Phoenix Suns head coach Monty Williams has won NBA Coach of the Year, beating fellow finalists Erik Spoelstra of the Miami Heat and the Memphis Grizzlies' Taylor Jenkins.

Williams narrowly missed out on 2020-21 award, with the New York Knicks' Tom Thibodeau edging the final tally by 11 votes, but he was the clear choice this season after leading the Suns to a league-best 64-18 record.

As well as winning eight more games than any other team, it also set a new franchise record for wins in a season, and legitimised last year's run to the NBA Finals as more than a fluke.

The news was first broken by Suns star Devin Booker, who tweeted: "Phoenix Suns coach Monty Williams has been voted the NBA's COY, book tells sources. A formal announcement is expected later today."

Williams, a former first-round pick in his own right, spent 10 years in the league as a player, and became the youngest head coach in the NBA in 2010 when he earned the head coaching role of the New Orleans Hornets at 38 years old.

After his departure from New Orleans and five years as an assistant, Williams was hired by the Suns in 2019, guiding his team to a memorable 8-0 run in the 'bubble' during his first season.

He has followed that season with two consecutive National Basketball Coaches Association Coach of the Year awards, and his first official NBA Coach of the Year.

The Suns are a combined 115-39 over the past two regular seasons.

Jason Kidd called on Luka Doncic's Dallas Mavericks team-mates to "join the party" after the Slovenian star's 45-point haul was not enough to deny the Phoenix Suns a Game 1 win.

The top-seeded Suns drew first blood in the Western Conference semi-finals on Monday, winning 121-114 at Footprint Center on Monday.

Three-time NBA All-Star Doncic was outstanding yet again, also taking 12 rebounds and providing eight assists to go with his huge tally of points.

Maxi Kleber was the second-highest points scorer for the Mavs with 19 and coach Kidd says Doncic will need more support ahead of Game 2 in Phoenix on Wednesday.

Kidd said: "He [Doncic] got whatever he wanted, when you look at the shots in the paint, behind the arc, midrange and then also I thought he got his team-mates some great looks that we normally had made.

"I thought he played great. We've just got to get someone to join the party."

Doncic did not brush over his analysis over where the Mavs had fallen short as he urged them to "attack the paint."

He said: "We've just got to attack more paint. I settled for a little too much step-backs for me. Attacking the paint is our lethal weapon.

"When we do that, we can score easily, especially with five-out and they've got a big rotating. We've got to attack more paint."

Deandre Ayton led the way for the Suns with 25, while Devin Booker posted 23 and had eight assists.

Suns coach Monty Williams said: "'I liked the fact that we weren't settling for threes. A lot of guys were attacking the paint, we were getting floaters and rim shots."

 

 

The Phoenix Suns were left unimpressed by the physicality and officiating in their 118-103 loss to the New Orleans Pelicans that levelled the playoff series at 2-2 on Sunday.

The Pelicans repeatedly tested the Suns inside the paint in Game 4, with Brandon Ingram and Jonas Valanciunas combining to shoot half of New Orleans' 42 free throws.

By contrast, Monty Williams' Phoenix shot 15 from the line – in what was a 17-2 first-half difference between the sides – while being called for 12 more fouls than their opponents (28 versus 16).

The evergreen Chris Paul did not have one free-throw chance, after throwing 14 in the first three games, and went scoreless in the fourth quarter against defensive nuisance Jose Alvarado, who is a rookie guard.

The 36-year-old also managed just four points at the Smoothie King Center, a joint-low return in his playoff career alongside a four-point tally against the Denver Nuggets in April 2009.

Speaking to reporters after the game, Paul suggested the physicality was a throwback to yesteryear in basketball: "It's like the old NBA, isn't it?

"I asked one of the refs one time, 'Are we playing in the old NBA or the new NBA?'

"I was fortunate enough to play in both of them, we just have to figure out which one it's going to be. Regardless, whatever it is, you've to adjust early in the game and figure it out."

