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Milwaukee Bucks vs Phoenix Suns: NBA Finals Staff Roundtable

The crew convenes to make their predictions

NBA: Finals-Media Day Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome back to yet another installment of the Brew Hoop Round Table, where we ask that everybody use coasters and please don’t feed the aging pugs from the table, thanks. This is it! The final Round Table of the year, because we’re in the NBA Finals and can either win a championship or fall short just shy of the finish line. No pressure!

The questions:

  1. What worries you the most about the Phoenix Suns?
  2. What worries you most about the Milwaukee Bucks?
  3. What needs to happen for the Bucks to win the championship?
  4. Who is your X-factor in this series?
  5. What is your series prediction?

What worries you the most about the Phoenix Suns?

Mitchell: If these games go the way you’d expect a normal contest between Milwaukee and Phoenix to go, then you would expect that Chris Paul orchestrates the Suns’ offense perfectly and that he and Devin Booker rain pull-up midrange jumpers from the gaps that Milwaukee’s defense concedes. Two All Star-level players who get theirs in that specific way is a worry, further exacerbated by a supreme rim runner (Ayton) to pounce on any openings at the rim and a whole cadre of 3 & D wings (Crowder, Bridges, and Cam Johnson) who are exactly the types of dudes who would hit open threes against the Bucks. Maybe they’re not the most talented team ever, but the blueprint for Phoenix to emerge victorious is pretty obvious, and the Bucks have historically struggled avoiding the obvious.

Kyle: Besides Giannis’ health I do worry how Milwaukee handles Chris Paul. If Kevin Durant was the most talented player Milwaukee has faced, Paul is easily the smartest. He will be able to pick out the right pass or go for a pull up. He will trick the refs into calls and he’a going to do whatever it takes to win a ring. If Paul finds a rhythm, it’s going to be some long nights for the Bucks.

Gabe: The shot makers on the Phoenix Suns. Both Chris Paul and Devin Booker will be able to get their shots — we know that. However, if Jae Crowder is also finding his groove, that could really tilt things in Phoenix’s direction. Last year in the bubble as a member of the Heat, Crowder gave Milwaukee fits. Add in the fact that Cameron Johnson off the bench can also stroke it, it becomes even more worrisome for Milwaukee. If Phoenix is firing on all cylinders from the perimeter, that likely won’t bode well for the Bucks.

Riley: Execution at the highest of levels with the pressure turned up to 100. Much as I adore our Milwaukee Bucks, there are still possessions when things get tight where the decision-making can be best described as “lacking”. Does that hold true for Phoenix as well? Between Chris Paul and Devin Booker, I doubt it. With or without Giannis we’ll need to small stuff at the margins to go our way, and Phoenix is likely better equipped to push things in their direction.

Adam: Their attention to detail. They don’t turn the ball over all that often, their offense seems to always have purpose to the extra flourishes and their ATO sets have always seemed well set-up. Defensively, they’re just solid, and forced opponents into the worst eFG% of the Playoffs by sticking to their assignments. These are all traits I have found the Bucks lacking to varying degrees, and in a series with little margin for error, I can see Phoenix erring less.

Van: They have few vulnerabilities. No one in that starting lineup has a weakness on offense or defense that the Bucks can look to exploit like the Suns may be able to, hiding a weak defender on P.J. Tucker or switching one of their scorers onto Bryn Forbes. Outside of Cam Payne, I don’t see anyone the Bucks can attack due to their defensive shortcomings, and certainly no one they can hide someone on.

Andrew: They have tons of momentum, rest, coaching, and a veteran point guard to help slow the game down if things start to get hairy for the Suns. Aside from the Hawks, I thought it was pretty clear tha Phoenix is the HOTTEST team in the NBA. Granted, they went through the Lakers who lost Anthony Davis when up 2-1, faced the Nuggets with without Jamal Murray and an unhealthy Michael Porter Jr., and of course, played the Clippers without Kawhi Leonard. The Suns obviously don’t control who is injured, but even when playing undermanned teams, they didn’t let their foot off the gas and kept their foot on the gas. Monty Williams is a great coach and that has been amplified this postseason. I am sure he will throw a new wrinkle at the Bucks that they haven’t seen before.

What worries you most about the Milwaukee Bucks?

Mitchell: I has to be Giannis’ health, right? When comparing the matchups between both teams and listing who the top-5 players in the series are, everything is so much different when Giannis isn’t involved. Jrue Holiday and Khris Middleton have proven that they’ll come through when it counts, Brook Lopez has been nothing but solid all postseason, and Mike Budenholzer has pressed the right buttons at the right times. If Giannis plays and is anywhere near his normal self, suddenly the Bucks can boast a major talent advantage. If not, any edge Milwaukee has is dulled considerably.

