Chris Paul, Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton led the way as the Phoenix Suns defeated the Milwaukee Bucks 118-105 in Game 1 of the NBA Finals.

The Bucks welcomed back superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo from a knee injury after the two-time MVP had been sidelined since Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals, missing the final two contests of that series.

However, Antetokounmpo's presence on the floor and double-double was not enough as the Suns – eyeing a first championship – drew first blood in the Finals opener on Tuesday.

Paul – making the first Finals appearance of his stellar career – posted 32 points, nine assists and four three-pointers, while Booker added 27 points of his own as Ayton finished with 22 points and 19 rebounds at home.

Veteran Paul became the third player ever aged 36 or older to score 30-plus points in a Finals game, after Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Tim Duncan.

It was Ayton's 12th double-double in his first playoff series, second most in the franchise's postseason history – only Charles Barkley has more (22 in four playoffs).

Meanwhile, the Suns – who used a 35-27 third quarter to move clear – were almost impeccable from the free-throw line, missing just one of their 26 attempts.

The Bucks had been outscoring teams by 12.1 points per game in the paint this postseason, but they only edged the Suns 44-42 in Tuesday's encounter.

Antetokounmpo had 20 points, 17 rebounds, four assists and two blocks for the Bucks, who are eyeing their first championship since 1971, while Khris Middleton registered a team-high 29 points.

 

Bucks at Suns

The Bucks and Suns will do it all again in Thursday's Game 2 at Phoenix Suns Arena.

Both the Phoenix Suns and the Milwaukee Bucks have had to wait a while to get back to the NBA Finals.

Milwaukee have not made it this far since 1974, when a team containing Oscar Robertson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar lost out to the Boston Celtics in Game 7.

The Bucks had been champions three years earlier, but Phoenix have never been crowned. The franchise fell at the last hurdle in both 1976 and 1993, when their campaign ended in a 4-2 series defeat to Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls.

So, will it be third time lucky for the Suns, or can the Bucks reign once again?

Ahead of the best-of-seven battle getting underway, Stats Perform looks at the players who have risen to the occasion during the playoffs this year for both franchises, as well as a candidate from each who could make a greater impact.

MILWAUKEE BUCKS

Khris Middleton

Milwaukee made it out of the Eastern Conference despite being without Giannis Antetokounmpo for the end of the series against the Atlanta Hawks. His hyperextended knee remains the biggest talking point ahead of Game 1 on Tuesday, but at least his colleagues have demonstrated they can prosper without him.

Middleton certainly stepped up. After 26 points in Game 5 at home, he followed up with 32 on the road in Atlanta to help his team seal a 4-2 series triumph. The two-time All-Star lifted his playoff average to 23.4 points per game, in comparison to 20.4 during the regular season. He has also upped his rebounds (8.0 from 6.0) and is landing 2.6 three-pointers per outing.

Brook Lopez

While not perhaps too surprising for a center, Lopez came up big for the Bucks in Game 5 last week. His 33-point haul saw him successful with 77.8 per cent of his shots, as well as deliver four blocks and two steals. He is the only NBA player to reach all of those numbers in a playoff game since blocks and steals became official stats in 1973-74 (Milwaukee's last trip to the NBA Finals, of course).

Lopez's extended minutes helped the 10th overall pick in the 2008 draft rise to 13.5 points per game in these playoffs (he finished at 12.3 in the regular season), as well as seeing him claim a greater number of rebounds (6.0 per game). His upcoming battle with Deandre Ayton should be fascinating, too, as they both aim to make a sizeable impact.

Bryn Forbes

A useful contributor on the roster, Forbes averaged 10.0 points while shooting 45.2 per cent from deep during a regular season that saw the Bucks finish as the third seeds in the East, behind the Philadelphia 76ers and the Brooklyn Nets, who they then knocked out in the second round of the playoffs.

However, the guard – who previously played for the San Antonio Spurs after going undrafted – has not had the same impact in limited opportunities of late, landing 30 of his 80 attempts from deep for a shooting percentage of 37.5 from beyond the arc. Forbes twice had 22-point outings during the first-round series against the Miami Heat, but he has reached double figures in just two outings since.

