NBA

NBA Finals 2021: Bucks need Giannis to heat up after Suns race into series lead

By Sports Desk July 08, 2021

An uncharacteristically speedy Phoenix Suns performance left a half-fit Giannis Antetokounmpo and his Milwaukee Bucks chasing shadows in Game 1 of the NBA Finals.

The Suns, who had 98 possessions per game in the regular season (ranking 24th), had 102 possessions on Tuesday as the usually more methodical Chris Paul picked up the pace.

Point guard Paul, 36, was the standout star as he belatedly made his Finals debut, finishing with 32 points and nine rebounds in a 118-105 Phoenix win.

Only Michael Jordan in 1991 had previously tallied 30 or more points and eight or more assists in a first career Finals game.

Even as the Suns attacked apace, Paul's steady hand limited the Western Conference outfit to nine turnovers – of which just two were his – to Milwaukee's 13.

The series is far from over ahead of Thursday's Game 2, but the Bucks need a response and will hope Antetokounmpo, their own elite performer, can provide it.

The 'Greek Freak' recovered from a hyperextended left knee sustained in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals to start the opener in Phoenix and initially impressed.

Antetokounmpo had eight points, five rebounds and two assists in a first quarter in which he played just over eight minutes, but he had only improved to 13 points by the end of the third.

"I wasn't nervous about my knee, I wasn't thinking about my knee," Antetokounmpo said on Wednesday.

"But hopefully, going into Game 2, I can feel more comfortable, more confident of going downhill, making more plays. We'll see. We'll see how it's going to be. Hopefully I can be in a position where I can make more plays."

Although the two-time MVP just about finished with a positive plus/minus, Milwaukee require more from their talisman – especially if the supporting cast continue to fluff their lines.

Khris Middleton had 29 points but five turnovers and just four assists; Jrue Holiday (10 points, eight rebounds, nine assists) was close to one of the most underwhelming triple-doubles in Finals history; Brook Lopez was a defensive liability, his -17 plus/minus a miserable game low.

Antetokounmpo, Middleton and Holiday are on course to become the first trio of team-mates to each average at least 15.0 points, 5.0 rebounds and 5.0 assists in the same postseason, but none of them reached that mark in Game 1.

 

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Milwaukee Bucks – Jrue Holiday

The Bucks gave up two first-round draft picks and two potential pick swaps to get Holiday. With limited assets left, they need this to work. In Game 1, it did not. The All-Defensive First Team selection has been frustratingly inconsistent and his four steals in Game 6 against the Atlanta Hawks were followed by none against the Suns.

As Milwaukee switched on defense, Paul – Holiday's direct opponent at point guard – found joy with 27 points across the second and third quarters combined before the former New Orleans Pelican took matters into his own hands. "I really just saw him being aggressive, so at that point I felt like I wanted to just annoy him, get him off rhythm, make him pass the ball and take tough shots," Holiday said. "That's something we're going to have to make an adjustment to in Game 2."

Phoenix Suns – Deandre Ayton

The Suns have a significant drop-off at center, with Dario Saric tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee in Game 1, meaning Frank Kaminsky may now have to be trusted with playoff minutes. Fortunately, starter Deandre Ayton has shown himself capable of more than making up the deficit during his time on the floor.

A breakout postseason continued against the Bucks as Ayton finished with 22 points and 19 rebounds for a fourth consecutive double-double. It is tough to see how Milwaukee can live with the Phoenix big man, who shot eight-for-10 from the field and made all of his free throws – indeed, the Suns only missed once from the foul line.

Related items

  • Silva glad to be playing his part as Guardiola hails 'extraordinary' midfielder Silva glad to be playing his part as Guardiola hails 'extraordinary' midfielder

    Bernardo Silva is glad to have rediscovered his best form for Manchester City after being hailed as an "extraordinary" player by Pep Guardiola following Saturday's win against Burnley.

    The Portugal international opened the scoring for City in their 2-0 victory at the Etihad Stadium and had other opportunities to double his tally before Kevin De Bruyne sealed the three points.

    He played a game-high three key passes against Burnley from a central position that he has become familiar with this campaign, standing out for the reigning champions in an otherwise disjointed display.

    Silva asked to leave City during the close season due to what he perceived to be an unfair lack of playing time last season, but the 27-year-old is pulling the strings once again this term and is eager to maintain his form.

    "It's tough when you don't play the minutes that you want to," he said. "It happened with me, it's happened with most of the players here. It's how it works. You have to go and fight for your place.

    "I'm happy that I am helping the team and I am happy with the momentum but it's just the beginning."

    Silva has two goals from 10 appearances in all competitions this season and, alongside fellow midfielder Rodri, Guardiola believes the former Monaco man is his side's best-performing player right now.

    "He and Rodri are in the top form. They have both played incredibly well in the last four or five games," Guardiola said. "Bernardo is at the same level as in our second season together when we won 98 points. He was out of this world, the way he played.

    "He always gives us the extra touch, the extra pass we need and he doesn’t lose balls. He scored a goal, which was important for him. The performance of Bernardo has been extraordinary again. 

