Chris Paul is back in Phoenix with the Suns, and now they try to complete what they started last season. With the return of Paul, Phoenix is running it back and trying to get back to the NBA Finals.
Last season, the Suns lost to the Bucks in 6 in the NBA Finals after blowing a 2-0 series lead.
At 36, Paul signed a four-year, $120 million contract with the Suns this offseason, and according to the 11-time All-Star, returning to Phoenix was an easy decision.
“It was an easy decision, though,” Paul said about returning to Phoenix. “This is close to my family, and this became my family last year. Not only being here in Phoenix was fun basketball-wise, but it was fun as far as life. Being around these guys, those of you that work know that anytime you go to work and you don’t feel like you’re at work and you really get a chance to enjoy what you’re doing, it’s always a nice feeling. So doing that here with the team that we had, the coaching staff, I wanted to come back.”
Obviously, anytime you get to the Finals, the expectation the following season is to get right back there, and Paul was asked about the expectations for the team this season.
“Man, I think our expectations is to come in and start the process over again,” Paul said. “We got to work, day one. It’s not like you come into this season and be like, ‘Alright, playoffs is set. We’re going to start where we were last year.’ No, there’s a lot of things we can get better at, and we want to get better at. And that’s the whole fun part of the season. Getting as far as we did was cool and well, but when we all saw each other, we were basically reminiscing on the process, all the moments that got us there.”
Getting back to the Finals won’t be easy. The Western Conference opened up for Phoenix last season. The Lakers were banged up in the first round, Denver was not healthy in the second round, and the Clippers limped into the Western Conference finals, so things worked out in Phoenix’s favor.
However, the Suns still has a very good basketball team, and they have Paul, Devin Booker, and Deandre Ayton, and in the offseason, they added JaVale McGee, Elfrid Payton, and Landry Shamet.
Will it be enough? Not sure; the Lakers, Nuggets, Clippers, Jazz, and Warriors will be strong this season, so a return to the Finals may not happen for the Suns, but Phoenix will definitely be in the mix.
Watch as Paul talks during Suns’ Media Day:
Chris Paul finally made it to the NBA Finals in Year 16 of his career, but unfortunately for him and the Suns, the season ended without winning an NBA title.
Phoenix fell to the Bucks in Game 6 of the NBA Finals 105-98 at Fiserv Forum on Tuesday and would lose the series 4-2 after having a 2-0 series lead.
No one expected the Suns to get to this point. They missed the playoffs last season but added Chris Paul and Jae Crowder to the mix, and they were able to have the second-best record in the NBA, and ultimately, they made it to the Finals.
Paul, who had 26 points and five assists on Tuesday night, knows this loss will hurt for some time.
“It’s tough,” he said. “Great group of guys, hell of a season, but this one is going to hurt for a while.”
Even though the Suns got to the Finals, which is good, Paul is not satisfied.
“For me, it just means back to work. Back to work. Nothing more, nothing less,” he said. “Ain’t no moral victories or whatnot. We sort of saw what it takes to get there, and hopefully, we see what it takes to get past that…
“Everybody in that locker room knows we had enough, but it wasn’t enough. So, we got to figure it out. I think for me, I just look at myself and figure out how can I get better, what I could have done more, and make sure I come back next season ready to do it again.”
The 11-time All-Star can opt-out of his contract. Paul is scheduled to make $44.2 million next season if he decides to opt-in. No matter what he decides, the 36-year-old point guard says he will play next season.
“I mean, it will take a while to process this or whatnot, but it’s same mentality, get back to work,” he said. “I ain’t retiring… That’s out. So, back to work.”
Phoenix could have a hard time getting back to the Finals. The Lakers, Jazz, Warriors, Clippers(if they re-sign Kawhi Leonard), and Nuggets will be formidable in the Western Conference.
However, the Suns have a star in Devin Booker and a budding star in Deandre Ayton, but Paul was the difference. If he does come back, Phoenix can still contend. If he doesn’t, that’s a big blow for this team. We’ll see what happens in the offseason, but Suns have built a winning culture, and we shall see if they can build on the success they had this season.
After one quarter in Game 5 of the NBA Finals, it appeared the Phoenix Suns would blow out the Milwaukee Bucks. Phoenix led 37-21 after the first quarter and were rolling. However, the Bucks dominated the second and third quarters. Milwaukee outscored the Suns 79-56 in those two quarters, and shot a combined 71.1 percent (32-of-45) while knocking down 10 of their 14 threes.
Phoenix battled back in the fourth quarter, but Milwaukee held on to win Game 5 123-119 at Footprint Center.
The Bucks took a 10-point lead into the fourth quarter, but the Suns cut the lead to 120-119. With 16.9 seconds left in the contest and a chance for Phoenix to take the lead, Jrue Holiday would make the play of the game when he stripped Devin Booker, threw an alley-oop pass to Giannis Antetokounmpo, who dunked the ball and was fouled by Chris Paul. Antetokounmpo would miss the free throw, but Khris Middleton would secure the offensive rebound and make one of two free throws to put the game away.
Holiday, who shot 12-of-20 from the floor and scored 14 of his 27 points in the second quarter and added a game-high 13 assists, was remarkable for Milwaukee on both ends of the court on Saturday night. He is a big reason why Milwaukee is one game away from winning their first NBA title in 50 years.