PHOENIX SUNS

Deandre Ayton

It has been quite the first playoff experience for Deandre Ayton, the center selected by the Suns with the top pick in 2018. His dramatic dunk in the last second to beat the Los Angeles Clippers in Game 2 will be replayed for years to come, as he slammed the ball in from an inbound pass right at the death to clinch victory.

Ayton heads into the Milwaukee series on a 10-game streak of reaching double figures for points, while he had double-double outings in four of the six games against the Clippers. He averaged 10.5 rebounds in the regular season but has raised the bar in the postseason, going up to 11.8 per outing.

Chris Paul

Devin Booker leads the way in terms of scoring for the Suns – he is averaging 27.0 points a game in the postseason – but Paul is unquestionably the leader of this Phoenix team. The veteran point guard finally gets to play in an NBA Finals at the age of 36. Father Time is not slowing him down, though health and safety protocols amid the coronavirus pandemic did briefly pause his efforts.

However, the 11-time All-Star made up for lost time after missing the opening two games of the Clippers series, scoring a combined total of 96 points in the next four outings, including 41 in Game 6 as Phoenix were crowned in the West.

Dario Saric

Saric played a part in helping the Suns rise to the top of the conference in the regular season, finishing it with an average of 8.7 points per game. The Croatian's impact on the offensive end has been reduced since, as have his minutes. Having attempted 342 shots prior to the playoffs, he has managed just 44 in his past 13 outings, while he did not feature at all in three games.

Yet the need to give valuable rest to Ayton – and the possibility of Giannis returning at some stage during the series – could increase the need to play Saric, who is averaging 4.8 points and 2.6 rebounds per game in the postseason so far.

Bobby Portis revelled in his hero status with the Milwaukee Bucks fans after helping the franchise to the brink of the NBA Finals.

Milwaukee made light of two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo's absence with a hyperextended knee by beating the Atlanta Hawks 123-112 in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals.

It gives the Bucks a 3-2 lead and leaves them one victory away from a shot at their first championship since 1971.

Portis joined Milwaukee last offseason and has quickly established an affinity with a fanbase who chanted his name raucously as he racked up 22 points in 36 minutes on Thursday.

"Milwaukee's a tough city. We were meeting with some people at the start of the season in January and February," Portis told reporters afterwards. "They were telling us about the city, how tough it is to live here and things like that.

"The city goes through a lot. When they see someone who works hard and gives his all… it's a blue-collar city and I'm a blue-collar player.

"When I'm making shots, whether they're going in or not, I still give my all to the team, give 100 per cent for the name on the front of the jersey.

"They love players like that and it's just fun to go out and play this game with home court advantage and get them involved.

"Giannis went down and we had to step up. I didn't play the last couple of games. I kept working and knew my time was going to come. If you do things the right way, things always come around."

There were no shortage of players stepping up in the required fashion.

Brook Lopez amassed a playoff career-high 33 points for the third-seeded Bucks, while Khris Middleton weighed in with 26 points, 13 rebounds and eight assists.

Jrue Holiday also managed a double-double of 25 points and 13 rebounds, and former Chicago Bulls and Washington Wizards forward Portis is delighted to be in such company after being released by the New York Knicks.

"Coming here was the best decision of my career," he said. "Having good veterans like Giannis and Brook to coach me up on how to be a two-way player.

"Guys like Khris and Jrue, who are unselfish and put the ball in hole for me to shoot my shots. And having coaches like coach Bud [Mike Budenholzer] and all the coaching staff who believe in me."

Portis added: "I've finally found peace. I'm at peace with my life, at peace with myself and everything around me.

"The pandemic helped me find out more about myself. Being at home for nine or 10 months straight, watching guys on TV play in the bubble and not being able to go there really hurt. But I got a chance to really work on my game and that helped me prepare for the moment."

Bobby Portis revelled in his hero status with the Milwaukee Bucks fans after helping the franchise to the brink of the NBA Finals.

