MILWAUKEE – The closest Chris Paul has ever been to the coveted championship that eluded him throughout his 16-year career ended up feeling still so far away from the original title. The Milwaukee Bucks beat the Phoenix Suns in Game 6 of the NBA Finals Tuesday, as the Suns became just the fifth team in final history to lose after starting the series 2-0.
“It will take a while to deal with this or that, but it’s the same mentality,” Paul said after the Bucks’ 105-98 series. “Go back to work. I’m not retiring if that’s what you’re asking. It’s out. So, back to work.”
The 36-year-old Paul finished with 26 points on 11-to-19 shooting and five assists in the championship final, keeping the Suns at a striking distance from Milwaukee – they followed just four points with 1:14 left – but that was not enough to force a game 7 left in Phoenix.
“Right now, you’re just trying to figure out what you could have done more,” Paul said. “It’s hard. Great group of guys, hell of a season, but this one is going to hurt for a while.”
Paul has a player option worth $ 44.2 million for next season, and while many candidates around the league may use a point guard to make a push next season – hey, Los Angeles Lakers – he does not sound like anyone is looking to leaving a team full of young talent like Devin Booker and DeAndre Ayton, who quickly took him two wins from the Promised Land.
“Everyone in the locker room knows we had enough, but it wasn’t enough,” Paul said. “So we have to figure it out. I’m thinking to myself, I’m just looking at myself and figuring out how I can get better, what I could have done more and making sure I come back next season ready to do it again.”
With the loss, Paul became the first player in league history to lose four playoff series in which his team had a 2-0 lead. But his coach, Monty Williams, pushed back against any criticism directed at his point guard after their shared final disappointment.
“It’s ridiculous when you talk about guys like Chris who’ve had these unreal careers and yet they get punished for not winning a title,” Williams said. “It 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 training him; I know what he puts into his craft, I know the dedication. And so “When I hear those feelings about his career because he has not won a championship, it’s just silly. It’s hard enough to reach the NBA, let alone be an all – time great, which is what he is.”
Booker, who lost two 40-point games in the series but struggled in Game 6 with 19 points on 8-for-22 shooting and six turnovers – including going 2-for-7 in the fourth quarter as the Bucks pulled away after it was tied 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 entered the mail season for the first time in 11 years. “So when we go into next season on Tuesday night playing against Cleveland, if we do not have it, we will quickly be reminded of the details. And if you do not want to give it all right now, what can happen and this feeling right now where we feel can happen.
“So this is not something you want to feel. I have not felt a wound like this in my life. So that is what I say when I know we have a base and a foundation, just championship basketball at all times.”
Williams fought back tears during his remarks after the game when asked what it was like at the moment to deal with the outcome of a Suns season that was just short.
“I think it will take me a moment,” Williams said, and his voice caught in his throat. “I just do not take it for granted. It’s hard to get here and I would feel so bad, you know. It’s hard to deal with right now. It’s hard. That’s all.”
Summary of alchemy in the Suns group, however, it was not so sad for the team that defeated defending champion Los Angeles Lakers, swept league MVP Nikola Jokic and Denver Nuggets, eliminated the LA Clippers and gave the Bucks everything they could handle with a title on the line.
“Even though we lost,” Ayton said as he bordered out of the interview room, “it was still fun.”