MILWAUKEE -- The ball was in their veteran leader's hands, and the Phoenix Suns were trying to pull out a win during the final minutes of Game 4 of the NBA Finals when not once, but twice, Chris Paul turned the ball over late in Wednesday's 109-103 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks.
The pair of unforced errors led to two scores by Milwaukee -- one with 3:40 remaining to cut the Suns' lead to one point and another with 27.2 seconds left that lifted the Bucks' lead to four -- and fueled a furious Bucks finish to even the series 2-2.
"It was me," Paul said, copping to the reason Phoenix had 17 turnovers as a team compared to just five for Milwaukee. "I had five of them. It was bad decision-making."
The Suns outshot the Bucks 51.3% to 40.2%, but they had 19 fewer shot attempts because of turnovers and all the offensive rebounds they gave up to Milwaukee. The Bucks' 17 offensive boards led to 19 second-chance points.
"They got a significant amount more shots than us, so for me I got to take care of the ball," Paul continued. "We got 17 turnovers, we shoot the ball too well not to have those opportunities to score."
It was Paul's worst game of the playoffs since the first round when he was playing through a nerve issue in his shoulder against the Los Angeles Lakers. Beyond the turnovers, he had only 10 points on 5-for-13 shooting and seven assists -- well below his averages of 19.2 points and 8.7 assists this postseason.
"The turnovers just crushed us tonight," Suns coach Monty Williams said of his team's miscues. "When you have that kind of a lead in the fourth, if we can just hold on to the ball and get good possessions, you feel like you can at least hold it there. ... We certainly had a lot of self-inflicted stuff tonight."
And then there was the stuff that affected the game via the referees' whistles, something that's becoming a bit of a theme in this competitive series.
A big reason for the Suns' hitting more than 50% of their shots was Devin Booker's brilliant bounce-back game as he scored 42 points on 17-for-28 shooting.
As great as he was, he picked up five fouls, which limited his playing time in the fourth quarter, and he should have been called for a sixth and disqualified around the 3:40 mark when Giannis Antetokounmpo scored off the first of Paul's two late turnovers to cut the Suns' lead to one.
After Paul turned it over and Jrue Holiday streaked down the other end with the ball, Booker chased Holiday down and wrapped him up. The official box score credited Booker for a block on Holiday, which Antetokounmpo cleaned up with a layup. Crew chief James Capers told a pool reporter after the game that Booker should have fouled out on the play, however.
"During live play, I saw a clean sweep of the ball and thought it was a no call," Capers said. "However, after seeing the replay, I now realize that I missed Booker's right arm around the waist of Holiday, and it should have been a defensive foul on the play."
The Bucks won and Antetokounmpo scored after the no-call on Holiday, so perhaps there was no harm in that no-foul call. Though Williams wondered what could have been for Booker had he not been called for a fifth foul early on in the fourth quarter while boxing out P.J. Tucker.
"It's hard, because he's -- he could have gone for 50-plus tonight," Williams said of the decision to keep Booker on the bench from the 10:50 mark of the fourth until there was 5:55 left to try to keep him from picking up a sixth foul. "You're just holding on trying to get as many stops and solid possessions as you can, but it's not an ideal situation."
When Booker subbed out, the Suns were up by six. When he came back in, they were up by three. So they stood their ground without him. It was those final few minutes that really did Phoenix in.
"This is the Finals," Cameron Johnson said when asked if the end was a shock after Phoenix led for 37:55 of the first 44 minutes of game time before the Bucks made their last push. "It's the Finals, you're not going to get away with anything easy. You're not going to coast to any victory. I'm sure they're going to say the same thing. It's three more, you know. Three more. You got to get two of those.
"But there is no such thing as coasting here. It's high stakes, very high stakes. They know what's on the line. We know what's on the line. We came here up 2-0. You know what they were talking about in their locker room. Now you know what we're going to be talking about in our locker room."