The Suns' coach Williams echoed Paul's frustrations as he bemoaned the officiating but acknowledged the eighth-seeded Pelicans were worthy winners in the Western Conference match-up.

"Forty-two to 15 in free throws – slice it any way you like to, in a playoff game that's physical, that's amazing," he said.

"Coaches shouldn't have to come up to the microphone and feel like they're going to get their head cut off for speaking the truth. It's not like we didn't attack the basket. That's really hard to do.

"They outplayed us and they deserved to win, but that's a free throw disparity."

The Pelicans attempted 46 shots in the paint to the Suns' 41, and New Orleans coach Willie Green was delighted with his team's aggressiveness.

"We were being aggressive. They dominated the paint last game," Green said. "Had 64 points in the paint. So we were well aware that we had to do better in that area."

Paul had 28 assists and zero turnovers in Games 2 and 3, but only produced 11 assists – four of those coming in the fourth quarter – and three turnovers in Game 4.

And Pelicans guard CJ McCollum was delighted with the defensive showing against the first-seeded Phoenix.

"I was tired of hearing about [Paul] breaking records during the fourth quarter," McCollum said of Paul.

"It's just a credit to our defense. Especially our intensity. But also, it's a make-or-miss league. He is not going to make every shot. But some nights, he is going to make a lot of tough ones.

"Tonight, he missed some shots he made the last three games. Credit our defense. But it's a make-or-miss league."

The Suns will also have to contain Ingram in Game 5 on Tuesday after he became the first Pelicans player in team history to score 30 or more in three consecutive playoff games.

The Phoenix Suns are waiting to hear more on Devin Booker's hamstring injury, although coach Monty Williams insisted the NBA title favourites are ready for the "next man up".

After scoring 31 points in the first half of Tuesday's game against the New Orleans Pelicans, giving the Suns a 61-56 lead, Booker was held scoreless in the third quarter before going down injured.

The three-time All-Star, who has battled injury problems previously, left the floor and was unable to return.

"We'll have more information tomorrow," Williams told reporters. "We've played without Chris [Paul] and Book before. If we have to play without Book, next man up. We've done that all year long."

The Suns were 8-6 without Booker this year, 11-6 without Chris Paul and 3-3 when both were absent.

Paul continued on Tuesday to finish with 17 points and 14 assists but acknowledged the blow of Booker's injury.

"It is what it is, it's part of the game," he said. "He was killing, he was having a big-time game."

In Booker's absence, the Suns sensationally lost 125-114 as New Orleans levelled the first-round series at 1-1.

It was a historic win for the Pelicans, who became the first team in NBA history to beat 60-win opponents in the playoffs after themselves finishing the regular season at least 10 games under .500.

Brandon Ingram was the star of the show, with 37 points, 11 rebounds and nine assists.

"This was one of his best [games] and it was on the big stage," Pelicans coach Willie Green said of Ingram. "I'm proud of that young man. He works his tail off."

Ingram added: "Throughout this year I had confidence that we would be here.

"I didn't know what it would look like, but we continued to get better every single day with Willie being positive every single day and helping guys and teaching guys every single day."

Late in the NBA season it appeared the Phoenix Suns may finish top-two in both offensive and defensive efficiency – a feat only accomplished twice in the 21st century.

Those two teams were the 2014-15 and 2016-17 Golden State Warriors, who both went on to win NBA Championships.

As Phoenix wrapped up the top overall seed with weeks to spare, their total efficiency took a dip in the final games as Aaron Holiday was gifted starts, and the duo of Ishmail Wainwright and Gabriel Lundberg were playing nearly a combined 50 minutes.

For the season, the Suns finished with the third-ranked defense, giving up 106.8 points per 100 possessions, and the fifth-placed offense, scoring 114.2 points per 100 possessions, giving them a net-rating of 7.5 (7.4 gap between offense and defense, rounded up to the closest decimal).

The 'per 100 possessions' qualifier is simply to provide an even playing field for teams that play at different paces – the Dallas Mavericks are the slowest team in the league, getting 95.6 possessions per game, while the run-and-gun Minnesota Timberwolves average 101.5 possessions per game.