Kyle: Besides Giannis’ health, which Jrue Holiday will we see. Is it the Jrue that was the second best player in games one and two, the Jrue who disappeared in games three and four or the Jrue who stepped up in Giannis’ absence.

Gabe: The consistency of Jrue Holiday and Khris Middleton. In the last two games without Giannis, those two were able to step up when called on. However, so many times during this playoff run, one or either both of them have had off games, which typically results in the Bucks struggling. The Bucks will not be able to afford many off performances from that duo.

Adam: Giannis, obvs, but it’s the 3-point shooting. Even after a regular season when they finally matched efficiency with their volume shooting from deep, they’re now shooting the worst percentage of any of Bud’s three Playoff runs in Milwaukee. Part of it is Bobby Portis and Bryn Forbes falling back to Earth, but the Bucks won’t be able to win this series unless their shooting turns around at least a little bit.

Van: The outside shooting, like I’ve said every round (or at least last round). This time we add Giannis’ health. If both those issues resolve in the Bucks’ favor, they feel like significant favorites, should Giannis get back into a groove quickly.

Riley: The bench/non-Giannis/Jrue/Khris group as an entire entity. If recent history is anything to go off of then Mike Budenholzer will keep his rotation trimmed down. So far the likes of Brook Lopez, Bobby Portis, PJ Tucker, Pat Connaughton have been gigantic in being the stopgap to see us through those spare possessions where one of the big three isn’t available. Can the luck hold? Or will role players role player?

Andrew: Aside from Giannis’ health, will anyone make an open three? It isn’t all about the three-point percentage at the end of the game, but it will be hard to see the Bucks winning the Finals if they’re making less than 10 threes a game. They have certainly manufactured fantastic looks throughout the playoffs, but the execution has been spotty at best. In the Finals, mistakes are amplified, and missing open shots is a great way to dig your own grave.

What needs to happen for the Bucks to win the championship?

Mitchell: Milwaukee needs to find a way to score on this Suns defense. They don’t have a single shutdown defender or an impossible-to-beat scheme; they’re just very good, very disciplined, and highly motivated. Getting the shooting to bounce back (more on this later) would be the easiest path, since the Suns have the best paint defense (42.8 points per game in the paint allowed in the playoffs) the Bucks will face this postseason.

Kyle: Offensive variety will be needed against one of the best defenses in the postseason. The Bucks showed against Atlanta that even if they can’t hit threes, they can get points in the paint. If Giannis can’t get going, can Jrue continue showing the aggression he did in games five and six. Milwaukee’s defense will keep them in games but it’s up to the offense to win it.

Gabe: I’m going to re-iterate the point I made above. The Bucks need to see the same Jrue Holiday and Khris Middleton that they saw the last two games of the Atlanta series. Holiday needs to continue flashing that aggressiveness that makes him so dangers. He should be able to do that against Chris Paul, but that won’t be an easy task. Phoenix will have more talented wing defenders that they can line up on Middleton. With that being said, it’s going to be critical for him to win that battle. If the Bucks can get solid production out of those two, there’s a good chance that they win it all.

Adam: Giannis needs to come back as a decent facsimile of his old self. The Suns had no answer for him in the regular season, and I don’t think the Bucks are capable of pulling this series out without their MVP on the floor. They need his switchability defensively as well as his ability to put the ball in the tin on the offensive end. Even if he’s limited, he can’t be an active hindrance launching up ill-advised shots. He should take a page out of Brook Lopez’s book and allow Jrue Holiday or Khris Middleton to help set him up and ease some of his ball-handling load.

Van: I would say make a respectable amount of threes, but they’ve gotten this far mostly without doing that. Bud has to be willing to make sweeping tactical adjustments as necessary—which he really did against Atlanta—because his gameplan out of the gate in each of the last two series quickly looked incorrect, especially on defense. We could see it coming with the Hawks since Trae Young is uniquely suited to attack a zone drop with floaters; this could be the same case against the Suns with Booker and Paul’s midrange abilities.

Riley: They need to win four out of the next seven games.

Andrew: Make shots. I will feel MUCH better if they can hit an open three. It seems like they shoot it better when they have the opposing defense draped all over them.

Who is your X-factor in this series?

Mitchell: Bryn Forbes. Sooner or later, those threes are going to drop, and I question whether or not Phoenix’s supporting cast has the type of chase defenders to keep Bryn in whatever funk he’s in. He’s due, and the timing would be perfect.

Kyle: Pat is continuing his prove you wrong postseason and he will probably be tasked with once again being the only bench player you can rely on, if Bobby is starting, he will likely guard Cam Payne, Booker and Mikal Bridges so he will have his hands full. Pat consistently made plays that are important, even if they don’t show up on the box score.

Gabe: I’m going to agree with Mitchell. It really seems to be a matter of not if, but when for Bryn Forbes. You know he’s going to come in and take 3-4 threes. If he’s able to connect on a pair of those in a row, that has the power to completely shift momentum in a matter of seconds. I truly think he will have an impact on this series.

