Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker says his side will revert back to a "0-0 mindset" despite taking a 2-0 lead in the NBA Finals with a 118-108 Game 2 win over the Milwaukee Bucks on Thursday.

Booker starred with 31 points, including seven three-pointers, along with five rebounds and six assists in the victory.

Three of Booker's three-pointers were in the final quarter when the Bucks closed within five points.

The victory means the Suns become the 36th side to take a 2-0 lead in the NBA Finals, with 31 of those previous 35 sides going on to lift the title.

Booker was not getting carried away as the series moves to Milwaukee for Game 3 on Saturday.

"It's a 0-0 mindset going into Game 3," Booker said post-game. "It's a Game 7 for us. Every game is a Game 7 at this stage of the season.

"We're locked in. We know it gets rowdy there in Milwaukee but we're ready for it."

Booker brushed off any individual plaudits at the post-game news conference, nor praise for keeping his cool with his fourth-quarter shooting.

"It's just team basketball," Booker said. "A few of them were open. We prepare for these moments. Nobody is running from any action or any moment.

"It's not just me, setting my man up Deandre [Ayton]. Setting a screen from Chris [Paul] to get me open, it's all a collective group.

"That's why I feel we've been successful for most of the year."

All five Phoenix starters finished with points in double digits, with Paul having 23 points as well as eight assists. Mikal Bridges had a personal playoffs high of 27 points.

The Suns' depth will be tested with Torrey Craig going down injured in the third quarter with a right knee contusion, with Dario Saric already ruled out of the NBA Finals after tearing his ACL in Game 1.

Booker played 44 minutes before sitting out the closing stages with the Suns in a strong position.

"Just preserving my body," he said. "I felt like we had it in a good place. We believe in our team. Two days to get right, then we're back in Milwaukee."

Booker won special praise from Paul, who has offered him a license to shoot.

"[He's] big time. He's trained and work his whole life for these moments," Paul said. "Our team all season long, you put the work in, they get the results. When Book's shooting, I expect it to go in, I get mad at him when he doesn’t shoot."

The Phoenix Suns have shot their way to a 2-0 lead in the NBA Finals with a 118-108 Game 2 victory over the Milwaukee Bucks on Thursday.

The Suns drained 20 three-pointers, including eight in the first quarter, shooting at 50 per cent from beyond the arc on their way to victory, headlined by young guard Devin Booker with 31 points, five rebounds and six assists.

Booker hit seven-from-12 three-point attempts, while veteran Chris Paul scored three three-pointers in his 23 points for the game, along with eight assists.

Mikal Bridges scored a personal playoffs-high 27 points, while Deandre Ayton was slightly subdued in the paint, finishing with 10 points and 11 rebounds.

Giannis Antetokounmpo, in his second game back from his knee hyperextension, was heroic for the Bucks with 42 points including a massive third period but could not inspire his side to victory.

The Greek forward shot at 68.2 per cent from the field, but only hit one from five beyond the arc. He also had 12 rebounds, three blocks and four assists.

But Antetokounmpo lacked support, with Khris Middleton struggling with 11 points shooting at 31.3 per cent from the field. Jrue Holiday managed 17 points but only shot seven from 21 from the field.

The Bucks started strong in the first quarter, scoring 20-0 in the paint and leading by as much as nine points, before Phoenix hit back with a 30-16 second quarter to open up an 11-point half-time lead.

Antetokounmpo scored 20 points in the third quarter to keep Milwaukee in the hunt, trailing by 10 points at the final change. The Greek's 20 was the most in an NBA Finals quarter since Michael Jordan's 22 against the Suns in 1993.

The Bucks got within five points in the last but the Suns always had the answers when challenged, with Booker and Paul knocking down crucial final quarter threes.

Booker was benched late, in order to preserve his body after playing 44 minutes, after Phoenix lost another player Torrey Craig to injury, to join Dario Saric on the sidelines after the Croatian tore his ACL in Game 1.

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.

The Phoenix Suns have revealed forward Dario Saric tore the ACL in his right knee in Game 1 of the NBA Finals and is out indefinitely.