Milwaukee made light of two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo's absence with a hyperextended knee by beating the Atlanta Hawks 123-112 in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals.

It gives the Bucks a 3-2 lead and leaves them one victory away from a shot at their first championship since 1971.

Portis joined Milwaukee last offseason and has quickly established an affinity with a fanbase who chanted his name raucously as he racked up 22 points in 36 minutes on Thursday.

"Milwaukee's a tough city. We were meeting with some people at the start of the season in January and February," Portis told reporters afterwards. "They were telling us about the city, how tough it is to live here and things like that.

"The city goes through a lot. When they see someone who works hard and gives his all… it's a blue-collar city and I'm a blue-collar player.

"When I'm making shots, whether they're going in or not, I still give my all to the team, give 100 per cent for the name on the front of the jersey.

"They love players like that and it's just fun to go out and play this game with home court advantage and get them involved.

"Giannis went down and we had to step up. I didn't play the last couple of games. I kept working and knew my time was going to come. If you do things the right way, things always come around."

There were no shortage of players stepping up in the required fashion.

Brook Lopez amassed a playoff career-high 33 points for the third-seeded Bucks, while Khris Middleton weighed in with 26 points, 13 rebounds and eight assists.

Jrue Holiday also managed a double-double of 25 points and 13 rebounds, and former Chicago Bulls and Washington Wizards forward Portis is delighted to be in such company after being released by the New York Knicks.

"Coming here was the best decision of my career," he said. "Having good veterans like Giannis and Brook to coach me up on how to be a two-way player.

"Guys like Khris and Jrue, who are unselfish and put the ball in hole for me to shoot my shots. And having coaches like coach Bud [Mike Budenholzer] and all the coaching staff who believe in me."

Portis added: "I've finally found peace. I'm at peace with my life, at peace with myself and everything around me.

"The pandemic helped me find out more about myself. Being at home for nine or 10 months straight, watching guys on TV play in the bubble and not being able to go there really hurt. But I got a chance to really work on my game and that helped me prepare for the moment."

The Milwaukee Bucks are on the cusp of the NBA Finals after Brook Lopez spearheaded a 123-112 win over the Atlanta Hawks in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals.

Milwaukee – eyeing their first championship since 1971 – were without superstar and two-time NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo due to a hyperextended knee on Thursday.

But Lopez helped pick up the slack, stepping up with a playoff career-high 33 points as the third-seeded Bucks claimed a 3-2 series lead to move within one win of the NBA Finals.

Entering the contest, the Bucks were 1-8 in Game 5 when a series was tied 2-2 since 2000, according to Stats Perform. Their lone win over that time came against Atlanta in 2010, but the Hawks came back to win the series in seven.

But Milwaukee's starters flexed their muscles in the absence of Antetokounmpo at home to the fifth-seeded Hawks.

The Bucks were 9-0 this postseason when Khris Middleton shot at least 40 percent from the floor, compared to 1-5 when he does not, prior to Game 5.

Bucks star Middleton posted 26 points, 13 rebounds and eight assists to help Milwaukee move a step closer to their first NBA Finals appearance since 1973-74.

Jrue Holiday also had a double-double of 25 points and 13 rebounds as Bobby Portis contributed 22 points of his own for the Bucks, who used a 36-22 opening quarter to surge clear and never look back.

The Hawks were without star guard Trae Young (foot) once again and they were unable to see off the Bucks.

Bogdan Bogdanovic led the Hawks with 28 points, while John Collins (19), Daniel Gallinari (19) and Lou Williams (17) were the only other players to reach double-digit points.

 

Bucks at Hawks

The Bucks can close out the series away to the Hawks on Saturday as the Phoenix Suns await in the NBA Finals.

Giannis Antetokounmpo felt the Milwaukee Bucks were "locked in" from the start after recording a fourth successive win over the Philadelphia 76ers.

The Bucks scored 77 points in the first half before holding off a 76ers fightback to triumph 124-117 in a battle between two of the leading contenders in the Eastern Conference.

