When the 2020-21 NBA season began in December, in the middle of an ever-worsening epidemic and with teams playing to empty venues, no one knew what to expect. What ensued was the most unusual and difficult seven months of basketball in the league’s history. And now, finally, we’ve concluded.
The Phoenix Suns welcomed the Milwaukee Bucks in Game 1 of the 2021 NBA Finals on Tuesday night. Even when the playoff brackets were revealed, no one expected this game. It was competitive, though, and after a season full of surprising twists and turns, it’s an appropriate way to end things.
Suns vs Bucks Game 1 in NBA Finals Scores:
Suns win 118-105, Paul and Ayton create history, and the Suns take a 1-0 series lead. Ayton is the first player since Tim Duncan in 1999 to score 15 points and grab 15 rebounds in their Finals debut.
Chris Paul, Tim Duncan, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar are the only players aged 36 or older to score 30 or more points in an NBA Finals game. Following his Finals debut, CP3 is in good company.
During Game 1 of the NBA Finals, the Phoenix Suns defeated the Milwaukee Bucks 118-105. Ayton, Booker, and Paul combined for 91 points in this game. Game 2 will also take place in Phoenix.
Previously, Phoenix won both games against Milwaukee by two points, including a 128-127 overtime thriller in April. Yes, Bucks guard Jrue Holiday missed one of those games, and the rotations for both teams will be very different this time. Nonetheless, the Bucks and Suns brought great energy to the court throughout the regular season, and there’s no reason to think they won’t do it again, especially given what’s at stake for each team.
The Suns advanced to the NBA Finals for the first time since 1993, defeating the Lakers, Nuggets, and Clippers. After defeating the Heat, Nets, and Hawks, the Bucks secured their first NBA Finals appearance since 1974. Phoenix and Milwaukee are positioned to be contenders in the future, but they recognize how unusual it is to have a chance to win the championship. If the NBA playoffs of 2021 have taught us anything, it’s how fast an unforeseen injury may derail championship hopes.
How will the last series of this wild postseason play out? Let’s take it one step at a time.
The Key Matchup
Jrue Holiday vs. Chris Paul
How many problems may Holiday make for his main task? So, before Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals, Hawks coach Nate McMillan stated that he would let Lou Williams (starting in place of Trae Young), Kevin Huerter, and Bogdan Bogdanovic determine who would bring the ball up the floor based on who Holiday wasn’t covering.
This is what happens when you dribble too carelessly against a member of the All-Defensive First Team.
But, in terms of the Hawks’ backcourt, none of those players is “The Point God.” Paul has collected 122 assists to only 22 turnovers in 14 postseason games. The Suns’ guard is coming off a series-clinching game in which he had 41 points (16-of-24 shooting), eight assists, four rebounds, three steals, and zero turnovers. The future Hall of Famer is having one of his finest seasons yet.
Paul must be confident in himself not only because he is CP3, but also because of how he has previously fared against Holiday. According to the (admittedly poor) NBA.com matchup data from the last four seasons, Paul has handled Holiday’s pressure admirably.
Of course, stopping a celebrity is more than a one-man job. Paul is an expert at handling the pick-and-roll and pushing opposing big men into awkward positions.
It’s worth mentioning that Lopez was more aggressive in Milwaukee’s drop strategy following Young’s postseason career-high 48-point performance in Game 1. Perhaps Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer will urge Lopez to meet Paul at the level of the screen, or perhaps swap depending on the situation.
But, when it comes to slowing Paul down, the most important job begins with Holiday at the point of attack.
The Big Number
Bobby Portis of the Milwaukee Bucks and Jae Crowder of the Phoenix Suns have both scored 11 points or more in seven postseason games this season. Milwaukee and Phoenix had a combined 13-1 record in those games. (Portis had 11 points in the Bucks’ first-round defeat to the Hawks.)
And when Portis and Crowder score 11 points, both teams aren’t just winning; they’re dominating. In those games, the average margin of victory was 17.2 points.
Bucks vs. Suns Odds
According to the most recent FanDuel odds, the Suns are the favorites to win the NBA Finals in 2021. Phoenix is a -180 favorite, which means you’d have to wager $180 to earn $100 if the Suns win the series. If the Bucks win, a $100 wager on them will yield $145.
Bucks vs. Suns Prediction
Suns in six
This series is particularly tough to anticipate because of the Giannis situation. Winning two games without Antetokounmpo is a far different task than defeating a Suns team that has quality at every position and is coached by a fantastic coach in Monty Williams.
Even if Antetokounmpo does participate, the odds are that Phoenix, the most consistent team in the NBA throughout the regular season and playoffs, will win the Larry O’Brien Trophy.