The Croatian's knee buckled in the first quarter of Tuesday's 118-105 win over the Milwaukee Bucks, as he drove on Bucks center Brook Lopez.

Saric did not return to the court and the Suns did not provide an update on his condition post-game.

Phoenix have since confirmed Saric's diagnosis, ruling him out indefinitely with a torn ACL.

"It's just one of those situations that literally breaks your heart," Suns coach Monty Williams said on Wednesday.

"Dario is a guy that I've been with twice. I coached him in Philly, and to get a chance to be with him here, he's what Suns basketball is about. Hard worker, unbelievable guy, and he was so looking forward to playing in these Finals.

"And to play a few minutes and have that kind of injury, it was a tough thing to hear this morning."

Saric, who has been used as a back-up center to Deandre Ayton this postseason, averaged 8.7 points and 3.8 rebounds in the 2020-21 NBA season. The 27-year-old has seen action in each of the Suns' past 11 games.

Chris Paul called the tune in Game 1 of the NBA Finals on Tuesday, with the Phoenix Suns point guard orchestrating a 118-105 triumph over the Milwaukee Bucks.

Making his first finals appearance in year 16 of his stellar career, Paul led the way for the Suns with 32 points as they capitalised on home advantage to take an early lead in the best-of-seven series.

Devin Booker contributed 27 and Deandre Ayton produced yet another playoff double-double, the center collecting 19 rebounds to go alongside his 22-point haul.

However, in a contest that saw Giannis Antetokounmpo make his return from injury for the Bucks, it was Paul who stole the show - including making six of his seven attempts in a third-quarter push.

"When it's going like that, you just want to space the floor well and let him orchestrate," Suns head coach Monty Williams said about Paul's third-quarter performance, which also included a trio of successful three-pointers.

"I thought he was making the right plays. They were switching a ton, and we have to offer that space and play faster if he gets off of the ball.

"But he was making shots and when he's in that mode, we just feed off of that.

"I don't have a marker or a segment in the game where I'm like, here he goes. It just happens. Our guys feed off of those moments in the game."

The Suns - back in the NBA Finals for the first time since 1993 - had benefited from some extra rest ahead of the series, having clinched the Western Conference title with a 4-2 triumph over the Los Angeles Clippers at the end of June.

In contrast, the Bucks' battle with the Atlanta Hawks only came to a conclusion on Saturday.

"It's the formula for any team. You want to win every game, but especially the first game it gives you a level of confidence," Williams told the media. 

"Our starts over the course of the playoffs, when we start well, it tends to build confidence for our team.

"I think about Game 5 against the Clippers when we had that below-average start. We were digging ourselves out of a hole. And it wasn't just the offense. It was just having the energy and the juice that we typically play with. So I do think it's important.

"I think our guys understand that and we need to do it every time we step on the floor."

Back in action after hurting his left knee in Game 4 against the Hawks, Antetokounmpo had 20 points and 17 rebounds for Milwaukee in a losing cause. 

Khris Middleton led the way for the Bucks with 29 points, but for a third straight series Mike Budenholzer's team have lost Game 1.

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.

Giannis Antetokounmpo's left knee is the major talking point as the Milwaukee Bucks prepare to potentially play Game 1 of the NBA Finals against the Phoenix Suns without the two-time MVP.

Antetokounmpo was hurt after attempting to make a block during the third quarter of Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Atlanta Hawks, a contest his team lost to leave the series level at 2-2.

The diagnosis was confirmed as a hyperextended knee, forcing the Greek to watch on from the sidelines. Such a blow could easily have derailed Milwaukee at a key time in the postseason, but instead they shared the burden of covering for their superstar, finding a way to win two games on the spin and emerge from the East.

Bucks head coach Mike Budenholzer declared Antetokounmpo to be making "good progress" on Monday, though he is listed as doubtful for the series opener in Phoenix.

Without him this season, the Bucks have shot 40.3 per cent from deep, compared to 37.0 per cent when he has played. They also saw a rise in steals (9.4 compared to 7.8 with him), albeit in a small sample size. And while the numbers may suggest his absence is not a huge issue, the presence of the 26-year-old undoubtedly makes them a tougher proposition for the Suns to deal with.

