Final thoughts

Giannis was able to play and yet it still didn’t matter, the Suns were the better team, outplayed them in the second half and came up with a counter-punch when the Bucks made their run.

The questions now are about Giannis’s health and what adjustments the Bucks could make heading into the next game, because they just didn’t have the answers this time around. That will do it for our live coverage of Game 1 of the NBA Finals, thanks to everybody who followed along to today’s liveblog and be sure to keep following the NBA postseason here at the Guardian. Ciao!

The Phoenix Suns with Game 1 of the 2021 NBA Finals

Bucks 105-118 Suns, Final

Connaughton hits a three pointer that’s basically only going to add to the respectability of the final score. On the other side is Jae Crowder who hits one of two free throws, finally a Bucks player misses a free throw and 25 straight. That’s a big reason that they are going to win this thing… which they do as they dribble out the ball.

Bucks 102-117 Suns, 1:15, 4th quarter

Giannis makes one of two free throws and Ayton makes the layup that all but seals the deal.

Bucks 101-115 Suns, 1:35, 4th quarter

My cable does its best impression of the Bucks offense, meaning that it completely shuts down. When it regains the signal, Ayton is here on the free-throw line and because it’s a natural law that Bucks players aren’t allowed to miss free throws he makes them both.

Bucks 100-113 Suns, 3:00, 4th quarter

Giannis at the line, makes one of two. Maybe the number shouting is getting in his head. It’s certainly in mine, rattling about.

The Suns take a time out, I’m guessing a little something about the closing mentality. They’re very clearly outplaying the Bucks but there’s just too much time on the clock for them to relax here.

Bucks 99-113 Suns, 3:26, 4th quarter

Booker scores, Paul scores, Paul gets fouled, Paul goes to the line. That just might be the ballgame. Of course he makes the free throw, why wouldn’t he?

Bucks 99-108 Suns, 5:15, 4th quarter

Forbes with a three-pointer that’s money.

Bucks 96-108 Suns, 5:15, 4th quarter

Suns are responding well here. Paul finds Middleton for a three-pointer and then makes a jumper of his own. Middleton floats one in to make it a ten-point game but a Johnson jumper calls for an immediate Bucks timeout.

Bucks 94-101 Suns, 7:02, 4th quarter

Antetokounmpo tips in an errant Forbes shot and the gap is shrinking.

Bucks 92-101 Suns, 7:46, 4th quarter

The Bucks were due for a long run. Wiser men than me have said the whole sport is made of runs. In a blink of an eye, nobody on the Suns other than Cameron Payne scores while Holiday, Middleton and Forbes somehow cut the Suns’ once rock solid lead down to single-digits. The Bucks have no choice but to call a timeout.

Bucks 85-96 Suns, 8:58, 4th quarter

Jrue Holiday and Giannis Antetokounmpo both get to the line, stopping the clock and putting points on the board: two things they both desperately need. Giannis has been mostly quiet here I imagine he’s very far from 100%.

Bucks 81-96 Suns, 9:37, 4th quarter

Payne pads the Suns lead. Middleton makes a layup and, honestly, he’s going to need help if his team is going to make a comeback here.

Instead, Connaughton fouls Cameron Johnson, who cashes in his freebies.

Bucks 79-92 Suns, 11:14, 4th quarter

Okay either we’re getting that defensive quarter I thought we would see in the third quarter. Or maybe both sides are a bit gassed. It takes a few tries for either team to score until Pat Connaughton hits a three pointer for the Bucks.

Bucks 76-92 Suns, end of the 3rd quarter

Booker scores and Middleton, who is now the entirety of the Bucks offense hits a three-point shot to keep his team in a game that feels like it’s just about to slip slide away from them.

Bucks 72-90 Suns, 1:04, 3rd quarter

Suns pad the lead with some Ayton free throws. The Bucks are not going to give up, however, Middleton (who else) his back-to-back jumpers which would have been more significant if Booker hadn’t made two free throws in between the two baskets.

Bucks 68-86 Suns, 2:18, 3rd quarter

Five straight points for Chris Paul who is thoroughly enjoying his first Finals game. The next time he gets the ball he answers a Khris Middleton three with one of this own. I am trying to remain impartial here but I can’t sit here and pretend it isn’t heartening to watch Paul do this on the biggest stage.

Bucks 65-78 Suns, 4:32, 3rd quarter

Out of the time out, Portis makes a three-pointer. Pretty much the best possible outcome coming out of a timeout, I’d say.

The entirety of an email from John Moises Boore:

Haha

Okay this is more than a little cryptic.

Bucks 62-78 Suns, 4:49, 3rd quarter

Jrue Holiday scores, which is good, but back-to-back buckets force Milwaukee head coach Mike Budenholzer to call a timeout.