Since, and including, the 1999-00 season, the 2021-22 Suns are the 13th team to finish top-five in both offense and defense.

The other teams are: 

1999-00 Los Angeles Lakers (fifth in offense, first in defense, 9.0 net-rating) 2001-02 Sacramento Kings (third in offense, fifth in defense, 8.1 net) 2005-06 Detroit Pistons (fourth in offense, fifth in defense, 7.6 net) 2006-07 Dallas Mavericks (second in offense, fifth in defense, 7.6 net) 2007-08 Lakers (third in offense, fifth in defense, 7.3 net) 2008-09 Cleveland Cavaliers (fourth offense, second defense, 9.6 net) 2009-10 Orlando Magic (fourth offense, fourth defense, 7.9 net) 2010-11 Miami Heat (second offense, fifth defense, 7.8 net) 2014-15 Warriors (second offense, first defense, 9.9 net) 2016-17 Warriors (first offense, second defense, 11.4 net) 2018-19 Milwaukee Bucks (first defense, fourth offense, 8.6 net)

Of those teams – all of which won at least 57 regular season games – half made it to the NBA Finals, while the 1999-2000 Lakers, 2014-15 Warriors and 2016-17 Warriors are the three to win championships. The reigning champion 2008-09 Celtics were the only side to not make it to the Conference Finals.

The 2005-06 Pistons were two seasons removed from their 2004 title; the 2006-07 Mavericks featured many of the pieces that would win the 2011 title; the 2007-08 Lakers stuck with it and won back-to-back in 2009 and 2010; the 2010-11 Heat won back-to-back in 2012 and 2013; and the 2018-19 Bucks just needed to add Jrue Holiday to push themselves over the line in 2021.

 

What this means is that while this specific Suns side may not be guaranteed to win this year's championship, they have a great chance to make the NBA Finals, and it shows that as an organisation, they have hit a sweet spot that very few sides ever reach, right in the heart of a true championship window.

However, none of those teams had their championship windows opened with the arrival of a 36-year-old. While the Suns are at a stage where they do not simply live and die with the health of Chris Paul, they are very clearly not the same team when he sits.

The Suns are 53-12 in the 65 games Paul has played this season, and are still an impressive 11-6 without him, showing that he has helped turn the franchise around in a real way.

Paul's biggest contribution to the Suns has been culturally, turning a perennial losing side into a team that expects to win every time it steps on the floor, no matter who is suiting up.

He has now been a member of the best regular season teams in the history of four franchises – the New Orleans Pelicans, the Los Angeles Clippers, the Houston Rockets and now the Suns.

However, it would be silly to discount the improvements Phoenix were making prior to Paul's arrival, including going 8-0 in 'the bubble' ahead of the 2020 Playoffs. Much of that credit also goes to head coach Monty Williams, who has the Suns playing a system that seems to work no matter who is on the floor, especially at the center position.

After being released by the Charlotte Hornets, Bismack Biyombo was picked up on a minimum contract and produced the most efficient scoring season of his career, registering 15 points and grabbing 12 rebounds per-36 minutes.

Career backup JaVale McGee has also been terrific, scoring 20.9 points and grabbing a career-high 15 rebounds per-36 in his 14th season in the league. 

For the season, McGee leads the Phoenix center trio in player efficiency rating (PER, where league-average is always 15) with 22.5, while Deandre Ayton is at 22.0 and Biyombo at 17.3.

The success of Phoenix's backup bigs has added fuel to the fire regarding the impending contract extension of Ayton, who the Suns made the first overall pick in the 2019 NBA Draft.

Ayton was eligible for a big-money extension this past off-season, but the organisation opted to wait until after this season when his contract expires, where they can decide if they feel he is worth the max-contract he is expected to demand, or if they are better served cashing on his perceived value through a trade.

Phoenix are paying Paul and Devin Booker max-contract money, and Defensive Player of the Year candidate Mikal Bridges signed a four-year, $90million extension in December, which was considered a bargain for a player of his two-way impact.

