NBA Finals
Daniel Dyer / Vendetta Sports Media

The 2021 NBA Finals have finally arrived, with game one tipping off in Phoenix tonight. And, for the first time since 2010, LeBron James or Steph Curry will not be featured. This finals series is the Bucks’ third finals appearance, the last one coming in 1974. The team is seeking their second championship 50 years after winning their first. The Suns, on the other hand, are searching for their first title in franchise history.

NBA Finals: What To Watch For

There may not be the most star power in this series, but there are plenty of storylines at play here on both sides.

Does Chris Paul Get His First Ring Ever?

Perhaps the biggest story in these NBA Finals is whether Chris Paul is able to secure the piece of hardware that has eluded him since he entered the league in 2005: a Larry O’Brien Trophy. He was not able to do it with the lob city Clippers or the James Harden-led Rockets, but will this time be different? His Suns have coasted to the Finals, only losing four games in the 2021 playoffs, and Paul has his best chance to secure a ring in his career.

Lack Of Familiar Faces

Besides Jae Crowder’s appearance with the Miami Heat last year, no one in this series has ever played in an NBA Finals. According to nba.com, this marks the fewest participants in any finals since 1977 and is certainly a change of pace compared to recent NBA Finals.

Phoenix’s Meteoric Rise

Just last season, before they acquired Paul, the Suns were one of the worst teams in basketball. They had missed the playoffs 10 years in a row and had been a perennial lottery team. Fast forward to 2020-2021, and the team had their most successful season since 1993. This has been a historic transformation and would go down as one of the best turnarounds in NBA history if Phoenix can seal the deal and win their first championship ever.

Will Giannis Be 100%?

At the time of this writing, Giannis has just been upgraded from doubtful to questionable to play in Game 1.

https://twitter.com/malika_andrews/status/1412466598732976128
Credit: @malika_andrews on Twitter

Antetokounmpo will be returning from a hyperextended knee and might be coming back a bit too early. If he is indeed playing injured, we could see a much less dominant performance from him. The same happened with James Harden and Trae Young when they rushed back from injuries in these playoffs.

The Bucks will have to consider whether risking an active Antetokounmpo will be worth it in Game 1. The Suns have been able to take all three Game 1’s they have played thus far. Additionally, with Giannis off the floor, Milwaukee has played surprisingly well. We will see if the Bucks are able to repeat this style of play once Giannis inevitably returns this series.

So, How Does Each Team Win?

Phoenix Suns

The Suns have been able to get good looks when they want. If they continue hitting these looks, it will be hard to stop them. Chris Paul directing the offense allows Devin Booker to score without having the ball in his hands at all times. This is a big deal, and part of the reason they have been so efficient on offense this season. Yes, Booker does have a fair share of isolations drawn up for him, but he forces his opponents into unfavorable matchups when he is off the ball as well. Add in Deandre Ayton manning the inside, and you have yourself an absolute headache of an offense to defend.

With as much credit that goes to these three stars, the Suns would not be in the finals without their depth. If guys like Mikal Bridges, Jae Crowder, and Cameron Payne play their roles as they have been doing, Milwaukee will have a VERY hard time defending the Phoenix offense.

Forget their top-tier offense, Phoenix has also statistically been one of the best defensive teams this year. They get back on defense and limit points off turnovers extremely well. They rank second in defensive rating in these playoffs, behind only Milwaukee.

When they play hard on defense and shots are falling for them on the offensive end, the Suns are almost impossible to beat. Additionally, if Phoenix is able to limit their mistakes and neutralize Antetokounmpo, they will win this series easily.

Milwaukee Bucks

The Bucks will need to learn how to interweave their various styles of offense in order to win this series. I am again referencing how successful they were without having Antetokounmpo. If the Hawks series taught them anything, it should be that they now know how to work as a team. In games five and six against Atlanta, we saw the Bucks play much more cohesively on offense, with Jrue Holiday looking better than he had all season. The Trae Young-less Hawks obviously are not anywhere near as good as the Suns, and the Bucks cannot realistically win the series without their best player.

With this in mind, Mike Budenholzer has to create a scheme that does not allow Giannis to hamper the play of his teammates. He needs his other guys, Holiday especially, to control the ball more, and Middleton has played well alongside Antetokounmpo in the past. Milwaukee’s success will be dependent on the players that play well without Antetokounmpo learning to play efficiently with him as well.

The Bucks will bring intensity on defense as they always have. This may be what has gotten them to this point, but it will not be enough to win them a title. Defense may win championships, but not necessarily in this case. Their offense will need to be more prolific if they want any chance to beat Phoenix, and we are in for an exciting series if the Bucks are able to figure this out.

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