Bucks 60-74 Suns, 6:28, 3rd quarter

Ayton gets a foul on Giannis and makes both of his free throws. The Bucks need somebody to silence the crowd and that someone is Lopez, apparently, who knocks down a three-pointer. But of course, here’s Booker again, and he just can’t miss today. Chris Paul finds Ayton and it’s becoming very clear who the better team is right now. The Suns are shining here.

Bucks 57-70 Suns, 7:43, 3rd quarter

Tucker makes a jumper, Bridges and Lopez trade threes, and Ayton makes a dunk and the crowd is getting ridiculously loud. I don’t miss the artificial fan noise of the Bubble Season at all, I have to say

Bucks 52-65 Suns, 9:05, 3rd quarter

Brook Lopez is on the free throw line for the Bucks… and he misses both. Just a nightmare third for the Bucks.

Bucks 52-65 Suns, 10:17, 3rd quarter

And Mikal Bridges scores and the crowd is getting loud. It’s a 13 point lead for the Sun and they very much needed to take this timeout here.

Start of the second half!

Bucks 52-63 Suns, 10:17, 3rd quarter

Chris Paul gets the first basket of the second half, extending the Suns lead to ten points. Giannis makes a three pointer. Chris Paul makes one of his own while being fouled hard by Brook Lopez. After a brief discussion, it’s designated as a flagrant foul. Paul makes this free throw to complete the four-point play.

Of course, it’s not that there wasn’t some defense to be had here: look at what Giannis did at the end of the first half:

Keep your eye on Giannis as he chases down the play! 😳 #ThatsGame

2nd half of #NBAFinals Game 1 NEXT on ABC pic.twitter.com/6WobTZG3te

— NBA (@NBA) July 7, 2021

Halftime Thoughts

My predictions for the second half? The first half of the first game in a playoff series mostly consists of the two teams sniffing each other out. We’ll see things look in the second half but I wouldn’t be shocked if there will be more emphasis on defense going forward.

Looking at the box score, Devin Booker is the leading scorer with 16 points which makes sense because he just keeps finding ways to get to the line and he has just decided not to miss them when he gets there.

Halftime thoughts

I will not lie, I was expecting a slower paced game. I also wasn’t expecting Giannis to be playing at this level. It feels like the teams are very evenly matched and that the eight-point lead in the box scores feels a tad bit misleading.

Suns take eight point first half lead

Bucks 49-57 Suns, end of the first half

Chris Paul and Giannis trade baskets, Booker (as always) gets on the line and makes his two freebies. Mikal Bridges hits a three pointer which ends up giving the Suns an eight point lead going into halftime.

Updated

Bucks 47-50 Suns, 2:30, 2nd quarter

Chris Paul tries to settle things down with a three but man, Booker just keeps getting to the line. Once again he goes 2-for-2. Jrue Holiday scores, Giannis gets called for his first foul, the Suns take a timeout.

Updated

Bucks 45-45 Suns, 5:19, 2nd quarter

I’m still sticking with my Khris Middleton will be the series’s best scorer and he makes me look good here with a three-pointer that shaves the Suns lead to two.

Oh strike that, Tucker steals the ball, which finds its way into Middleton’s hands and subsequently the basket. Tied game.

Updated

Bucks 40-45 Suns, 5:55, 2nd quarter

Out of the time out, Middleton fins Booker for some alley-oop action that stops the bleeding a bit.

Updated

Bucks 38-45 Suns, 6:55, 2nd quarter

Ayton scores once more and now we’re starting to see Chris Paul heating up. He takes a foul, makes the two free throws, answers a subsequent Bucks basket scored by Brook Lopez. Paul fires another jumper in response. Jrue Holiday tries to get things under control by hitting a jumper but it looks like the Suns are finding their rhythm. After back-to-back buckets, Milwaukee will take a timeout.

Updated

Bucks 34-35 Suns, 9:37, 2nd quarter

Paul finds Tucker, Tucker finds a three. Khris Middleton scores and then, well this can’t be right. Is that Jeff Teague making a three-pointer, I forgot he was even on the Bucks roster.

Updated

Bucks 29-32 Suns, 11:10, 2nd quarter

P.J.Tucker starts things off with a three while Johnson finds Ayton for a dunk.

Updated

Bucks 26-30 Suns, end of the 1st quarter

I cannot believe that Giannis is in the game and is looking rather good. I’m already starting to doubt my Suns in 5 prediction. An emphatic dunk cuts the Suns lead to two. Unfortunately, they foul Booker again where he knocks down two free throws. Pat Connaughton enters the game here and makes a basket. On the other side, it looks like the Bucks defense is going to deny the Suns a final shot but Torrey Craig knocks in the tip shot and the Suns take a four point lead into the second quarter.

Bucks 22-26 Suns, 1:43, 1st quarter

Byrn Forbes, whose name suggests he’s possibly a Thomas Pynchon character, fouls Booker who easily drains two free throws to extend the Bucks lead.

