#3 Milwaukee Bucks vs. #2 Phoenix Suns
The 2021 NBA Finals are set with the Milwaukee Bucks set to square off against the Phoenix Suns. Chris Paul, Devin Booker and Phoenix Suns are making their first NBA Finals appearance since 1993. While the Milwaukee Bucks led by Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton make their first NBA Finals appearance since 1974. Both teams took improbable routes to get here and weren't favored in their conference, but both teams are deserving and should make for entertaining 7-game series. I'll preview both teams key matchups and more in this version of my NBA Finals preview.
How They Got Here
The Bucks swept the defending Eastern conference champion Miami Heat in convincing fashion, the heavily favored Brooklyn Nets in a grueling seven-game series, and the Atlanta Hawks in six games to make their first appearance since 1974. While this playoffs has been mired by injuries, the Milwaukee Bucks are no exceptions losing their star Giannis in the Eastern conference Finals. However Brooke Lopez, Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday all stepped up in Games Four, Five and Six respectively to lead their team to the to the promised land. The Bucks proved the doubters wrong, including the Sports City Chefs, by leading their team to the finals without Giannis. Khris Middleton deserves his flowers for stepping up and being the Batman. After an interesting offseason where they acquired Jrue Holiday. However, the Bucks lost their 2022 second-round draft pick for violating rules of offseason's free-agency after their failed sign-and-trade agreement to acquire Bogdan Bogdanovic. Despite all that, they finished the season with a 46-26 record and the #3 seed in the improved Eastern Conference.
The Suns however, took a different route to get here. Thank you seeing the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers in five games, sweeping the Denver Nuggets, and defeating the tough Los Angeles Clippers to reach their first Finals since 1993. While injuries played a factor on the other team side with the Lakers losing LeBron James and Anthony Davis, Denver already being down without Jamal Murray, and the Clippers without Kawhi Leonard, the Suns won't apologize for taking advantage in winning tough series against very good competition. Chris Paul, making a career out of blowing 3 to 1 series leads, came up big in Game 6 and led his team to his first NBA Finals appearance of his brilliant career. He proved the doubters wrong and showed that he can make a difference on a team that no one thought could be here. The Suns, after impressive performance at last year's Bubble in Orlando, made the big off-season move to acquire Chris Paul. That acquisition paid big dividends as they finished the season with a 51-21 record and the #2 seed in the Western Conference.
Game 1 odds
Spread: Suns -5.5
Money line: Suns -220 | Bucks +190
Key Matchup: Jrue Holiday vs Chris Paul
While there are other matchups that are interesting in this playoffs i.e. Devin Booker versus Khris Middleton or Brook Lopez versus DeAndre Ayton, this matchup intrigues me the most. Chris Paul is coming off his best playoff performance we've seen in a long time (41 points in game 6). He is answered all the questions about if he can lead a team to the Finals and no one is more deserving of this opportunity and this big stage. Jrue Holiday on the other hand has awoken since the injury the Giannis, and led his team with a brilliant Game 6 performance (27 points/9 assists/9 rebounds). Holiday came into Milwaukee as a strong two-way player with defensive mind and 3-point scoring. He will need to put the clamps down on CP3 for this team to have a chance. Paul on the other hand has to run the show and get easy shots for a young team in their first Finals.
X-Factor: Will Giannis Antetokounmpo be able to contribute?
When Giannis Antetokounmpo hyperextended his knee in Game 4, everyone thought the Bucks wouldn't have a chance to get past the Atlanta Hawks. But the Bucks dug deep and beat a young Hawks team in 6 games. However their competition is much better in the Phoenix Suns. To beat the Suns team, Giannis has to play and be on the court. I would question his effectiveness as this knee injury is not easy to come back from in one week. But if he can go and be a decoy to open the floor up, then it might be just enough. We talk about how Chris Paul deserves this stage, the two-time MVP deserves to be on this stage as well.
Prediction: Suns win series 4-2
I feel the point guard matchup favors the sons as Chris Paul's experience might be enough. Devin Booker has been up and down during his first playoff experience, but when he's up he's electric. DeAndre Ayton's ascension to a star player is not to be overlooked. Ayton has played brilliantly in these playoffs being a force in the inside by controlling the boards, intimidating shots and scoring in the paint. Brook Lopez will have to earn his money by controlling Ayton and keep the Suns off the boards. However, the depth of the Suns versus the Bucks bench will be the factor as the Suns can throw waves at the Bucks that the Bucks might not be able to handle. Cameron Payne in particular has shown he can be a starter in this league, let alone a dangerous 6th man. I like the Suns in this series to win their first championship.