The last time Milwaukee made it this far in the playoffs, the legendary Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was on the roster. Back in 1974 they lost in seven to the Boston Celtics, though they had at least been crowned champions three years earlier.

In contrast, the Suns have never won a title. Their most recent of two finals appearances came in 1993, when Michael Jordan scuppered the hopes of Charles Barkley and the rest of the Phoenix roster.

They had not even made it to the playoffs since 2009-10 before this season, yet have beaten both teams from Los Angeles – in the process ending the Lakers' hopes of repeating – and also swept aside the Denver Nuggets.

While their opponents were fighting hard to overcome the Hawks, Phoenix were able to rest up. They have not played since clinching the Western Conference crown on June 30, a welcome break during an arduous season that, despite the continued impact of the coronavirus pandemic, is heading towards a thrilling conclusion.

 

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Milwaukee Bucks - Khris Middleton

With Giannis ruled out, Middleton stepped up for Milwaukee. The two-time All-Star had 58 combined points as the Bucks won back-to-back games against Atlanta.

His Game 6 performance included 23 points in the third quarter alone, helping make sure Milwaukee made it through to the finals for the first time in 47 years, Middleton has been inconsistent at times with his shooting, though he also come up big to help his team rally from the brink to oust the Brooklyn Nets.

Phoenix Suns - Chris Paul

Paul finally gets his long-awaited chance to appear in an NBA Finals, 16 years into his outstanding career. His signing by the Suns was a masterstroke in roster management, providing the old head to help guide young talents like Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton.

The veteran point guard has averaged 18.1 points per game in this postseason and is shooting 40.5 per cent on three-point attempts, his highest success rate from beyond the arc since the 2015 playoffs, back when he was a member of the Clippers. Phoenix is his third team since then, but can they help him secure that elusive ring at last?

Two years ago, the Phoenix Suns compiled the second-worst record in franchise history behind only the 1968-69 expansion team.

A year later, they were the darling of the NBA's restart – going a perfect 8-0 at the Walt Disney Complex in Florida amid the coronavirus pandemic, yet still missing out on the playoffs.

And now, a mere 11 months later, they are just four wins away from capturing the franchise's first NBA title.

Led by a future Hall of Famer running the point, a dynamic scorer and one of the most explosive young bigs in the league, Phoenix have the chance to join the 2007-08 Boston Celtics and last season's Los Angeles Lakers as the only teams in the last 40 years to win the NBA title after missing the playoffs in the previous season.

The last stage of their incredible turnaround begins at home to the Milwaukee Bucks in Game 1 of the NBA Finals on Tuesday.

The Suns reached their first NBA Finals since losing to Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls in 1993 after dispatching defending champions the Lakers in five games in the first round, sweeping the Denver Nuggets in the Western Conference semi-finals and ousting the Los Angeles Clippers in six in the Conference Finals.

All of those teams were a bit banged-up – the Lakers without Anthony Davis, the Nuggets minus Jamal Murray and a Kawhi Leonard-less Clippers squad – but the Suns themselves had to overcome their own setbacks. Chris Paul injured his shoulder against the Lakers and then missed two games following a positive COVID-19 test, Devin Booker played through a broken nose and Cameron Johnson was sidelined with an illness.

Despite their issues, Phoenix have taken care of business against the league's best just like it did all season – their .711 winning percentage (27-11) against teams .500 or better in the regular season ranked first in the NBA – with an offense running through Paul and Booker.

In the Finals for the first time in his 16-year-career, the 36-year-old Paul is one of the most captivating storylines of this series and with good reason – he is playing with a rejuvenated fervour and is the engine that runs Phoenix's high-powered offense.

Paul has tallied at least 15 points and five assists in each of his last eight games – the longest streak by any player 36 years or older in postseason history – and he punctuated the Suns' Finals berth with a playoff career-high-tying 41 points on seven-of-eight shooting on three-pointers and eight assists in last Wednesday's 130-103 Game 6 win over the Clippers. It marked just the fourth time in playoff history a player had 40 or more points with at least seven three-pointers while shooting 80 per cent or better from three-point range. (Booker had one in Phoenix's ouster against the Lakers on June 3 and Paul had another one for the Houston Rockets in 2018.)