“Big-time steal,” Antetokounmpo, who had 32 points and nine rebounds in Game 5, said postgame about Holiday’s play on Booker. “Showing a crowd, they didn’t get to the spot, and he came from behind and ripped the ball out. He can go down to the other end and just, you know, go for like a full play, run the clock down. But he trusted me and made an incredible pass, also, for the lob. It was big time. It was a big-time play. It was the winning play of the game.”
Holiday added on the steal on Booker: “I feel like we knew Booker wanted to take that last shot and played great defense on him and made him turn his back, and he turned right into me. I guess I was just in the right place at the right time.”
As the Suns examine Game 5, they will look at the second quarter. Phoenix was outscored 43-24 in that quarter. Booker, who scored a game-high 40 points on Saturday night after scoring 42 in Game 4, talked about the second quarter.
“It was tough,” he said. “We came out and did what we intended to do, get off to a great start, and we let it go. They stayed resilient, and they kept playing through. So, tough loss for us.”
After being up 2-0, the Suns have lost three straight, something they have not done since January. Phoenix has not faced elimination at any point in these playoffs until now. As Suns head coach Monty Williams says, “Everything you want is on the other side of hard.”
So, Phoenix has to find a way in Game 6 in Milwaukee on Tuesday night if they want to keep their season alive.
-With his 40 points on Saturday night, Booker has now scored 582 points this postseason. He joins Dwyane Wade as the only two players in NBA history to score 580-plus points in one postseason while under the age of 25.
-Game 5 marked just the second time in NBA Finals history of consecutive quarters with a scoring margin of at least 15 points (Suns outscored the Bucks 37-21 in the 1st quarter, while Milwaukee outscored Phoenix 43-24).
-The Suns outscored Milwaukee 66-44 in the first and fourth quarters combined.
-Chris Paul turned in his first double-double performance of the Finals, and his fourth of this postseason tonight, scoring 21 points to go along with a team-high 11 assists. Paul knocked down all three of his three-point attempts on the evening.
-Middleton scored 20 of his 29 points in the second half tonight while adding 7 rebounds and 5 assists. Middleton shot 12-of-23 on the night and knocked down 3 of his 8 three-point attempts.
If the Phoenix Suns fall short in the NBA Finals, they might look back at Game 4. Phoenix built a nine-point lead early in the fourth quarter, but Devin Booker, who had a bounce-back game with 42 points after scoring 10 points on Sunday, had to leave with his fifth foul with over 11 minutes left in the fourth.
When Booker returned midway through the fourth, the Suns still had a three-point lead, but Milwaukee’s Khris Middleton turned it on. He scored 14 of his 40 points in the final quarter, including the game-winner with just over a minute left in the contest as Milwaukee defeated Phoenix 109-103 at Fiserv Forum on Wednesday night to tie the series up at 2.
“As far as the fourth quarter, late in the fourth quarter, we just ran sets that allowed me to get to my spots,” Middleton said. “After that, I just got to make reads. Whether to shoot, whether to find an open guy, Giannis(Antetokounmpo) on a roll. It’s just reading the defense at that point. Just luckily, thankfully, I hit some shots.”
Giannis Antetokounmpo added on Middleton: “But that’s what he does down the stretch. We want him to have the ball. We want him to be the decision-maker. We know he’s going to take big shots, and tonight he was incredible.”
It was not all about Middleton in the fourth. With the Bucks up 101–99 late in the game, Antetokounmpo, who had 26 points, 14 rebounds, and eight assists in Game 4, made the defensive play of the game and maybe the series. Booker threw an alley-oop pass to Deandre Ayton, and the first-team all-defensive player made a fantastic block, which saved the game and maybe the series for the Bucks.
“Just a hustle play,” Antetokounmpo said on the block. “I thought I was going to get dunked on, to be honest with you. But you know, going down the stretch, do whatever it takes to win the game. Just put yourself in a position that can win the game. I saw the play coming. I saw that Chris(Devin Booker) was going to throw the lob, and I was just going to jump vertical toward the rim. Hopefully, I can be there in time, and I was there in time and was able to get a good block and go down and get two points. So it was a great hustle play.”
While Booker shined for Phoenix, Chris Paul struggled. He had 10 points(5/13 shooting), seven assists, and five turnovers. The most significant turnover was with 32.4 seconds left and the Suns trailing 101-99. Paul would lose the ball, and ultimately Middleton would put the game away with a layup in transition.
“It was me. I had five of them,” Paul said about the turnovers. “It was bad decision making. That time we were down two, and I tried to cross over right there, slipped, turned it over. I had some bad passes in the first half.”
Game 5 is Saturday night in Phoenix. It’s the best of three at this point. The Suns had an excellent opportunity to win Game 4 and wasted an outstanding performance by Booker, but now they go back to Phoenix and hope to get right. For the Bucks, they have been in an 0-2 hole before and know what it takes to get out of it.
-Antetokounmpo left the game at the 8:29 mark of the first quarter in Game 4. The reason why? He had to “tinkle.”
“How do you guys say politely? I wanted to take a tinkle. A tinkle,” he said. “I wanted to take a tinkle and came back (laughter). That’s polite, right?
-According to Elias Sports, Booker had the most points in Finals history by a player with 10 or fewer points in the previous game.