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For Suns, Chris Paul's Feel-Good Finals Story Ends In Frustration

By Phil Latzman
Associated Press
Published: Tuesday, July 20, 2021 - 9:19pm
Updated: Wednesday, July 21, 2021 - 9:01am

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Giannis Antetokounmpo Suns Road Game Rally
Alberto Mariani/Cronkite News
Phoenix fans watch Game 3 of the 2021 NBA Finals on the big screen and catch Milwaukee Bucks player Giannis Antetokounmpo celebrating after a big play.

As the final buzzer sounded, a stone-faced Chris Paul slowly walked off the court, down the tunnel and into the locker room.

His feel-good story with the Phoenix Suns was denied the happy ending he craved.

One of the NBA’s most accomplished players finally got to the sport’s biggest stage in his 16th season at 36 years old. He's an 11-time All-Star, 10-time All-NBA selection and nine-time All-Defensive selection and often referred to as the ‘Point God’ for his near-perfect profile as an elite point guard.

But he still lacks a championship.

Led by Giannis Antetokounnmpo's amazing performance with 50 points, 14 rebounds and five blocks, the Milwaukee Bucks beat the Suns 105-98 on Tuesday night to win the NBA Finals in six games.

The Suns won the first two games of the series only to lose four straight. It was a brutal collapse for a team led by Paul, who is regarded as one of the best leaders and point guards in NBA history.

Paul’s performance against the Bucks in these Finals ran the gamut: He was the hero in a Game 1 win with 32 points, then he was the goat in a Game 4 loss with five turnovers, including a particularly costly one in the final minute. In the decisive Game 6, he led the team with 26 points and added five assists.

It wasn't enough.

Chris Paul Phoenix Suns
Michael Gonzales/NBAE via Getty Images
Chris Paul dribbles the ball in Game 2 of the Suns' second-round series against the Denver Nuggets on June 9, 2021.

With 40 seconds left and the Suns down 8, Paul's desperation 3-pointer clanked off the rim.

Any chance at a miracle comeback was done.

Paul made the Finals run with an unlikely cast that included Devin Booker, Deandre Ayton and Mikal Bridges, young players making their first playoff appearances. He was traded to Suns during the past offseason from the Oklahoma City Thunder, bringing instant star power to a franchise that hadn't been to playoffs in more than a decade and hadn't made the Finals since 1993.

The trade paired Paul with coach Monty Williams, a close friend and mentor. Williams was the coach in New Orleans when Paul played for him 10 years earlier. The two had another chance to make it work.

It didn't quite happen.

It's a tough ending to the season for Paul, who remains one of the game's most relatable players. He's just 6-foot, which gives him an everyman feel that some of the NBA's giants lack. He's got the goofy State Farm commercials. He's had a handful of bad breaks, like when he pulled his hamstring in Game 6 of the Western Conference finals in 2018.

That poor fortune looked like it would continue in the first round of these players when he suffered a shoulder injury in the second quarter of Game 1 against the Los Angeles Lakers. He was ineffective for the next several games but his teammates carried the load.

Then there was a few weeks ago at the Western Conference finals, when Paul missed the first two games against the Los Angeles Clippers in the league's COVID-19 health and safety protocol. Again, his teammates were there for him, rallying to win both games.

He was superb in the game that clinched his first trip to Finals, scoring 41 points in Game 6.

It earned him the opportunity he always craved. It ended in disappointment.

Monty Williams Phoenix Suns timeout huddle
Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images
Coach Monty Williams talks with Deandre Ayton, Devin Booker, Cameron Payne and Jae Crowder during Round 2, Game 1 of the 2021 NBA Playoffs on June 7, 2021 at Phoenix Suns Arena.

The Bucks became the fifth team to win the NBA Finals after trailing 2-0 and the first to do it by winning the next four games since Miami against Dallas in 2006.

Chris Paul scored 26 points to end his first NBA Finals appearance in his 16th season. Devin Booker added 19 points but shot just 8 for 22 and missed all seven 3-pointers after scoring 40 points in each of the last two games.

The teams that came into the NBA together as expansion clubs in 1968 delivered a fine finals, with the last three games all in the balance deep into the fourth quarter.

The Bucks won them largely because of Antetokounmpo, a two-time MVP in the regular season who raised his game even higher in the finals and was voted the NBA Finals MVP.

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