Although he got hot from three-point range the last time the Suns took the court, inside the perimeter has been Paul, as well as Booker's, calling card this season.

Paul and Booker were first and second in mid-range field goals made in the regular season with 211 and 188, respectively, as Phoenix shot a league-leading 47.2 per cent from mid-range.

Including the postseason, Paul is shooting 50.4 per cent on baseline jumpers (60 of 119) and 52.2 per cent on shots from the elbow (194 of 372), while Booker is shooting 47.6 per cent (81 of 170) and 47.5 per cent (154 of 324) on such shots. Paul's 163 made hoops from the elbow in the regular season were the most in the NBA, while Booker ranked third with 119.

The mid-range game has somewhat fallen by the wayside as teams focus more on the increased weight of the three-pointer, and although Phoenix is finding success from mid-range, they have not forgotten about the importance of the three.

While 19.1 per cent of the Suns' shots in the regular season were from mid-range compared to the league average of 13.6 per cent, Phoenix's 39.2 per cent of shots from three-point range was the exact league average. The Suns attempted fewer shots in the paint – 41.7 per cent compared to the NBA average of 47.2 per cent – but when they do feed the ball down low, they are converting baskets at a higher rate than anyone.

Including the postseason, Phoenix are shooting 60.3 per cent in the paint and 65.9 per cent in the restricted area – both ranking first in the league.

Deandre Ayton has been the driving force behind the Suns' proficiency in the paint and has upped his game in the playoffs.

After shooting 75.2 per cent from the restricted area in the regular season to rank sixth in the league (min. 150 FGA) and 68.3 per cent in the paint to rank ninth (200 FGA), the 22-year-old is shooting 79.4 per cent in the restricted area (85 of 107) and 74.7 per cent in the paint (112 of 150) in the playoffs.

The top pick of the 2018 draft put together a phenomenal series against the Clippers, highlighted by an alley-oop dunk at the buzzer in an exhilarating 114-113 win in Game 2. Ayton averaged 17.8 points and 13.7 rebounds while shooting 69.3 per cent to become just the fourth player since 1983-84 to average at least 17 points and 13 rebounds while shooting 65 per cent or better in a single postseason series.

Johnson was also instrumental to Phoenix's success against the Clippers and is fit to play in the Finals after missing Wednesday's closeout win with a non-COVID illness.

After averaging 6.7 points on 37.8 per cent shooting and 41.2 per cent from beyond the arc (14 of 34) in the first two rounds, Johnson averaged 10.8 points on 70.0 per cent shooting and 52.9 per cent on three-pointers (9 of 17) in the Clippers series.

While Johnson finally found his shooting touch in the last round to help the Suns advance, much of their success this postseason hinges on shoulders of veteran three-point specialist Jae Crowder.

Phoenix are 7-0 in the playoffs when Crowder scores at least 10 points and 5-4 when he fails to reach double figures. His scoring success boils down to how well he is shooting from deep, as he is knocking down 51.9 per cent of his three-pointers (27 of 52) in those seven double-digit scoring games compared to just 21.6 per cent (11 of 51) in those other nine contests.

He has been a bit more effective from the corner in the playoffs, shooting 48.1 per cent from there (13 of 27) after making 38.8 per cent of his corner threes in the regular season (40 of 103). Booker, meanwhile, has been steady from the corner all season, connecting on 51.2 per cent of his 41 attempts from there.

Cameron Payne was one of the league's most effective shooters on wing three-pointers during the regular season, connecting on 46.2 per cent of his 119 shots – the third-highest field goal percentage in the NBA among those with at least 100 attempts. He has not been quite as deadly in the postseason, shooting 38.1 per cent on his 42 shots from the wing, but Paul has been more accurate from there since the playoffs began, shooting 51.9 per cent (14 of 27) after shooting 37.4 per cent from the wing in the regular season (58 of 155).