The Suns have likely built something sustainable, but they are set to become one of the more expensive teams in the league, with an owner, Robert Sarver, who has never shown the willingness to go deep into the luxury tax.

While Paul's days as a superstar are likely numbered with his advanced age, Booker and Bridges are both 25 and yet to hit their prime, while Ayton – whether he is viewed as a cornerstone of the future or as a premium trade asset – is just 23.

However, chemistry can be everything and this team, as is currently constructed, has it in spades.

It is easy to see how this could be the start of an incredible decade of Suns basketball – they are mostly young, and just set a franchise-record for wins in a season with 64.

But they are outliers this year, and outliers come back to earth at some stage – often sooner than we expect.

Phoenix Suns' All-Star guard Chris Paul will be sidelined for six to eight weeks due to an avulsion fracture in his right thumb, according to ESPN.

The 36-year-old sustained the injury in Wednesday's 124-121 win over the Houston Rockets yet played two minutes for Team LeBron in Sunday's All-Star Game.

Paul has been a key part of the ladder-leading Suns who have a 48-10 record, averaging 14.9 points, 4.5 rebounds and an NBA-best 10.7 assists.

The NBA regular season ends on Sunday April 10, meaning Paul may be out until the playoffs commence, with the Suns well placed for a high seeding.

"We've dealt with a lot already this year," Suns head coach Monty Williams, who led Team LeBron on Sunday, told reporters after the game.

"We've lost multiple guys due to injury this year, and we've had things outside of basketball invade, so to think you're going to go through an NBA season and not have adversity, it's silly.

"You hate it, but you're prepared for it. This is different, because it's Chris. But with that in mind, it's also an opportunity to strengthen our team and give other guys confidence in certain areas, and when he does come back, I think we'll be that much better."

He added: "We're just gonna take it day by day, and see how he heals up as we go forward."

Monty Williams is thrilled to be at the helm of the NBA's best team after a 40th win of the season for the Phoenix Suns saw him rewarded with a coaching role for the upcoming All-Star Game.

The Suns became the first team this season to hit 40 wins as they overturned a 12-point fourth-quarter deficit to clinch their 10th straight win, beating the San Antonio Spurs 115-110.

Devin Booker top scored with 28 points including four three-pointers, while Mikal Bridges hit 26 and Chris Paul added 20 points, eight rebounds and a season-high 19 assists.

With his team the best in the Western Conference – and the league – Williams will now coach Team LeBron in next month's All-Star game.

"It's a huge blessing, to be in this position where you can be the caretaker of an organisation, represent an organisation, the city, the team, your family," Williams told a news conference.

"I'm mindful of that. I'm also mindful of all the sacrifices people make so I can be in this position. This is a team effort for sure. The players, what they do every day, our staff. The medical people.

"There's so many people that contribute to this. You get to coach the game but I'm thinking about everybody that has contributed. Our place is a special place, with a special group.

"I'm so grateful for the blessings that I have. God has blessed me beyond measure, in so many ways, to do what I do, get paid for it, live in Phoenix, drive the car I drive, have filtered water at home.

"I have so many things that I didn't have as a kid that I don't take for granted and this is another one."

Barring a surprising omission, Paul will join his coach in the 2022 All-Star Game.

Paul, an 11-time All-Star, has averaged 14.7 points, 4.3 rebounds and 10.2 assists across 48 games so far in 2021-22, with his tally in the latter category leading the NBA.

"I'm just happy for Monty, happy for our staff," he told reporters.

"Everybody contributes to it, that's just the way our staff is, everybody plays a role in it. It may seem like something small to a lot of people but that's big.

"Some coaches coach in this league for a long time and never get that opportunity. I'm glad that more people around the world get a chance to see him celebrate."

Asked about his players saying they were determined to win in order to secure his place as an All-Star coach, Williams said: "It blew me away.

"I wasn't almost in tears about it but when I sat and thought about those guys thinking about me in that way I was quite emotional because it's really my job to put them in a position to be successful.

