It is finally time for the annual meeting of the NBA’s best from east and west. The 2021 Finals will deliver fans an entertaining fight for NBA immortality.
The Milwaukee Bucks and Phoenix Suns tip-off the 2021 NBA Finals Tuesday night, so here is DoB’s preview to get you ready for the series.
The Milwaukee Bucks
The Eastern conference representative in the NBA Finals dealt with a fair amount of doubt, criticism, and adversity this season. Adversity only strengthened this team, and they are more than ready to fight in a seven-game series for the NBA’s top prize.
The Bucks(46-26) finished the regular season as the 3rd seed in the East. Milwaukee’s playoff run includes series victories over the Miami Heat (4-0), The Brooklyn Nets (4-3), and the Atlanta Hawks (4-2).
Key Stars: Milwaukee
The engine of the Mike Budenholzer coached Milwaukee Bucks is two-time league MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo. Giannis this postseason has seen his fair share of tests. Skill-wise, his free-throw and jump shooting issues are highlighted by opposing defenses. Physically, the Bucks star is dealing with pain stemming from a hyperextended knee suffered during the Atlanta Hawks series.
I fully expect to see Giannis early in this series, and even though he’s questionable for game one, I would confidently say that if he doesn’t suit up and the first game goes in Phoenix’s favor, we should expect to see Giannis in game two.
With Giannis ailing, we’ve seen the other talented Bucks step up and do what they do best. Two-time NBA All-Star Khris Middleton has strung together a few impressive playoff series’ and has scored 30+ points three times in his last eight games.
Jrue Holiday is one of the most underrated two-way guards in the league. Jrue has more than done his part to propel the Bucks to their first Finals appearance since 1974. The underrated aspect of Holiday’s game is his offensive contribution. Forever known as a defensive stalwart, Jrue’s offensive game is an afterthought amongst many casual fans. Jrue showed in the Eastern Conference Finals (22 points and ten assists per game vs. ATL) that his offensive game is as good as any guard in the league.
Holiday will be depended on to help the Bucks thrive with a hobbled Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Matchups I’d Love to See: Milwaukee
Jrue Holiday vs CP3/Devin Booker:
I expect Holiday to be primarily matched up on Chris Paul, so it will be interesting to see how he fairs against the ‘Point God’ but I also expect that there will be instances when the Bucks will throw him on Devin Booker. Both matchups will be tough for Holiday, as CP3 and Booker are easily one of the most talented backcourts in the NBA. Offensively, I expect Jrue Holiday to take advantage of his size over Chris Paul and his strength over Booker to effectively score and navigate through the Phoenix defense to make plays all series.
Brook Lopez defending the pick and roll:
Lopez has done a great job defending all postseason, and his effectiveness at defending the rim is one of the key reasons Milwaukee is in the finals. Lopez’s deficiency on defense is his lateral quickness. To avoid exploitation of that deficiency, the Bucks will have Lopez play a drop coverage.
Drop coverage in the pick-and-roll is when the defender of the screener (Lopez in this example) “drops” away from the action to defend the roll and a potential drive. Simultaneously, the on-ball defender fights through the screen to stay with his man.
The issue with drop coverage in this series is that CP3 and Booker have three-level scoring abilities. Scorers who can attack the rim, mid-range, and shoot from deep, challenge the drop defender in so many different ways. This series should be difficult for Lopez, but he is more than able to compete.
Note: CP3 this season shoots 51.6% from mid-range and that’s where Lopez’ coverage will be tested.
Mike Budenholzer vs. playing Bobby Portis:
This is as simple as it gets, the Bucks have enjoyed Bobby Portis’ versatility, but sometimes throughout the playoffs, his minutes have been hard to come by. I’m watching to see if he gets around 15 mins per game minimum as the Bucks seem to be more successful the more he plays.
The Phoenix Suns
Almost a year removed their 8-0 2020 NBA Bubble finish to an otherwise disappointing season the Phoenix Suns are now the NBA Finals representative for the western conference.
The Phoenix Suns turnaround has many leaders. The media rightfully gives Chris Paul plenty of attention but, general manager James Jones, head coach Monty Williams, and franchise scorer Devin Booker have changed the culture over the past few seasons. A culture change so strong it seems like CP3 changed it overnight.
The Suns (51-21) finished the regular season as the 2nd seed in the West. Phoenix’s playoff run includes series victories over the Lakers (4-2), the Denver Nuggets (4-0), and the Clippers (4-2). The Suns’ regular-season record gives them a home-court advantage in the Finals.
Key Stars: Phoenix
In their first Finals appearance since 1993, The Phoenix Suns will rely on 24-year-old shooting guard Devin Booker to lead the way. Booker is averaging 27 points per game in the playoffs and takes the lion’s share of the offensive responsibility for the Suns. Booker has a mid-2000’s scoring mentality (he can score on all three levels and isn’t afraid of the mid-range) and will once again be put to the test against Milwaukee’s defense.
In the Western Conference Finals, Booker shot 38.2 percent from the field while playing through a broken nose. In the Finals and despite Milwaukee’s defense, I fully expect Booker to progress to somewhere around his average playoff field goal percentage of 44.4 percent in this series.
Suns’ maestro “Point God” Chris Paul will play in his first NBA Finals in his 16-year career. CP3 has done a great job commanding the Suns since his return from a shoulder injury he suffered in the first-round matchup against the Lakers. Chris Paul will have his hands full with Jrue Holiday on both ends of the floor.
The third key star for Phoenix in this series is big man Deandre Ayton. Ayton has grown before our eyes this season, and is a walking double-double. Ayton’s performance will be the X-factor for the Suns as he will see plenty of time guarding Giannis and the Bucks’ size on the defensive end.
Matchups I’d Love to See: Phoenix
Suns wings on Khris Middleton:
Khris Middleton is the type of player who, once he sees a few shots go in, becomes incredibly hard to stop. However, Phoenix has the athleticism and length between guys like Mikal Bridges and Jae Crowder to make things difficult for the Bucks All-Star. If the Suns can neutralize Middleton, the scoring pressure on the rest of the Bucks rises.
Booker vs. P.J Tucker:
I’m unsure of the amount of time we will see these two directly match up, but if there are moments that pit Tucker against Booker, keep an eye out for any extra agitation and physicality. After seeing Patrick Beverley get under Booker’s skin—outside of actually breaking his nose—it will be fun to see tenacious defender P.J Tucker attempt to get in the mind of the young star.
Overall, this NBA Finals matchup is one of the most interesting in recent history as only one player (Jae Crowder PHX) has previous NBA Finals experience.
Game one tips-off at 9:00p.m EST.