Bucks 22-24 Suns, 2:21, 1st quarter

Okay, here comes some of the defense that I was expecting in the first quarter here, the two teams hold each other scoreless until Giannis makes his way through traffic for a dunk.

Bucks 20-24 Suns, 3:01, 1st quarter

It’s early but this has the feel of a great game already. Neither team looks poised to go on a huge run here. Bobby Portis makes an appearance in the box score for the first time and Cameron Johnson gets the second three of the game. In fact, we have back-to-back Cameron three as Cameron Johnson makes one also for the Suns. The Bucks call a timeout, which seems reasonable.

Bucks 18-18 Suns, 4:07, 1st quarter

Okay now we’re getting into the long ball. After a Bridges jumper, Lopez makes the first three-pointer of the game and that gives the Bucks a brief lead but Ayton scores on the very next drive. Middleton scores for Milwaukee and then Lopez fouls Booker to put him on the line. He makes both. Tied game once again.

Bucks 12-12 Suns, 5:39, 1st quarter

ABC shows the Giannis injury and I’m still utterly shocked that he’s back in playing condition, I’m still on a crutch from a March leg injury. Meanwhile, Booker ties this game up.

Bucks 12-10 Suns, 6:48, 1st quarter

Giannis hits the free throw line and I’m already sick of crowds counting down the shot clock time when he’s on the line. I guess it does the job here as Giannis only makes one of two free throws. Booker ties it up for the Bucks, Tucker responds with a shot and we get the first timeout of the game courtesy of Phoenix.

Bucks 9-8 Suns, 8:12, 1st quarter

Oh we’re getting some post-July 4th fireworks here. Giannis extends the lead for the Bucks but the Sun respond with a Bridges layup. Ayton hits one for Phoenix, Lopez answers. Fast paced game, this.

Bucks 5-2 Suns, 10:35, 1st quarter

Brook Lopez makes the first legitimate bucket of the game, Devin Booker answers with one of his own. An Ayton dunk gives the Bucks an early lead.

Opening tip

Bucks 1-0 Suns, 11:44, 1st quarter

The game starts with Antetokounmpo getting fouled, he makes one of two free throws while being hounded by the rowdy NBA fans.

Updated

Bucks starters

Jrue Holiday, SG

P.J. Tucker, SF

Khris Middleton, G

Giannis Antetokounmpo, PF

Brook Lopez, C

Suns starters

Chris Paul, PG

Devin Booker, SG

Mikal Bridges, SF

Jae Crowder, PF

,Deandre Ayton, C

National Anthem

Here we have Judith Hill singing the National Anthem. A solid understated rendition this. 7/10.

Right now ABC is having one of their overy-dramatic montages. Cheesy? Yes, absolutely. But it affects me. I will admit that I’m not used to Kevin Garnett’s “anything is possible!” roar being part of the NBA’s past by this point. Sports will make you feel way older than almost any other subject.

Genuinely pretty interesting formation here: of the two teams, only the Suns’ Jae Crowder has experience playing in the Finals. We’ll see if that ends up being a factor here.

Predictions

Well, if you’ve checked out our predictions panel you would see that I have the Suns beating the Bucks in five games. I’m pretty sure that the Suns need to win this Game 1 for that to happen. I’m going to say Suns 96-90 Bucks. I’m usually not good at these, maybe you’re better. Feel free to send us your predicts via email (to hunter.felt.freelance@theguardian.com) or reach out on Twitter, which is basically where I live these days, at @HunterFelt.

No matter how healthy Giannis ends up being, I’m calling my shot right now: Khris Middleton will be the best scorer on either team. Hardcore Bucks fan Sheryl Crow would probably agree:

Giannis Antetokounmpo is playing

I don’t normally make something a Key Event before the game has actually started, but the news that Giannis Antetokounmpo will be giving it a go tonight certainly quallifies as a literal game-changer.

Rachel Nichols was originally supposed to be working as the sideline reporter for ESPN’s “NBA Countdown” today but Malika Andrews is taking her place after she was caught making disparaging comments about her colleague Maria Taylor. You can read the full story below.

In the meantime, Taylor here is in the broadcasting booth.

As far as pregame television goes, it’s hard to beat NBA players reading their mean Tweets out loud on what’s being advertised as “Jimmy Kimmel Live” but was actually hosted by Anthony Edwards. Apparentl this was the preshow to the preshow which feels a bit exhausting but honestly the NFL is much, much worse about this.

Antetokounmpo was upgraded from doubtful to questionable earlier today. This tweet, however, makes it feel like there’s a distinct chance we could see him. Although, again, we have no idea at what percentage he’s at if he is cleared to play. His presence would definitely make this series more compelling.