Although Phoenix's strength all season has been their high-powered offense – their 114.9 offensive rating in the regular season was tied with the Portland Trail Blazers for fourth – the Suns are proving they are able to grind out wins in the playoffs even when their offense is not firing on all cylinders. Phoenix are averaging 108.9 points in the playoffs – down 6.4 points from their regular-season average – but are 4-4 when scoring 105 or fewer after going 3-9 in such games in the regular season.

Behind Paul, Booker and company, the Suns have come a long way in a relatively short amount of time, joining the 2007-08 Celtics as the only teams in the last 40 seasons to go from having one of the NBA's two worst records to one of its two best in a two-year span. In fact, over the past five seasons from 2015-16 to 2019-20, Phoenix's .302 winning percentage was the worst in the NBA.

Their run to the playoffs was unprecedented – their 51-21 regular-season record was the best in NBA history among teams that entered a season with a postseason drought of at least 10 seasons – and after all the years of disappointment in the desert, a championship is now within reach.

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.

Chris Paul says he never stopped believing he would make the NBA Finals after finally achieving the feat with the Phoenix Suns in his 13th playoffs campaign.

The Suns will play for the NBA title after sealing a 4-2 Western Conference Finals series win over the Los Angeles Clippers with a 130-103 road victory on Wednesday.

Paul scored a playoffs career-high 41 points for the Suns, including a run of 14 of his side's 16 points after the Clippers closed within seven late in the third quarter.

The 36-year-old point guard will now realise his long-held dream of playing in the NBA Finals after previously narrowly missing out with the Clippers and the Houston Rockets, the latter when his side were 3-2 up in the Conference finals and he went down injured.

"No, I ain't built like that," Paul said when asked at the post-game news conference if he ever thought making the NBA Finals would not happen for him.

"It's just, 'get to work'. In Game 3, I found out I'd tore some ligaments in my hand and I thought 'here we go'... I've got an unbelievable team around me."

Paul missed the first two games of the Clippers series after entering into the league's health and safety protocol having tested positive to COVID-19.

The veteran also battled a shoulder complaint in the Suns' first-round playoffs series against the Los Angeles Lakers and he revealed he had undergone an MRI on his wrist on Tuesday ahead of Game 6.

"It's been a lot," he said. "I was getting an MRI yesterday on my wrist. I've had all these surgeries over the years.

"I remember in Houston, we were up 3-2 and we had the T-shirt and hat and I never got a chance to get it. I'll never forget that."

He added: "I've been on the other end of so many losses. I know what that feels like."

Paul shot seven-from-eight three-pointers among his 41 points, while he also had four rebounds, eight assists and three steals in a memorable playoffs performance.

Paul's 31 second-half points are a career-high, while it was tied for third-most second-half points in a series-clinching win since 1996-97 behind Stephen Curry and Anthony Davis.  

He also moved up to 11th on the all-time NBA playoffs assists list but preferred to focus on his team.

"I was just happy and proud of our team," he said. "Mont [Suns coach Monty Williams], not winning coach of the year, but we know who he is.

"I experienced COVID, just a week ago. I was at home and couldn’t be there with my teammates. That's what you call next man up. They won two games in the series without me. It just shows you how crazy it is.

"In the first series, I got this nerve thing. Won the second series and end up with the COVID. It's been a lot. I want it, not just for myself, but for everyone in that locker room."

The Phoenix Suns and Chris Paul have ended their respective long waits for NBA Finals appearances after a 130-103 win over the Los Angeles Clippers sealed their spot on Wednesday.

The Suns clinched the Western Conference Finals series 4-2, rounding out the triumph with an outstanding road win, with Phoenix back in the NBA Finals for the first time in 28 years.

Suns' 36-year-old point guard Paul was exceptional with 41 points as he progresses to the NBA Finals for the first time in his career, after 13 playoffs campaigns.

Paul hit seven-from-eight three-pointers in a masterful shooting display, going at 66.7 per cent from the field, as well as eight assists, four rebounds and three steals with no turnovers.