"To have them want me, our staff, to be in that position, says a lot about them. It's a special group and I'm grateful to be part of this resurgence of basketball here."

Monty Williams was still looking at the bigger picture after the Golden State Warriors ended the Phoenix Suns' long winning run at Chase Center on Friday.

The 118-96 loss snapped the Suns' 18-game winning streak and saw the Warriors return to top spot in the Western Conference with a 19-3 record.

Phoenix beat Golden State 104-96 on Tuesday, but were unable to pull off a repeat three days later, as they were left in second spot on 19-4.

Suns head coach Williams insisted on looking at the bright side and praised his players for the focus they have shown since losing three of their first four games of the season. 

"I'm too in it to reflect on it properly," Williams told reporters when asked about the streak ending. "I think every win is special. To me, it was the collective focus that we've had throughout this season, not just the streak. It's only been 23 games, right? So there's a lot of basketball to be played.

"When we were 1-3 there was no panic, or 'what are we doing?' We just kinda hung in there and simplified some things and played good basketball.

"We arguably played the best team in the league tonight, them or us. We're not quite sure who it is but it's good to be in that category.

"Just the focus and the programme growing, that's what I'll remember."

The Suns were down 51-48 at half-time, but could not build on a strong second quarter and fell away to eventually lose by 22 points, with Deandre Ayton top scoring for the visitors with 23.

Williams said: "I thought they did a good job of speeding us up. We did that to them the other day. That's part of the chess match.

"It was physical. I thought they won that battle tonight. It was just one of those tough games.

"We learned a ton. Both teams about even in turnovers. It was just a slugfest."

Phoenix Suns veteran guard Chris Paul says breaking the franchise's record win streak is a "nice piece of history" but insists he was not thinking about it in Thursday's win over the Detroit Pistons.

The Suns completed an 18th consecutive victory, downing the lowly Pistons 114-103 to improve to 19-3 record to top the Western Conference. Phoenix's 18 straight wins broke their previous franchise-best mark from the 2006-07 season of 17.

Paul, who had 12 points and 12 assists against the Pistons, has played in many successful sides before but found unique joy in the Suns' record-breaking streak, even if it was not at the front of his mind.

"It's cool. I really wasn’t thinking about it," Paul said during the post-game news conference. "Obviously it's a nice piece of history for the team but for us it's always about that feeling of playing the game the right way.

"We say this every night, a win is a win, but we feel like we could’ve played better."

He added: "It's exciting. Some were so long ago so you forget. To be on this journey with young guys and having rookies on the team, it's cool. It's also cool that guys aren’t stressing about it either. it just happened."

The Suns were without All-Star guard Devin Booker for the first time this season due to a hamstring injury but had plenty of contributions.

Cameron Johnson and Cameron Payne both scored 19 points off the bench, while JaVale McGee added 10 points from 15 minutes too.

"We were hooping. It was like most nights," Paul said when asked about the side covering Booker.

"I aint surprised. I don’t expect anything less. It's how our team is. Every night it's someone else stepping up and we expect that."

Suns head coach Monty Williams was awarded Western Conference coach of the month prior to the game after an unbeaten November, with Paul offering up his praise.

"He's a big reason why I wanted to come play here, because of who he is as a person and as a coach, the principles and the accountability we have here," Paul said.

Phoenix Suns guard Chris Paul insists he is not retiring and is determined to go one better after losing the NBA Finals with a 105-98 Game 6 defeat to the Milwaukee Bucks on Tuesday.

Paul, 36, made his maiden NBA Finals appearance in his 16th season in the competition but missed out on the ultimate glory, as the Suns let slip a 2-0 series lead.

The veteran was visibly devastated at the defeat but vowed to return to the NBA Finals having waited so long for his shot at the title.

"It'll take a while to process this," Paul said at the post-game news conference. "Same mentality, get back to work. I ain't retiring. Back to work."

The Bucks became only the fifth side in NBA Finals history to come back from 2-0 down to take the title.