Giannis Antetokounmpo is on the floor warming up — with a protective sleeve over his injured left knee — ahead of Game 1 of the NBA Finals. He is currently listed as questionable. pic.twitter.com/Asta0ex7hq

— Malika Andrews (@malika_andrews) July 6, 2021

Preamble

The Los Angeles Lakers and the Boston Celtics… are not here, they were eliminated in the first round. So were the New York Knicks. . didn’t survive the playoffs, almost literally. The Miami Heat had a run to the Finals during the Bubble Season (which feels like centuries ago) but they couldn’t survive the first round, as the Milwaukee Bucks dismantled them. Damian Lillard’s Portland Trail Blazers were a first-round casualty as well. The Philadelphia 76eers made it to the second round and no further. The Phoenix Suns had their way with the Los Angeles Clippers, who were the last team representing one of those few cities designated as “major markets.”

Now, Bucks vs. Suns was probably not the result that TV advertisers were hoping for. Well, who cares about them? Ad rates be damned, basketball fans are going to get a battle between the two best teams in the league especially if Giannis Antetokounmpo can still play despite his hyperextended knee.

There are a lot of narratives going on here. The Bucks haven’t won the title since (Guardian contributor!) Kareem Abdul-Jabbar helped them beat the Washington Bullets in the 1971 Finals. (Yes, the Wizards were the Bullets back then, Washington teams have a thing where they have to keep changing their names.)

Meanwhile, the Suns have somehow never won a championship, even though they have had their moments in the, well, Sun. Charles Barkley was really the player who first brought the Suns national attention during their 1990s run, but he ended up being remembered as one of the greatest players never to win a ring before becoming the NBA’s most charmingly useless studio analyst. Then head coach Mike D’Antoni and two-time league MVP Steve Nash revolutionized basketball with the Seven Seconds Or Less Suns... but they still couldn’t shake off their playoff woes. If they finally win the championship it will be redemption for both the franchise and Point God Chris Paul, an NBA Hall of Fame player who had never even reached the Finals until now.

Or, maybe the Bucks manage to pull off the upset. Even without Giannis, the Bucks were able to put away the Atlanta Hawks in Game 6 in a rather decisive fashion. They will be a worthy opponent, so Phoenix shouldn’t be looking at all the odds showing they are the favorites here.

So, we’re likely to have some good basketball here, no matter who is playing for these fairly deep teams, so we hope you follow along with us. As always, if you’d like to contribute to today’s liveblog just email us (hunter.felt.freelance@theguardian.com) or tweet us (to @HunterFelt) and we’ll include your commentary as we go on. It’s the Milwaukee Bucks vs. the Phoenix Suns at Phoenix Suns Arena. The action isn’t supposed to start until 9:00 pm EST but we’ll be back before then. Stay tuned!

Hunter will be here shortly. In the meantime, here is how our writers see the series shaking out:

Phoenix in six. Typically, finals matchups are dictated by whichever team can get buckets late in the shot clock: cheap buckets, dirty buckets, tough buckets. As the level cranks up in the playoffs, the ability to play within a set, free-flowing offense rolls out the window. Things get stodgy. Winning comes down to whichever team has the most shot-makers who can hit shots off-the-dribble, in isolation. The Suns have more reliable shot-makers from three to 16 feet out than the Bucks. For Milwaukee to win, it’s going to take an extraordinary defensive effort. Oliver Connolly

Phoenix in six. The Suns’ storybook season will get its happy ending and Phoenix will win their first NBA title. Paul’s leadership and ability to elevate the already talented Booker and Ayton will create too many problems for Milwaukee to stop. Giannis and co will pull off two games, but Phoenix will win a close hard-fought series on the road in Game 6. Tyrell Feaster

Phoenix in five. Even without Antetokounmpo, the Bucks are good enough to steal a win away from the Suns. But even if he returns, it doesn’t strike me as realistic to hope that he’ll be in the MVP form the Bucks would require to make this a serious contest. The third time will prove the charm for the Suns, after their 1976 and 1993 heartbreaks, as they finally lift the trophy in their 53rd season. Hunter Felt

Milwaukee in six. Yes, it was against a middleweight Hawks team only in the East finals because of Philadelphia’s stunning collapse in the semis, but you can’t help but marvel at how the Bucks circled the wagons after Antetokounmpo went down. The Holiday-Middleton-Lopez triumvirate was never better than in Milwaukee’s two closeout games, including a combined 72 points, 19 rebounds, 16 assists, seven steals and five blocks in the Game 6 clincher. All Things Must Pass was top of the US charts last time Milwaukee won the NBA championship in 1971; if the title track can also apply to the fourth-quarter fizzles that have routinely undone the Bucks as favorites in the past two postseasons, a long-awaited second title is theirs for the taking. Bryan Armen Graham

Contributor

Hunter Felt

The GuardianTramp

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