Antetokounmpo led the way with 27 points, though the two-time NBA MVP had plenty of help from his colleagues. Khris Middleton had 24 points while Bobby Portis contributed 23 off the bench.

Milwaukee landed 20 of their 40 three-point attempts as a team, though Antetokounmpo was just as impressed with their efforts when not in possession of the ball.

"Guys were finding open guys, getting downhill, knocking down shots. Everybody set the tone from the start," Antetokounmpo told the media.

"From the start, you could see that everyone was locked in. Defensively also, we really seemed locked in.

"Offensively, we found one another and knocked down shots."

Joel Embiid had 24 points for the 76ers, though he landed just nine of his 21 shot attempts - including going 0-for-4 from three-point range.

Antetokounmpo praised the work done by Milwaukee center Brook Lopez when going up against Embiid, with the Bucks happy to let the MVP candidate take jump shots rather than work closer to the basket.

"Embiid is a great player, he's been playing well all season long," Antetokounmpo said.

"You've got to live with that jump shot. You don't want to send him to the free-throw line and you don't want him to get downhill, with his right hook, and get an easy lay-up.

"The gameplan was good - he was going to shoot his jump shot all night. If he makes it all night? Great. But if you don't make it, it's good for us.

"Brook did a great job on him, but he [Embiid] is a great player too."

Philadelphia head coach Doc Rivers felt his team - still without Ben Simmons due to an unspecified illness - paid the price for a slow start, insisting his team were "soft" defensively to allow Milwaukee to open up a commanding lead.

The 76ers hit back as they held their opponents to just 16 points in the fourth quarter, though in the end the gap proved just too big.

"Everybody seemed fatigued, not just Joel, I would love to say Joel played better than most of our guys tonight," Rivers said.

"I just felt like we were late on everything. We were soft tonight defensively. That first quarter, they get every shot they wanted. We didn't offer any resistance."

Andre Drummond struggled to describe a gruesome toenail injury without laughing after the Los Angeles Lakers lost another star player.

LeBron James (ankle) and Anthony Davis (calf) both remain on the sidelines, meaning the signing of Drummond - bought out by the Cleveland Cavaliers - came as a big boost to the defending NBA champions.

But the center, playing for the first time since February 12, lasted just 14 minutes in a 112-97 debut defeat to the Milwaukee Bucks on Wednesday.

Drummond was stepped on by Brook Lopez in the first quarter, he later revealed, and eventually succumbed to the injury in the second half after taking his sock off to assess the damage.

"In the first quarter when I came out, Brook stepped on my foot and I didn't really think anything of it," the two-time All-Star said.

"I came back in the second quarter and it was hurting a little bit more. After halftime, I finally took my sock off to look and my whole toenail was gone. It was all bad from there. I couldn't walk or run so I told coach to take me out."

X-rays returned negative results, meaning Drummond should avoid a lengthy lay-off, but the player was not entirely sure how to manage the injury.

He said: "What do you do for a toe? I don't know. I'm not really sure what to do. I'm just going to talk to the training staff and find out what's the best thing to do to get back as quick as possible.

"I've lost a toenail before, but this one was very painful.

"You see me looking down at it because I can't even put shoes on. I have flip-flops on right now. It's very, very painful."

Despite his limited minutes, Drummond showed what the Lakers might be able to expect when he can return to the court.

The 27-year-old had four points, two assists, a rebound and a block.

He also missed two free throws - Drummond's career percentage of 46.6 per cent is the worst of all players to attempt 1,000 or more - but felt he had a positive impact overall.

"If you saw the first couple of minutes of the game that I was out there, just the energy defensively that I brought, it kind of boosted everybody on both ends of the court," Drummond said, although his plus/minus was negative eight.

"It's just unfortunate to have this happen to me in my first game. It was a little deflating for me.

"But my head is high, I'm going to take it day by day and come back better than ever."

Coach Frank Vogel, eager not to mull on more fitness problems as the Lakers fell to 30-18, added: "We've got a 'next man up' mentality with this group.

"Obviously we were all excited to see Dre in a Lakers uniform and it didn't play out as long as we wanted."

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