Scores had been level through three quarters in Game 6, but Paul acknowledged the Bucks were better down the stretch, offering lessons for his side.

"Right now, you've just got to try to figure out what you could've done more," he said.

"It's tough. Great group of guys, hell of a season but this one is going to hurt for a while."

Phoenix's run to the postseason snapped an 11-year playoff wait, while they had not made the NBA Finals since 1993, but Paul took little comfort in that.

"For me, it means back to work. Nothing more, nothing less," he said. "There ain't no moral victories.

"We saw what it takes to get there. Hopefully we saw what it takes to get past that."

Suns team-mate Devin Booker scored 19 points on eight-for-22 shooting in Game 6.

The 24-year-old had an outstanding season but was not able to perform at his best consistently throughout the Finals.

"This isn't something you want to feel," Booker said. "I haven't felt hurt like this in my life.

"That's what I say, we have a base and a foundation. Championship basketball at all times."

Suns head coach Monty Williams, who entered the Bucks locker room to congratulate them on their victory, fought back tears at his news conference.

"I think it's going to take me a minute. I just don’t take it for granted," he said. "It's hard to get here. I wanted it so bad. It's hard to process right now. it's hard."

The Suns, who were founded in 1968, are still chasing their first NBA title in franchise history.

Devin Booker reflected on a tough loss for the Phoenix Suns in Game 5 of the NBA Finals, admitting they "let it go" against the Milwaukee Bucks after making a great start.

After suffering straight losses on the road, the red-hot Suns scored 37 points in the opening quarter on Saturday, landing 14 of their 19 attempts from the field.

However, trailing by 16 after one, the Bucks hit back in emphatic fashion to seize control. They had 43 in the second and then 36 in the third, meaning they led the pivotal contest 100-90 going into the final quarter.

The Suns were unable to close the gap down the stretch, a 123-119 defeat meaning Milwaukee holds a 3-2 lead in the series - they can clinch a first NBA title for the franchise since 1971 at home on Tuesday.

"It was tough. We came out and did what we intended to do, get off to a great start and we let it go," Booker, who finished with 40 points, told the media.

"They stayed resilient and they kept playing through. So, tough loss for us."

It was a second successive 40-point outing for Booker, who becomes the first player in NBA Finals history to lose back-to-back games despite reaching that mark. He is one of just five to have that happen in a playoff series, too.

The Suns now find themselves in a win-at-all-costs scenario in the series, a situation they have not faced previously during their impressive postseason run.

"We got to win one game to put them back on the plane. That's it. And you have to have that determination that you're willing to do whatever it takes to put them back on the plane," Phoenix head coach Monty Williams said.

"So, we can call it what we want to, mental toughness, all of that stuff, but it's going to be needed and our guys are capable of doing it. This is our first time in this position and we can do it."

Booker had the ball with the Suns down by one in the closing seconds, only for Jrue Holiday to steal possession. The Bucks guard then set up Giannis Antetokounmpo for a dunk with an alley-oop pass at the other end of the court, during which the two-time MVP was fouled.

The three-point play clinched the result in Milwaukee's favour, though Williams was more concerned by the problems his team had defensively in both the second and third quarters.

"You give up 79 points and the reasoning behind it, I got to look at the film to see it, but we just didn't have the same energy that we had in the first and fourth," he told the media.

"You look at the numbers, in the first and fourth, they have 44 points.

"So, whether it's schematics or just outright grit and toughness during those moments, to just get a stop, we couldn't get any consecutive stops in the second and the third.

"That ended up being the, not the difference, but it just put us in a hole and we felt, I felt like we were playing from behind for a long, long time."

Phoenix Suns head coach Monty Williams is bullish that Chris Paul will respond in Saturday's Game 5 after an uncharacteristic display with five turnovers in Game 4's defeat to the Milwaukee Bucks.

The Bucks squared up the NBA Finals at 2-2 with Wednesday's 109-103 win over the Suns, with Williams ruing his side's 17 turnovers which led to 24 Milwaukee points.

