MILWAUKEE – Chris Paul was the closest thing to the coveted championship he had eluded during his 16-year career, which made him feel so far removed from that first title. The Milwaukee Bucks defeated the Phoenix Suns in Game 6 of the NBA Finals on Tuesday, as the Suns were only the fifth team in final history to lose 2-0 after the series started.
“It will take a while to process this or something, but it’s the same mentality,” said Paul after the Bucks win 105-98. “Go back to work. I won’t retire if you ask. That’s out. So, back to work. “
36-year-old Paul finished the final with 26 points in 11v19 and five assists in the championship final, keeping the Suns within striking distance of Milwaukee – they were only four points behind and 1:14 remaining – but it was not enough to force a game 7 back into Phoenix.
“Right now you’re just trying to figure out what more you could have done,” said Paul. “It’s tough. Great group of guys, one hell of a good season, but this one is going to hurt for a while.”
Paul has a $ 44.2 million player option for the next season, and while many contenders in the league could use a point guard of his own kind to make a push next season – hello Los Angeles Lakers – sounded he is not like someone looking for a team with young talents like Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton, who so quickly earned him two victories from the promised land.
“Everyone in this locker room knows we’ve had enough, but it wasn’t enough,” said Paul. “So we have to find out. I think to myself I’m just looking at myself and figuring out how to get better, what more I could have done and make sure I come back to do it again next season to do.”
With the defeat, Paul became the first player in league history to lose four playoff series in which his team was 2-0 up. But his coach, Monty Williams, declined any criticism of his point guard after the mutual disappointment in the final.
“It’s ridiculous to talk about guys like Chris who have had these unreal careers and still get punished for not winning a title,” Williams said. “That was my goal to win it for him and Book. These guys have carried us all year round. And Chris, this is my second time I’ve coached him. I know what he’s into his craft, I know the dedication. And so when I hear these feelings about his career because he didn’t win a championship, it’s just silly. It’s hard enough making it into the NBA, let alone being an all-time star for what he is is. “
Booker, who dropped two 40-point games in the series but struggled with 19 points in 8v22 shooting and six ball losses in Game 6 – including the 2v7 in the fourth quarter when the Bucks pulled away after it was 77-77 after three – said the Suns playoff run set a new standard for the franchise.
“Championship basketball and nothing less than that,” as Booker described it after Phoenix hit the postseason for the first time in 11 years. “So when we go into the next season against Cleveland on a Tuesday night, we’ll be quickly reminded of the details when we don’t have it. And if you don’t want to give it your all now, what can happen? and that feeling we are feeling right now can happen.
“Well, that’s not something you want to feel. I’ve never felt an injury like this in my life. That’s what I say when I know we have a foundation, just championship basketball at all times . “
Williams fought back tears during his post-game remarks when asked what it was like to process the result of a Suns season that had narrowly turned out.
“I think it’ll take a minute,” Williams said, his voice sticking in his throat. “I just don’t take it for granted. It’s hard to come here and I wanted it so bad, you know. It’s hard to come to terms with right now. It is difficult.
However, to sum up the Suns group’s alchemy, it wasn’t just grief for the team that ousted defending champions Los Angeles Lakers, defeated league MVP Nikola Jokic and the Denver Nuggets, eliminated the LA Clippers, and gave all that was to the Bucks they could handle a title on the line.
“Even though we lost,” Ayton said as he jumped out of the interrogation room, “it was still fun.”