Befitting a game out in the desert, Game 1 of the NBA Finals was a strange mirage. It seemed like the Bucks just couldn't hit their shots – but they actually hit 16 threes and shot a respectable 45 percent on the night. It seemed like the Bucks were within striking distance the whole game, just a shot away from making things truly exciting, but in the end, things never seemed uncomfortable for the Suns beyond the first quarter. It seemed like I saw Jeff Teague play ten minutes in an NBA Finals game and ... wait, that part was exactly as it appeared?!
In the end, the Bucks fell short in their dramatic NBA Finals return, tripping up against the Suns, 118-105, thanks to some suspect defense, a Chris Paul fireworks show and some untimely missed shots or turnovers. We'd be upset ... but did you see that WE'RE IN THE NBA FINALS!? And WE BRIEFLY HAD A LEAD IN SAID NBA FINALS!? I'm still too overjoyed and amazed to be disappointed.
But one doesn't merely need Finals blinkers to be still firmly on the Bucks bandwagon this series. After all, losing would've been far more problematic for the Suns than the Bucks – and Milwaukee's used to botching Game 1 at this point. We've been here before, and we've come back before. Plus, make a few more shots – especially those easy first-half layups – get a few more calls and get Chris Paul to be a little less nuclear? This thing was ours for the taking.
We're on to Game 2 – but first, let's take a final look back at the Bucks' grand re-entance into the NBA's brightest spotlight. And I haven't even mentioned a certain tall two-time MVP's miraculous return. See, how could I be mad last night? Everything's found money right now.
Anyways, that final look I mentioned before:
1. Beautiful Brew City
Remember when people didn't like Fiserv Forum because it supposedly looked like BelAir Cantina? Amazing how much nicer it looks when it's got a winning team inside playing in the Finals as well as a crowd of joyous fans outside going nuts, chanting "Bobby!" and generally feeling the Milwaukee spirit. I will always remember these gorgeous, ridiculous nights.
2. Bucks and the big screen
Two Brew City legends, united on one marquee. It's been inspiring seeing the whole city – and even the state – gather around this team's playoff run. After the year that wasn't, we got a year that was.
3. The return
One week ago, we didn't know if Giannis would come back this season OR next season. One week ago, we didn't know if his career would basically be over. (I'm no doctor here, but knees bending backward, threatening to tear up ACLs, is generally something that can have an effect on a career.) One week ago, hope seemed lost.
And in the end, Giannis played in an NBA Finals game. Graduating from doubtful to questionable to eventually starter, The Greek Freak made a triumphant return to the Bucks for Game 1 – and really looked pretty good! He seemed to fade away in the second half a bit – as to be expected from somebody who, again, had a backwards knee a week ago – but he pulled out a bunch of impressive moves, played solid defense and even hit a three! Being merely in the finals, we're happy – but with Giannis back in the lineup, there's hope for more.
I admit that I'm just soaking these Finals in. I'm not expecting a championship or harrumphing too hard about things not going our way at this point. The Milwaukee Bucks are in the NBA Finals for the first time in my entire life, and I'm just going to enjoy it and embrace moments like this – the first Bucks basket in the NBA Finals in almost 50 years. And they even had a lead for a not-insignificant amount of time in a Finals game! Matt, circa ten years ago, would not believe his eyes. Matt, circa now, barely can.
5. Knee looks good
In case there were any concerns about Giannis tonight ...
The Greek Freak went from unlikely to play, to playing but to what capability, to a feat of athleticism and effort that deserves to be iconic. In the end, he put up 20 points and 17 rebounds – a quiet night for Giannis. But considering how quiet we thought the night would be for our star, that's quite the showing.
My theory is that the Bucks know they're not supposed to win these two games, and the team needs some time to reintegrate Giannis back onto the court comfortably and back into the overall gameplan. So do it now in these two games, hope that maybe it clicks into place sooner than later and you steal a game, and if not, you come home for Game 3 on Sunday with the team close to 100 percent its former self. Strategy works for me – and for moments on Tuesday night, it looked like it might work for the Bucks even better than expected.
6. Checking in on Fiserv Forum
Fiserv Forum opened its doors for an indoor viewing gathering for Game 1 – and if you thought it was a party outside, apparently it was even more so inside.
The Bucks may have lost the game, and this guy may have lost his shirt, but he has won an entire city's respect and well-deserved adulation. Better start working on some fancy new dunks, Bango; we may have a new mascot.
7. Let's see how Giannis is doing ...
I can tell you one guy who's not pumped to see Giannis back on the court so soon: Deandre Ayton, the man seen above getting bullied out of the block and out of his lunch money. Just a polite reminder, again: Giannis' knee was backwards a week ago.
8. Jrue takes a holiday
Here we find one of the very few Jrue Holiday highlights from Game 1 last night. After some great showings in the last round, the Bucks upgraded point guard was an overall no-show for Milwaukee, scoring a mere ten points on rough 4-of-14 shooting (including a goose egg from long distance). It got so painful and clearly in his head that Holiday turned down an open three to drive into traffic – where he was dutifully stripped into a turnover. If the Bucks are going to win the Finals against a stout, deep Suns team, they're going to need their big three to show up – all of them. In the same game.
9. They don't call him "Point God" for nothing
After a long NBA career, Chris Paul finally made his way to an NBA Finals – and introduced himself with aplomb as the future Hall of Famer scored a game-high 32 points, including 16 in the third quarter alone as he helped put some distance between Milwaukee and Phoenix with slick midrange jumpers, a few threes and this assassination attempt on poor Bobby Portis. You're probably not going to stop Chris Paul, but the Bucks certainly have to work on containing him better next game. Or at least hope he decides to miss some shots.
As much as it is a gigantic cliché to say that one has always had a passion for film, Matt Mueller has always had a passion for film. Whether it was bringing in the latest movie reviews for his first grade show-and-tell or writing film reviews for the St. Norbert College Times as a high school student, Matt is way too obsessed with movies for his own good.
When he's not writing about the latest blockbuster or talking much too glowingly about "Piranha 3D," Matt can probably be found watching literally any sport (minus cricket) or working at - get this - a local movie theater. Or watching a movie. Yeah, he's probably watching a movie.