ series with the Atlanta Hawks, but he got the start in Game 1 of the Finals and looked to be moving well enough to go out and drop 20 points, collect 17 rebounds, shoot 6-for-11 from the floor and come away with one of the all-time Finals blocks.
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) July 7, 2021
Antetokounmpo did end up picking up five fouls in the game, with three alone coming in the fourth quarter, but other than that there really were no hiccups with his game.
And, oddly enough, the fact Antetokounmpo did pick up that many fouls could be seen as a positive as it’s proof of how engaged he was in the game, not thinking about the injury at all.
Game 1 wasn’t a great Bucks performance, but at least their two-time MVP doesn’t appear to be feeling any negative effects from what was a scary-looking injury.