Devin Booker contributed with 22 points, four assists and seven rebounds, Deandre Ayton had 17 rebounds along with 16 points, while Jae Crowder hit five three-pointers in his 19 points.

Phoenix are crowned Western Conference champions having gone 12-4 in the postseason, including 6-2 on the road, clinching all three series away.

The Suns become the first team in history to reach the NBA Finals having not made the playoffs in 10 or more years prior.

The Clippers could not muster one more memorable comeback after some dramatic performances this postseason, closing within seven points late in the third before Paul showed irrepressible poise.

Paul George managed 21 points with nine rebounds for the Clippers, while Marcus Morris Sr scored 26 points and had nine rebounds.

Patrick Beverley was ejected in the fourth quarter for a push on Paul as reality set in for LA, who were behind for the most part of Wednesday's Game 6.

Paul's shooting was clearly on early as the Suns opened up a 10-point half-time lead, with Phoenix shooting at 58.8 per cent from beyond the arc in the first half.

The Clippers had a 10-0 run to close within seven points late in the third quarter as the home crowd erupted after Nicolas Batum's three-pointer.

But Paul steadied for Phoenix with a long-range bucket immediately after the timeout, opening it up to 14 points at the final change and they would not relent, with the Suns veteran adding 17 fourth-quarter points.

 

Hawks at Bucks

Star pair Trae Young and Giannis Antetokounmpo are both likely to be out for the crucial Game 5 as the Milwaukee Bucks host the Atlanta Hawks with the series at 2-2.

Paul George posted a playoff career-high 41 points as the Los Angeles Clippers avoided elimination with a 116-102 win over the Phoenix Suns in Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals.

George flexed his muscles away from home on Monday and in the absence of star team-mate Kawhi Leonard, scoring 30 second-half points to keep the series alive against the second-seeded Suns.

The win means the Clippers, who have come from behind to triumph in their past two playoffs series, trail the Suns 3-2 in the matchup ahead of Game 6 back in Los Angeles on Wednesday.

George and the Clippers had led at half-time for the first time in the series, up 59-52, but the Suns earned a 62-61 lead before the visitors launched a 10-0 run and never looked back.

Clippers star George entered the must-win game as the fourth player in NBA history to score 20-plus points in each of his first 17 games of a single postseason, joining Michael Jordan (1991, 1992, 1997, 1998), Kobe Bryant (2008) and Kevin Durant (2012 and 2018).

George also had 13 rebounds and six assists, dominating for the fourth-seeded Clippers, who were without injured pair Leonard and Ivica Zubac.

The Clippers continued their resilient playoff campaign, having trailed 2-0 against the Dallas Mavericks in the first round before winning 4-3, while they won four games in a row against the top-seeded Utah Jazz in the Western Conference semi-finals, having fallen 2-0 behind.

The Suns refused to surrender, with Devin Booker scoring 31 points and Chris Paul contributing 22 of his own, but the Clippers always had an answer to silence the home crowd.

George, who shot 15-from-20 from the field for the game, had good support from Reggie Jackson (23 points, including four three-pointers), while Marcus Morris Sr. finished with 22 points after scoring 20 in the first half.

The Clippers dominated with 34-8 first-half points in the paint and 58-32 for the game.

Suns center Deandre Ayton could not capitalise on Zubac's absence, only managing 10 points and 11 rebounds.

Paul missed all six three-point attempts for Phoenix, while he had eight assists.

 

Bucks at Hawks

The Milwaukee Bucks can claim a 3-1 lead over the Atlanta Hawks when they visit State Farm Arena for Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals on Tuesday.

Phoenix Suns veteran Chris Paul is refusing to talk about a drought-breaking NBA Finals appearance despite his side taking a 3-1 lead in their Western Conference finals on Saturday.

The Suns won 84-80 over the Los Angeles Clippers to move within one victory of the franchise's first Finals appearance since 1993.

Paul, 36, debuted in the NBA in 2005 and is an 11-time All Star yet has never played in an NBA Finals series either.

"Not til the job is done. We can talk about all that then but right now it's laser focus," Paul said during the post-game news conference.