Paul was guilty of five turnovers, including a crucial late error allowing Khris Middleton to score as the Bucks raced away in the final quarter after trailing by six points at three-quarter time.

The 36-year-old Suns guard also only managed 10 points for the game, shooting at 38.5 per cent from the field and failing to hit one three-pointer but Williams backed him to respond in Game 5 back in Arizona.

"A blip on the screen, that's how I would term it," Williams told the pre-game news conference. "You're not going to see Chris having those kinds of games frequently.

"I've been around long enough and coached against him long enough. I'd term it a blip on the radar."

He added: "There's not a person in our locker room that's not expecting to not come out and play really well the next game."

Williams added that Paul, who has battled hand and shoulder injuries during the postseason, was fine physically and fully focused.

"I just see Chris being Chris," Williams siad. "He's always intentional about everything, he's focused.

"I find myself struggling when I can't help him. That's what we've talked about the last couple of days.

"Chris is fine. He's focused. He's all about winning. The conversations are all about basketball right now. We know what's in front of us."

Paul has averaged 18.7 points per game and 8.6 assists per game this postseason, shooting at 48.5 per cent from the field.

Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker was sensational with 42 points in Game 4 of the NBA Finals, but he said his performance "doesn’t matter at all" as his team lost.

The Milwaukee Bucks squared up the series at 2-2 with Wednesday's 109-103 win over the Suns.

Booker had scored 18 points in the third quarter to earn Phoenix a six-point lead heading into the final chapter, but the Bucks responded with an impressive 33-21 last-quarter charge.

The 24-year-old had a poor shooting display in Game 3 with 10 points, shooting at 21.4 per cent from the field.

But Booker's 38 points across the first three quarters in Game 4 was tied for the second most at that stage of a game in the NBA Finals across the last 25 years, behind only Stephen Curry (40) in 2019 and level with Allen Iverson in 2001.

Booker also surpassed Rick Barry (521) and Julius Erving (518) for most points scored in a player's first NBA playoffs campaign.

"It doesn't matter at all," Booker said at the post-game media conference when asked about his individual performance.

"I said that after last game too when I struggled shooting it. The main objective is to win the game. Anything that goes on throughout the game it doesn’t matter, for real."

Booker's team-mate Chris Paul had five turnovers for the game as the Suns offered up 17 as a team, which head coach Monty Williams identified as a chief reason for the defeat.

Paul took a back seat to Booker but was below his best, finishing with only 10 points, shooting at 38.5 per cent from the field and missing both of his two three-point attempts.

Williams insisted 36-year-old Paul, who has had injury troubles throughout these playoffs, was not hampered.

"He's fine," the Suns head coach said. "Great players have games like that. We expect him to bounce back.

"He had five [turnovers], but we had 17 and they scored 24 points [from turnovers]. That was pretty much the game right there, when you double that up with the offensive rebounding.

"It wasn’t just Chris. We've got to take better care of the ball."

Williams added that he knew Booker was ready to respond in Game 4 after his ordinary shooting display in the previous outing.

"When he can stop on a dime and get guys up on the air, he has his legs underneath him, it's something I see in the shootaround," he said. "I can see when he's got his legs."

The NBA Finals returns to Arizona for Game 5 on Saturday.

Paul added: "You can't just bank on the fact you've got home court. You've got to go out and play the game and execute. We'll do that.

"We tend to respond well. we know what we've got to do. Be better."

The Phoenix Suns received a "tough lesson" in Game 3 of the NBA Finals against the Milwaukee Bucks, but head coach Monty Williams expects his players to bounce back from the defeat.

Having won the opening two games of the best-of-seven series in Phoenix, the Suns went down 120-100 to a determined Milwaukee team on Sunday. 

Giannis Antetokounmpo posted 41 points - making him the first player to reach 40 in back-to-back outings in the NBA Finals since LeBron James in 2016 - but it was far from a one-man show for the Bucks, as four other players also reached double digits.

Williams had warned his team to expect a backlash from their opponents, whose aggressive approach - Milwaukee had 13 offensive rebounds and attempted 26 free throws - helped spark life into the battle to decide the identity of this season's NBA champions.

