The last time the Milwaukee Bucks were in the NBA Finals, Oscar Robertson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar were the main men in Milwaukee. Forty-seven years later, the Bucks are back to the championship series with Khris Middleton, Jrue Holiday, Brook Lopez, and yes, an injured Giannis Antetokounmpo.
The question now stands: Can the Bucks beat Chris Paul, Devin Booker, and the rest of the Phoenix Suns?
It’s not the question of “Can they?”. It’s the question of “How?”.
Limit Chris Paul and Devin Booker
Chris Paul erupted for 41 points in Game Six of the Western Conference Finals against the Los Angeles Clippers. Devin Booker added 22 points in that 130-103 victory. If these numbers are any indication, the Bucks’ backcourt will have their hands full in terms of trying to contain the backcourt duo of Paul and Booker.
Then again, this wasn’t the first time in the 2021 playoffs that the Bucks faced a team with a similar backcourt.
The Atlanta Hawks had a Trae Young who scored 48 points to open the Eastern Conference Finals. The Brooklyn Nets had a duo of Kyrie Irving and James Harden before both guards fell to the injury bug.
While Jrue Holiday, Pat Connaughton, and Jeff Teague held down the fort against the aftermentioned guards, Devin Booker is on a different level, even though he’s playing with a recently-injured. Chris Paul, at 36, is playing like the great point guard many believe he still is.
It’s easier said than done but if the Bucks want to win their first NBA championship since 1971, limiting the production of Booker and Paul is a priority one for Coach Mike Budenholzer.
Make More Threes
Through 16 playoff games this year, the Bucks shot 30% from the three-point line- the third-worst three-point shooting percentage in the league. The Suns are better at 37%. If the Bucks are to have a shot at ending their title drought, they need to score more from the outside.
The Bucks shot 37% from three in Game Six against the Hawks. Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday each made four threes, while Jeff Teague added three threes. However, they need to shoot better against Phoenix, especially with Giannis Antetokounmpo’s status still up in the air.
A Healthy Giannis Antetokounmpo
The Suns haven’t played against a healthy squad this year. They faced the Los Angeles Lakers with an injured Anthony Davis. They swept the Denver Nuggets, who were without Jamal Murray. They beat the Los Angeles Clippers, who missed Kawhi Leonard in the latter stage.
If Giannis Antetokounmpo isn’t healthy, the Bucks will have a long series ahead of them.
Through 15 playoff games this year, the two-time MVP awards normed 28 points, 12 rebounds, and five assists. While his shooting can be problematic at times, a healthy Giannis Antetokounmpo is an unstoppable Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Otherwise, Brook Lopez will have to do more against Deandre Ayton. So will PJ Tucker and Bobby Portis.