Anyone else still riding high off that Milwaukee Bucks Game Six clincher over the Atlanta Hawks? For as much residual good will as that’s provided me, I do find myself turning rather quickly into this Phoenix Suns Finals with real hope and some belief they could do the impossible and bring home a championship.
Where We’re At
Seems like people are still partying in Milwaukee, as they should! It took 47 years for this franchise to finally get back to the NBA Finals and the jubilation has been nothing short of spectacular. As Kyle wrote, I hope everyone was able to soak it in these past few days. After years of suffering through mediocrity and occasional heartbreak, a breakthrough sure felt nice.
On the court, the Bucks will face their stiffest test of the Playoffs now, at least in terms of overall talent. The Nets had higher-ceiling players than this Suns team, but there’s a level of cohesion with Monty Williams squad that Brooklyn never touched given their wild roster ride. The status of Giannis Antetokounmpo looms supreme over this series, and
the latest report from Shams has him listed as doubtful for Game One. UPDATE as of 1:40 Tuesday afternoon, Giannis has been upgraded to questionable.
Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo has been upgraded from doubtful to questionable on this afternoon’s injury report.— Malika Andrews (@malika_andrews) July 6, 2021
With that uncertainty, it’ll be up to Bud’s remaining makeshift squad to capture whatever magic they found in Games Four and Five in Atlanta. Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday’s aggression were the ancient ruby that help cast that spell first and foremost, with the former’s shotmaking and the latter’s drives helping thrust Milwaukee’s offense forward. I’d like to see Holiday stay locked in on penetrating the Suns interior, where they allow the highest percentage of shots at the rim in the Playoffs (34.2%; Atlanta was at 34.1%), per Cleaning The Glass. That’ll open up passing lanes for Lopez or Portis to cut, or he’ll be able to find Middleton for open shots when they’re working on the same side. It’ll be incumbent upon those two to keep the offense flowing and avoid getting bogged down in late shot-clock, one-action sets. Meanwhile, their transformation into an offensive rebounding juggernaut hasn’t gotten enough play. They’ve crushed teams with a 29.4% ORB rate; Phoenix doesn’t focus on that aspect of their offensive game and they’re a middle of the road defensive rebounding team. The Bucks need every extra shot they can get.
On the Phoenix side, expect plenty of pick-and-roll with Chris Paul and Devin Booker. The Point God will be pulling string after string, and center stage in this play will be the midrange of the court. The Suns were the best shooting team from short and long midrange in the regular season, and they take a higher percentage of shots from that area than from deep. Whether Bud opts for a more aggressive drop coverage from the outset versus switching 1-5, as we saw in the final two ATL games, is the first thing I’ll be looking for here. Booker and Paul will try to crush the Bucks with their shotmaking, but the Suns have plenty of capable three-point shooting wings in Jae Crowder (36.9% in Playoffs), Mikal Bridges (35.1%), Cam Johnson (45%) and Torrey Craig (44.4%). The Bucks would do anything to muster up that kind of shooting, but it’s all about praying to the math gods this series. Is there such a thing as a mean reversion dance?
Regardless, I’m ecstatic to be talking about this franchise in the Finals. What a wild ride it’s been, and I can’t wait to see how it bears out. Nobody is listed on the Suns injury report.
Player to Watch
Jrue Holiday is going to be the barometer for me this series. While he settled for a fair number of three-pointers late against Atlanta, his driving went up a whole other level. He’s averaging 14 drives per game for the Playoffs, but averaged 19 per game in the final two contests without Giannis Antetokounmpo. Phoenix’s guards can’t body him, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see one of their wings get the primary assignment on Holiday, especially if he’s bruising his way to the interior. On the defensive end, I want to see him get up in the guard’s grills the same way he did in the latter stages of the Atlanta series.
Game One: Against Phoenix, the Bucks will...
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Win big (by 10 or more points)
Win close (by 9 or fewer points)
Lose close (by 9 or fewer points)
Lose big (by 10 or more points)