"There's a lot of ways you can spin it, but they played with a great deal of aggression for longer stretches than we did," Williams told the media.

"We knew it was coming. We did not respond to it well tonight, especially in the second and third quarters.

"The turnovers certainly hurt us, points in the paint, everything we have been talking about the whole series. So it was a tough lesson for us to learn.

"You know what was coming, but just didn't do enough consistently to withstand their attacking the paint, whether it was penetration, offensive rebounding.

"We gave them so many possessions, so we lost a shot and then they scored off of it. It was a double whammy."

He added: "I think we know that we have to play with an unreal amount of aggression and energy for 48 minutes. That's the deal. All of our guys know that we didn't.

"We have had this happen to us before in the playoffs, and so I expect our guys to bounce back."

Chris Paul had 19 points for Phoenix and Deandre Ayton contributed 18 before running into foul trouble, restricting the center to just 24 minutes of action. Without him, Phoenix struggled to get defensive stops.

"He's a big part of our team, especially he's the anchor of our defense," Paul, who also had nine assists but landed just one of his four three-point attempts, said about Ayton.

"I feel like any team would love for him not to be on court offensively and defensively. So, yeah, we got to protect him better and make sure that we're showing that wall."

It was not just Paul who struggled from long range for the Suns, with the visiting team making just nine of their 31 attempts from beyond the arc for a success rate of 29 per cent.

The Suns had not trailed by more than seven at the half in the playoffs prior to Game 3, when the deficit stood at 15 following a dominant second quarter by the Bucks.

Game 4 takes place in Milwaukee on Wednesday.

"I said after last game, this team is not going to give in," Suns guard Devin Booker told the media.

"They're going to keep playing all the way through, so we have to bring that same effort that we had in the first two games and I think we'll be in good shape."

Chris Paul called the tune in Game 1 of the NBA Finals on Tuesday, with the Phoenix Suns point guard orchestrating a 118-105 triumph over the Milwaukee Bucks.

Making his first finals appearance in year 16 of his stellar career, Paul led the way for the Suns with 32 points as they capitalised on home advantage to take an early lead in the best-of-seven series.

Devin Booker contributed 27 and Deandre Ayton produced yet another playoff double-double, the center collecting 19 rebounds to go alongside his 22-point haul.

However, in a contest that saw Giannis Antetokounmpo make his return from injury for the Bucks, it was Paul who stole the show - including making six of his seven attempts in a third-quarter push.

"When it's going like that, you just want to space the floor well and let him orchestrate," Suns head coach Monty Williams said about Paul's third-quarter performance, which also included a trio of successful three-pointers.

"I thought he was making the right plays. They were switching a ton, and we have to offer that space and play faster if he gets off of the ball.

"But he was making shots and when he's in that mode, we just feed off of that.

"I don't have a marker or a segment in the game where I'm like, here he goes. It just happens. Our guys feed off of those moments in the game."

The Suns - back in the NBA Finals for the first time since 1993 - had benefited from some extra rest ahead of the series, having clinched the Western Conference title with a 4-2 triumph over the Los Angeles Clippers at the end of June.

In contrast, the Bucks' battle with the Atlanta Hawks only came to a conclusion on Saturday.

"It's the formula for any team. You want to win every game, but especially the first game it gives you a level of confidence," Williams told the media. 

"Our starts over the course of the playoffs, when we start well, it tends to build confidence for our team.

"I think about Game 5 against the Clippers when we had that below-average start. We were digging ourselves out of a hole. And it wasn't just the offense. It was just having the energy and the juice that we typically play with. So I do think it's important.

"I think our guys understand that and we need to do it every time we step on the floor."

Back in action after hurting his left knee in Game 4 against the Hawks, Antetokounmpo had 20 points and 17 rebounds for Milwaukee in a losing cause. 

Khris Middleton led the way for the Bucks with 29 points, but for a third straight series Mike Budenholzer's team have lost Game 1.

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