    "We are incredibly lucky to have him. He is a joy to have with us and is playing in an incredible top level right now."

    Silva's goal against Burnley was his second in eight Premier League appearances against them. He has also assisted five goals in the fixture, making the Clarets his favourite opponents in the competition.

    With their victory over Burnley, City have now kept six clean sheets in their opening eight Premier League games this season – more than any other side.

    "My players always play good because they give everything and they gave it in a difficult game after the international break," Guardiola added.

    "Burnley are organised and you have to adjust and adapt to the way they play. I am so satisfied for the game we played and the victory we got."

  • Benzema deserves Ballon d'Or and time has come to reward Real Madrid star, says Zidane Benzema deserves Ballon d'Or and time has come to reward Real Madrid star, says Zidane

    Karim Benzema deserves to become the first French winner of the Ballon d'Or since Zinedine Zidane – and that verdict comes from Zidane himself.

    Real Madrid striker Benzema, who has taken over the captaincy since Sergio Ramos joined Paris Saint-Germain, is playing the best football of his career as he approaches his 34th birthday in December.

    Zidane has seen that as close quarters, having had two spells as Madrid head coach during Benzema's time at the club.

    Although Zidane left Los Blancos at the end of last season, he is firmly in the Benzema camp when it comes to selecting a Ballon d'Or front-runner.

    Speaking to TF1's Telefoot, Zidane said: "We're talking about a player who deserves to win this Ballon d'Or.

    "He's an incredible player, I had the great honour of coaching him. He knows how to do everything on the pitch. I hope he can be rewarded with this Ballon d'Or. It's the right moment because he's at the top of his game."

    France international Benzema has been Madrid's attacking spearhead since Cristiano Ronaldo departed for Juventus in 2018 and has risen to that challenge.

    He has topped the 20-goal mark in LaLiga in the last three seasons and has nine strikes in eight games so far this term in the Spanish top flight.

    Last season, Benzema's 23 league goals came at an average of one every 126.13 minutes. They also came from an expected goals total of 18.81, indicating he is excelling in taking the chances that come his way.

    His LaLiga shot conversion rate so far in 2021-22 is 26.47 per cent, higher than he has achieved across any full league campaign since arriving in 2009 from Lyon.

    With three LaLiga titles and four Champions League wins in 12 years, Benzema has accrued plenty of silverware while with Los Blancos, much of it during Zidane's time in charge. He also helped France win the Nations League last weekend, scoring a stunning goal against Spain in the final.

    Now, individual acclaim may be coming his way, although Benzema faces stiff competition, with six-time winner Lionel Messi rated a favourite for the Ballon d'Or with British bookmakers, having helped Argentina win the Copa America.

    Benzema recently said it had been a long-held "dream of mine" to win the coveted award.

    Robert Lewandowski's record-breaking 41-goal Bundesliga season last term also puts him firmly into contention, while Jorginho has a strong claim after winning the Champions League with Chelsea and Euro 2020 with Italy.

    The Ballon d'Or winner will be announced on November 29 at a ceremony in Paris.

  • Messi is 'very happy' at PSG, says ex-Barcelona colleague Fabregas Messi is 'very happy' at PSG, says ex-Barcelona colleague Fabregas

    Lionel Messi is "very happy" at Paris Saint-Germain despite making a slow start to life in the French capital since his shock move from Barcelona, according to friend and former team-mate Cesc Fabregas.

    The six-time Ballon d'Or winner signed for Ligue 1 giants PSG in August after Barcelona, the club he had been associated with for 21 years, were unable to fulfil an agreement on a new contract due to financial reasons.

    Messi scored a staggering 672 goals and assisted 265 more in 778 appearances across 17 seasons in Barca's first team, but he has so far managed just one goal and zero assists in five games for his new club in what has been a stop-start campaign.

    He has had 13 shots during his 370 minutes on the field for PSG, finding the target from four of those.

    Monaco midfielder Fabregas has opened up on Messi's surprise departure from Camp Nou two months ago and has refuted previous suggestions that the Argentina international is unsettled in the French capital.

    "He's very happy. There are a lot of players he knows already and who speak Spanish. He's very happy, of course," Fabregas, who progressed through Barca's La Masia academy and returned to the club for a three-season spell in 2011, told Prime Video Sport.

    "I was on holiday with him a week earlier, and he told me he was close to signing for Barcelona and he was due to start training the following week.

    "Five days later, he told me it wasn't possible and that the club had told him to leave. I was very sad because I'm his friend and I'm a Barcelona fan. But now, I'm happy to be able to play against him this season."

    Messi was not included in PSG's squad for Friday's 2-1 win over Angers, the superstar forward not being considered for selection due to being in World Cup qualifying action for Argentina the previous day.

    Kylian Mbappe's contentious late penalty sealed a ninth win in 10 Ligue 1 games for leaders PSG, who return to action on Tuesday with a home match against RB Leipzig in the Champions League.

© 2020 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.