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FINALS Game 1 Preview: The Bucks stop here

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The road to an NBA Title goes through the Valley in Phoenix Suns territory

NBA: Milwaukee Bucks at Phoenix Suns Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

NBA FINALS — GAME 1

What: Milwaukee Bucks at Phoenix Suns

When: 6:00 PM AZ/Pacific Time

Where: Phoenix Suns Arena

Watch: ABC

Listen: 98.7 FM


The Phoenix Suns and Milwaukee Bucks began their existence as part of a league expansion, both voted in as new franchises for the 1968-69 season.

Then the Bucks one-upped the Suns by winning a coin flip for Lew Alcinder (you know, the dude who later changed his name to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and went on to Laker fame) in 1969.

The Suns played the long game for revenge. A long long.... loonnng game. Now 53 seasons later, the Suns are trying to get back at the Bucks by taking a championship out of their clutches in the 2021 NBA Finals.


Probable Starting Lineups

Injuries/out

Suns: none. nada. zilch.

Bucks: Giannis Antetokounmpo (hyperextended knee) is QUESTIONABLE and will be a game-time decision; Donte DeVincenzo (ankle) is OUT FOR PLAYOFFS


Bucks Update

For the first time in their 54 year history, the Phoenix Suns are favored to win the NBA title. In 1976 they were a heavy underdog to recent champ Boston Celtics, and in 1993 they were dogs to the two-time defending champ Chicago Bulls.

This year, the Finals opponent is the Milwaukee Bucks whose current roster has never sniffed a Finals and whose core of Giannis and Khris Middleton has come up short of the Finals for four straight seasons.

Last offseason, they upgraded at point guard from Eric Bledsoe to Jrue Holiday, from Wesley Matthews to defense-oriented P.J. Tucker and from Marvin Williams to Bobby Portis.

“A big piece of their team,” Chris Paul said of P.J. Tucker. “Tuck’s just always going to do the dirty work and every team needs that.”

But they are down a couple of other big pieces in Giannis and recently-regular starter Donte DiVincenzo, and on the perimeter they downgraded from George Hill to Bryn Forbes.

However, the Bucks looked very good in those last two games of the Eastern Conference Finals without Giannis. Players who stood out...

  • Suddenly, free to roam the paint, Brook Lopez looks like early-career All-Star Lopez again, averaging 23 points on 70% shooting, plus 6.5 rebounds and 3.5 blocks in those two games (up from 10/2.8/1.0 the first 4 games of the ECF)
  • Jrue Holiday stepped up big time too, averaging 26 points and 11 assists in Giannis’ absence (up from 20 and 9.5 the first 4)

“Jrue is just the consummate team guy,” Chris Paul said at Finals Media Day. “Plays the right way. Defends and can score. (Off the court) He’s just a good guy, a great guy.”

  • The biggest remaining star on the Bucks, though, is Khris Middleton, who poured in 29 points and 6 assists per game sans Giannis (up from 21 and 7.5 the first 4 games)

Look for the Bucks to attack the paint relentlessly because they are not a great shooting team. Good thing for Suns fans that the Suns are the playoffs’ No. 1 defense on shots at the rim!


Suns Update

“We’re not here to justify what we’re doing to anybody else, for real.” — Devin Booker when asked about Suns opponents’ injury issues this postseason.

The Suns do not care about narratives. They just want to win games, and they’ve done that to the tune of the league’s best overall record since the start of the Bubble, since the start of this season, since the start of the playoffs. The Suns are the best against the best teams, best on the road and best after a loss.

Young center Deandre Ayton knows that winning isn’t about making the most highlight plays.

“It’s not gonna always go our way,” Ayton said at Media Day. “It’s not gonna always look pretty, but consistency is the key.”

He talked about the Suns having to keep their heads when other teams tried to get physical to get the Suns out of their game. They also had to adjust to playing with one-armed Chris Paul and then deal with his absence at the beginning of the Western Conference Finals.

“It’s not easy winning in the NBA,” Ayton says. “There was a lot of adversity and a lot of trials and tribulations.”

This year, the Bucks have learned how to switch on defense like other teams, and that has helped the Bucks earn the best overall defensive rating in the playoffs. Switching has helped Suns opponents reduce the number of easy scores the Suns can get, holding the Suns to only the playoff’s 10th best offense (out of 16 teams) after three rounds.

“We’ve seen it a lot,” Booker says of teams switching on them. “You scout that, and we try to take advantage of that. We’re expecting to see that a bit.”

Booker knows that the Bucks have some guys who can defend him very well, from the long (6’7”) and agile Khris Middleton to former practice nemesis P.J. Tucker.

“So excited. So excited,” Booker said of expecting P.J. to defend him in the Finals. “We’ve obviously had those matchups in practice a lot. Me and Chris we talked (trash) a lot, me and Tuck we bumped into each other.”

The other development for the Bucks is that coach Mike Budenholzer is finally maximizing his best players by giving them heavy minutes, rather than this weird notion that his best players should play their normal 32-minute rotations.

Mark me down as hoping for a fully healthy Giannis in this series. I want the Suns to play the very best of the Bucks, and I want the Bucks to play the very best of the Suns.


Stat Me!

(courtesy of Suns media relations stat folks)

There have only been two three-overtime games played in NBA Finals history and each of the previous two involved the Suns: Game 5 against the Celtics in 1976 and Game 3 against the Bulls in 1993. Could the Suns perform the hat trick?

The Suns won both matchups earlier this season, but only by one point each time (125-124 and 128-127), the latter going to overtime.

Chris Paul is just the fourth player all-time to make his first Finals appearance in his 16th season or later, joining Kevin Willis in his 18th season with San Antonio in 2003, Juwan Howard in his 17th season with Miami in 2011 and Tracy McGrady in his 16th season with San Antonio in 2013. In one game (Game 6 of the WCF), Paul almost outscored all three of them in their age 36 Finals runs (46 total points for the three vs. 41 for Paul in the one game).

And here’s your doozy: Devin Booker needs only 89 points to score the MOST POINTS in a first-ever playoff run in NBA postseason history. Rick Barry scored 521 points in his first playoffs in 1967, and no player has ever topped that. Booker has 432 points with at least 4 games to go, which means he needs to average just 23 points per game to set the new record.


Prediction Time

Who we got tonight, Suns fans?

Poll

Predict the Game 1 outcome

This poll is closed

  • 29%
    Suns in a blowout
    (128 votes)
  • 65%
    Suns in a close one
    (281 votes)
  • 4%
    Bucks in a close one
    (19 votes)
  • 0%
    Bucks in a blowout
    (4 votes)
432 votes total Vote Now