"Three wins don’t win a series. We did what we came to do. We got one of these [road wins]. We've got to stay focused. We need one more [win]."

Paul has played in 12 NBA playoffs series, coming closest to the NBA Finals in 2017-18 Conference finals with the Houston Rockets having been 3-2 up.

When asked about previously falling short, Paul added: "Everything happens for a reason. Don't dwell on things. I'm here now, excited about this opportunity. All I can worry about right now is Game 5."

Paul finished with 18 points but hit several last-quarter free-throws to ice the game after Devin Booker fouled out.

"It was crazy when I went to the free-throw line, I thought about my son," he said. "I talk to my son all the time about the importance of shooting free-throws. He's really getting into basketball.

"I seriously went to the free-throw line, I thought 'how the hell am I going to tell him to stay poised, if I don't'."

Paul, who missed both Game 1 and 2 after entering into the NBA's health and safety protocol, said he was excited to play at home for the first time in the series on Monday.

"I didn’t get a chance to feel that energy in Game 1 and 2," he said. "I was at the crib with my family. I'm excited to go back to Phoenix."

The Phoenix Suns have claimed a hard-fought road win to go 3-1 up in the Western Conference finals with an 84-80 victory against the Los Angeles Clippers on Saturday.

DeAndre Ayton was dominant in the paint with 19 points, 22 rebounds and four blocks as the Suns triumphed, leading the whole way but having to withstand a late Clippers challenge.

Devin Booker, who took his protective face mask off in the second half, led all scorers for Phoenix with 25 points but fouled out with 1:05 to go, leaving veteran guard Chris Paul (18 points and seven assists) to finish the job with a series of late free throws.

The Clippers, once again without the injured Kawhi Leonard, got within one point in the final quarter, including with 13.2 seconds to go, but never took the lead.

The result means Phoenix are one win away from qualifying for their first NBA Finals appearance since 1993. It would also be the first Finals appearance for 11-time All-Star Paul.

Phoenix had led by 14 points at half-time, but the Clippers stormed back into the game with a 30-19 third quarter.

Paul George fought hard for the Clippers with 23 points, 16 rebounds and six assists, while Reggie Jackson scored 20 points. Ivica Zubac was admirable with 13 points and 14 rebounds.

But the Clippers struggled from beyond the arc, shooting five from 31 (16.1 per cent), with Jackson hitting two-of-nine from three-point range, while George made one-from-nine.

The Suns did not fare much better from range, with Booker missing all five three-point attempts and Paul all three.

Phoenix's 84 points was the fewest in a win this season, regular or postseason.

The series returns to Phoenix on Monday, with the Suns chasing a close-out win.

Devin Booker refused to blame his broken nose for an ugly showing in the Phoenix Suns' Game 3 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers.

The second-seeded Suns had stormed into a 2-0 lead in the Western Conference Finals but saw that advantage cut in half with a 106-92 loss in LA on Thursday.

It was a tough outing for Booker, who was just five-for-21 shooting as he finished with 15 points in a team-high 40 minutes.

That disjointed display came in the wake of Booker having been subjected to some painful treatment to put his nose back in place, but he did not want to use that as an excuse.

"The nose feels fine," Booker, who wore a face mask during the game, said in quotes reported by ESPN. "We just lost the game."

Booker had to undergo a quick fix before the Suns flew in to LA from Phoenix and it was not a pleasurable experience for the shooting guard.

"That was probably the worst part," he said.

"It's a procedure that they usually say they put you under [anaesthesia] for, but we had a flight out a couple hours later, so they just numbed it up all over the place, it felt like.

"Like eight shots to numb it up and then they go in there and put it back, they break it again. They break it back in place."

Despite the defeat, Booker is confident the Suns will put things right in the next game.

"The spirit is high," Booker said. "We move on to the next one. That's what type of team we are. We've been like that the whole season, so we'll stick with that.

"We'll come in tomorrow, go over film, regroup and get ready for Game 4."

Suns veteran Chris Paul returned from the league's health and safety protocol to post 15 points and 12 assists.

Paul became the 13th player in NBA history with 1,000 playoff assists.

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