Phoenix—Chris Paul was matter-of-fact after his triumphant performance Tuesday in his NBA Finals debut, largely because his championship goal remains incomplete.
The 36-year-old guard, finally making the championship showdown in his 16th NBA campaign, scored 32 points and passed off nine assists in Phoenix’s 118-105 victory over Milwaukee to grab the lead in the best-of-seven affair.
“I’m grateful for where I am now and happy to have this opportunity,” Paul said. “I’m just so locked into the game, staying in the moment. That’s just one win. I’m just focused on the task at hand.”
Paul, who has seen the second-most games of any NBA player before making his finals debut, had been doubted as too old and past his prime, the Suns being his fourth team in five years.
But beware thinking his best days are done. He partnered with Devin Booker and molded 22-year-old Bahamas big man Deandre Ayton and suddenly, the Suns are in their first NBA Finals since 1993 in quest of their first crown.
“Just know he’s ready,” Suns forward Mikal Bridges sais. “He has prepared his whole life for this moment and it shows out there on the court.
“Puts in a lot of hard work and sacrifice and takes care of his body. You know he really wants to be here.”
Paul scored 16 points in the third quarter. When the Bucks closed within seven points, he made a steal, a hoop and an assist on an Ayton dunk to snuff out the threat, lifting his game in clutch moments to deliver victory.
“We know he can do this every game,” Bridges said. “Happy he did it in game one and helped us get this win. We’re going to need him for the next one.”
Booker, who had 27 points, has seen 11-time NBA All-Star Paul become the leader the Suns needed since his arrival in a November trade from Oklahoma City.
“Anybody that counted Chris Paul out, I mean… he’s walking in the Hall of Fame first ballot,” Booker said. “You can’t ever count any guy out that has done the things he’s done on the court.
“He moves this team, he leads this team daily. Just having him in the locker room, I’m not even talking about anything he does on the court, he takes the team to that next level.”
His deadly accuracy with mid-range jump shots hasn’t hurt either.
“He gets his team involved. He’s the greatest leader to play for this game. But he’s been a bucket (maker) for a very long time.”
Paul, for instance, was watching European football and ice hockey and seeing new ideas to apply to his team.
“I’m watching that like, ‘Damn, how do they know to pass it there?’” Paul said. “And they probably think the same thing with us. But we do this so often, so it’s second nature.
“One thing we’re going to be is prepared.”
Suns coach Monty Williams says when Paul gets going as he did in the third quarter, he tries to just give him room for a maestro effort.
“When it’s going like that, you just want to space the floor well and let him orchestrate,” Williams said. “He was making shots and when he’s in that mode, we just feed off that. It just happens.”
It’s how Paul produces 41 and 32 points in back-to-back games.
“He just understands how to score the ball, but he also understands where everybody else is on the floor,” Williams said. “He’s one of those rare guys that can see the floor and knows where all five guys should be.”