After the Suns’ 118-105 victory over the Bucks on Tuesday night, Devin Booker was asked about Chris Paul’s offensive prowess in his NBA Finals debut. The All-Star point guard scored 32 points in Game 1 on 12 of 19 shooting from the field, giving him 73 points in his last two games. That is tied for the most of the points Paul has scored in a two-game span of his NBA career.
Who was this scoring machine? And what had he done with one of the best point guards in basketball history?
MORE: Best Highlights from Game 1 of the NBA Finals
“Chris Paul, it’s been a bucket, man,” Booker said. “I mean, obviously he involves his team. He’s the greatest leader to play this game. But it’s been a bucket for a long time. And my six years playing him, or five years playing him, you understand that. scouting report saying Chris Paul can’t get a bucket. “
The truth is, there is no scouting report with a secret plan to truly stop Paul. Even on a high-scoring night, he dished out nine assists, the team’s most. Still thriving in the year 16, the future Hall of Famer has seen all kinds of defenses and knows how to dissect everything that comes his way.
Unfortunately for Mike Budenholzer and the Bucks, they learned that lesson the hard way in their opening loss of the series.
Suns vs. Bucks: Defense Change
Milwaukee began switching screens with Paul, appearing to be content to live with mismatches whenever he saw a body in front of him. Once Paul knew that was the strategy, he started looking for the weak link.
In this case, it was Brook Lopez.
And in this case, it was López again.
And in this case. . . if you understand.
“I think I could have done a better job of trusting my teammates more and trying to get them to put the ball on the floor more,” Lopez said. “But he hit tough shots. That’s what he does. That’s what he’s done his entire career and he did it tonight.”
But López was not the only great man to find himself in an awkward situation. Paul also attacked Bobby Portis, who was beaten on dribbling for a layup and a triple late in the third quarter.
When the Bucks deployed a small ball lineup in the second half, Paul remained patient and found his preferred target. Take a step forward, Pat Connaughton.
“We have to punish teams for going from one to five like that,” Booker said. “As I just heard Chris say, we prepare for any type of defense and we watch a lot of basketball, and where we’ve been most successful in that situation is the space outside. So every time he shoots, we think he’s coming in.”
Suns vs. Bucks: Fallen Defense
So what happened when Milwaukee decided to leave Lopez back instead of pushing him to screen level? Well, that didn’t work out very well either.
On the next play, Paul has room to penetrate the paint, draw in two defenders, and find Deandre Ayton for an easy bucket.
When Lopez continued to back away, Paul kept his dribble alive and got to his place. It’s not a bad contest here from PJ Tucker, but Paul has been doing this kind of shooting for a long time.
“His pick-and-roll game is tough to defend,” Budenholzer said. “I think we have to keep getting better. We have to keep watching the movie and see how we can take some of the rhythm out of him, or make him not get into his places so easily. That will be a big problem.” part of looking between Game 1 and Game 2. “
Suns vs. Bucks: Pressure Defense
Hey, what about picking up Paul near the middle of the court and forcing him to ditch the ball? Jrue Holiday tried to apply pressure in the fourth quarter, but Paul overlooked it and found Booker for an open triple.
And when Giannis Antetokounmpo tried to take over Paul’s assignment in transition, Paul hit him in the middle of the court, braked and scored the float plus the foul.
How will the Bucks adjust before Game 2?
It wouldn’t be a surprise to see Budenholzer beat Holiday to Paul for most of Game 2 because he’s clearly the Bucks’ best defensive option. Staying attached to Paul through multiple detection actions is no easy task, but Holiday (and the other Milwaukee guards) must be better at the point of attack.
This play is a good example of Holiday fighting for the top of a screen instead of accepting an easy change.
The Bucks may also lean more on small-ball groups with Antetokounmpo operating as the center. However, Budenholzer’s rotation isn’t deep enough to simply eliminate Lopez’s minutes, and that would be an overreaction after one game. Lopez has been an important member of this team all season and can still be effective despite his limitations.
However, when it comes down to it, sometimes you don’t have to stump the kid who walks into the classroom with all the answers.
“We do this very often, and we’ve seen almost every coverage you could see, so it’s second nature,” Paul said. “I think our coaches, the way they prepared us from training camp day after day, it seems repetitive to some, but for us it is necessary.”