With the Milwaukee Bucks and Phoenix Suns as the last two teams standing, the NBA Finals are going to look a little bit different this season.
The end of an era
Over the course of the past decade, NBA fans have seen a lot of LeBron James and a lot of the Golden State Warriors. In fact, the last NBA Finals that did not feature at least one of James or Golden State, took place all the way back in 2010, when Kobe Bryant’s Lakers defeated the Boston Celtics in seven games. Since then, there have been ten NBA Finals, and every single one of them has included either LeBron or the Warriors; four of which have included both. That means 14 of the last 20 possible Finals appearances have gone to one of the two. In that span, James has secured four championships, while Golden State has won three. The Dallas Mavericks, San Antonio Spurs and Toronto Raptors are the only exceptions in this decade.
But the streak has finally come to an end. The 2021 NBA Finals will not feature LeBron or the Warriors, but instead the Western Conference champion Phoenix Suns and the Eastern Conference champion Milwaukee Bucks. The series will include zero players that have ever won an NBA title, and two franchises that have not won one in 50 years. The Bucks have been crowned champions just once in their franchise’s history (1971) while the Suns have never earned such an honor. Both teams have been to The Finals twice; Milwaukee in 1971 and 1974, and Phoenix in 1976 and 1993.
Giannis and CP3 finally get chance to play on basketball’s biggest stage
The two teams are led by respective perennial All-Stars Chris Paul and Giannis Antetokounmpo; two guys that have been widely regarded as some of the most valuable players in basketball for some time now, but who have also faced heavy criticism for their inability to get the job done when it matters most. One of the two will put an end to that narrative by July 22nd.
Not only have either of the two ever won a championship, but neither of them have ever made it to The Finals. However, they have both been close in recent seasons. Giannis’ Bucks were dominant in 2019. They had an elite regular season and dominated the first two round of the playoffs. They then matched up against the Raptors in the East Finals where things did not seem much different. They took a 2-0 lead in that series with a ticket to The Finals on the line, before the Raptors stunned the basketball world and reeled off four-straight wins to eliminate Milwaukee in six games. There were multiple turning points in that series that so easily could have swung things in the Bucks’ direction, but it was not meant to be. The Raptors would go on to win it all.
Paul’s Houston Rockets had a 3-2 series lead over the almighty Kevin Durant-led Warriors in the 2018 West Finals. Paul went down with a right hamstring injury late in game five and never returned to the series. Uncoincidentally the eventual champion Warriors took the next two games to eliminate Houston in seven. One cannot help but think about how differently that series may have gone if Paul was able to stay healthy.
The road to The Finals
The Bucks’ road to The Finals started with a 46-26 regular season that placed the team third overall in the Eastern Conference. Milwaukee swept the Miami Heat in the first round of the playoffs in a revenge series, following a second round series last year that saw the Heat upset the Bucks in five games. They then matched up with the star-studded Brooklyn Nets who faced injury problems all series, ultimately falling to the Bucks in a wild game seven. Milwaukee is coming off a 4-2 series win over this postseason’s biggest surprise: the Atlanta Hawks, who managed to reach the Conference Finals as a five-seed. The Bucks enter The Finals playing good basketball, only to be overshadowed by concerns about the availability of Antetokounmpo, who suffered a knee injury in game four of the Conference Finals.
As one of the NBA’s big surprises this year, the Suns had a magnificent regular season, finishing 51-21. As the second-highest seed in the West, they have simply taken care of business in the postseason thus far. First, they handled the seven-seed LA Lakers in six, followed by a sweep at the expense of the third-seed Denver Nuggets, and finally a hard-fought six-game series against the fourth-seed LA Clippers. They head into The Finals healthy and playing well.
The Bucks’ big three has performed well in these playoffs, led by Antetokounmpo who is averaging 28.2 points, 12.7 rebounds and 5.2 assists per game while shooting 55.1% from the field. Khris Middleton has poured in 23.4 points per night including a couple of 38-point games. He is also averaging 8.0 rebounds and 5.1 assists per contest. Offseason acquisition Jrue Holiday has put up 17.6 points, 5.6 rebounds and 8.4 assists per night.
For the Suns it has been Paul, Devin Booker and DeAndre Ayton who have formed a big three of their own. Paul has averaged 8.7 assists per game this postseason to go with 18.1 points on 47-41-91 shooting splits. In his first playoffs, Devin Booker has put up 27.0 points per game, 6.4 rebounds and 4.8 assists. Ayton has been dominant on the glass, grabbing 11.8 rebounds per game, while scoring 16.2 points.
With Antetokounmpo’s availability in question, ComeOn! Sportsbook has the Suns favoured to win the series at 1.54, while the Bucks are set at 2.50.