Adam: Bobby Portis. I think he’ll have a role in this series, even if Giannis Antetokounmpo returns, and his offensive rebounding plus a return to his regular season 3-point shooting stroke would be a much-needed offensive boon. Plus, how he survives defensively is going to be a massive part of this series given he’ll likely have to survive for a few seconds in space against Phoenix’s guards on switches.

Van: I’m surprised no one has said Giannis! His playing status is the fulcrum around how both of these teams prepare for each game and how they execute after tip off.

Mitchell: ...oh yeah, that guy.

Riley: Mike Budenholzer. I’ve no idea what adjustments he’ll make, how he’ll utilize Giannis (if he is indeed available), and how he’ll scheme things up to prevent the Suns from running rampant, but with a roster replete with zero title winners it’ll fall on the coach to do a good bit of the leading. There’s been a lot of “adapt & get out of the way” to Budenholzer this playoff run; let’s see if he can pull one more trick out of his hat.

Andrew: I’ll go a different route and say Mikal Bridges. He really struggled in the WCF and he will likely be the one drawing the Khris Middleton assignment defensively. Khris struggles with length and that is something Bridges has a lot of. Mikal has already carved himself out as one of the better perimeter defenders in the NBA, and if he can shut off the water, the Bucks might not have much of a chance. IF he is also knocking down threes and converting on open looks, it might be a quick series.

What is your series prediction?

Kyle: You must be outta your goddamn mind if you think I’m picking against Milwaukee the one time they make the Finals. Bucks in 7.

Gabe: This is going to be an entertaining series. Monty Williams has the Suns playing incredibly solid basketball. They’re an incredibly well-rounded team that has the capability to run a 10-man deep rotation. However, despite that and despite the fact that this is the first NBA Finals of Chris Paul’s career, I think the Bucks get it done in seven games.

Adam: Everybody loves turd in a whopbin guy, so let me play the part. I absolutely can see Milwaukee winning the series, but with Giannis’s health in question, the most likely scenario to me is the Suns coming through in seven.

Riley: We’re too deep into this run for me to let objective analysis stand in the way of my dreams. Bucks will win it in six and secure their title in front of a home crowd and city that have suffered through so much ignominious basketball. Redemption is in the air.

Van: I want to believe, but I think Suns in 7. Giannis will try to be Willis Reed or Kirk Gibson and though he may have some quality games, the only edge Milwaukee really has over them is experience. Outside of Paul and Jae Crowder, everyone in the Suns rotation is making their first playoff run. Phoenix has gotten by against teams missing star players for the entire postseason and are positioned to do so again for a game or two (likely), so this kind of negates the inexperience.

Andrew: Suns in 6. While Giannis Antetokounmpo might be “good” enough to play, I am not sure he will be his old self. That hyper-extension of his knee looked gnarly, and if that happened to me, I am pretty sure I would still be in the hospital. My biggest concern is the mental aspect of coming back from a potentially devastating knee injury with him. Is he still going to make the same cuts and decisions when driving to the basket? We’ll see.

Mitchell: I know I shouldn’t, but I can’t help myself. Here’s how it happens, fan-fiction style:

Milwaukee takes Game 1 by surprise, despite Giannis not playing. The Bucks’ shooting is preposterously good and the Suns simply can’t beat the heat.

Phoenix regroups and wins Game 2 by double-digits in Giannis’ return. Antetokounmpo is rusty and commits some bad turnovers and generally looks a step slow; everybody (including us) freaks out about him and re-rewrites his career epitaph based on one game.

Coming back to Milwaukee, the Bucks blow the doors off of Phoenix in Game 3. Giannis hits a handful of jumpers despite still looking pretty ragged. Devin Booker scores 30 points on 27 shots.

After trailing for most of Game 4, the Bucks come back in the second half and force overtime, eventually taking the lead on a breakaway Pat Connaughton dunk that causes Fiserv Forum to erupt. Sam Merrill sprains his ankle while celebrating on the sideline.

Down 3-1, Phoenix regroups at home and wins Game 5 handily. Chris Paul puts on the finest performance of his career. Deandre Ayton scoops up 20 rebounds. Torrey Craig and Thanasis Antetokounmpo both end up getting ejected over a tussle that doesn’t merit ejections. Giannis starts to look like himself again.

As their plane lands at Mitchell International ahead of Game 6, an ominous rumble can be heard on the wind as the Suns disembark from their plane. It echoes in their minds, wakes them from their sleep at night, and haunts them all the way through pregame warmups. Then, the Milwaukee crowd streams in, and the whisper morphs into a chant, then a roar... “Bucks in six...Bucks in six... BUCKS IN SIX... BUCKS IN SIX!”

Bucks in six.