The Milwaukee Bucks defeated the Atlanta Hawks in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals to form an intriguing matchup with Chris Paul and the Phoenix Suns. It’s the first time both Paul and Giannis Antetokounmpo have made the NBA Finals. By the time the Finals are all said and done, many players will receive their first-ever NBA championship.
The championship narrative features the long-awaited rival of Paul, while the two-time MVP Giannis looks to validate his awards with team success. Both teams are stacked with talent on both ends of the floor and this has the potential to go seven games. Before the highly anticipated first game of the NBA Finals, here is the full comparison between the two teams.
Booker, CP3, Ayton vs. Giannis, Middleton
The Suns qualified for the NBA Finals for the first time since 1993 thanks to the trio of Devin Booker, Chris Paul, and Deandre Ayton. As the team has moved their way up the playoff ladder, it feels that each player has found a way to make an immediate impact in games on any given night.
In Game 1, Booker scored his first career triple-double with Paul sidelined with an injury. His 40-point, 13-rebound, and 11-assist performance guided the Suns to a Game 1 victory. Paul showed his value with a 41-point effort in Game 6, which featured a 7-for-8 shooting performance from three-point range. As for Ayton, he recorded four double-doubles, while the other two games featured nine rebounds. He recorded a 19-point, 22-rebound night in Game 4 and a 16-point, 17-rebound effort in Game 6.
The Suns will have a huge matchup advantage if Giannis does not play. The Greek player was removed from Game 4 after hyperextending his knee, but the Bucks were able to win back-to-back games. Giannis would be the best overall big man the Suns have matched up with, but it appears that he should miss the beginning of the series.
With Giannis out, Khris Middleton has shown his best outings with 26 points and 13 rebounds in Game 5, as well as 32 points in Game 6. With that said, the Suns will have more superstar players if Giannis is out. The Hawks were a formidable team, but this combination surpasses Atlanta in talent.
Phoenix Suns: Chris Paul, Devin Booker, Mikal Bridges, Jae Crowder, Deandre Ayton
Milwaukee Bucks: Jrue Holiday, Khris Middleton, PJ Tucker, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Brook Lopez
It was once said that what we are watching with the Suns is what it would look like had Chris Paul been sent to the Lakers in a trade. However, we never got to witness the combination of Paul and Kobe Bryant because the NBA vetoed the trade with New Orleans. In today’s world, the combination of Paul and Booker could be the closest glimpse of what that would have looked like.
With the addition of Paul, we knew the offense would rise, but it has also got Booker playing defense. The Suns were a top defensive team in the regular season and remain a top defensive team in the playoffs. Bridges have been a solid defensive wing and can rebound, posting a 13-rebound night in Game 4. Along with Ayton, Crowder has provided a big contribution to defense.
As for the Bucks, it all will revolve around the health of Giannis. He is their rock defensively and the Bucks will not be able to stop this backcourt combination without him. Paul and Booker are far more superior than the combination of Trae Young and Kevin Huerter. Holiday can handle one player, but it could drain Middleton, who needs to be the primary scorer with Giannis sidelined.
Another question will be how long will Brook Lopez play in this series. The Suns are a great transition team and like to play small. Lopez cannot be in the lineup if the Suns go small. There is also the question of who PJ Tucker will play defense on? The Bucks have more questions surrounding their lineup than the Suns at the worst possible time.
Suns Bench: Cameron Payne, Cameron Johnson, Torrey Craig, Dario Saric, Abdel Nader, Jevon Carter, E’Twaun Moore, Jalen Smith, Frank Kaminsky, Langston Galloway, Ty’Shon Alexander
Bucks Bench: Bobby Portis, Pat Connaughton, Jeff Teague, Bryn Forbes, Thanasis Antetokounmpo, Justin Jackson, Axel Toupane, Jordan Nwora, Sam Merrill, Eric Bryant
After scoring 29 points in Game 2 against the Clippers, Cameron Payne has reverted to his backup role on the team. His shooting percentage has dipped the last four games, but the Bucks know that Payne has had a jump in his offense this season. Outside of Payne, Cameron Johnson, and Torrey Craig, this Suns bench is not used as much.
The Suns have relied on their starting lineup this far. Dario Saric is the team’s best big man off the bench and has played close to 10 minutes each night. When it comes to comparisons, the Bucks have the better overall bench.
That starts with the best overall bench player in Bobby Portis. His best game was 22 points and eight rebounds in Game 5. Portis scored double figures in four of the six games, including four games with at least seven rebounds. Portis shot over 47% from three-point range in the regular season and was joined by another solid shooter in Bryn Forbes, who shot over 45% from outside the arc.
While those percentages are from limited attempts, it shows that both can connect when given the opportunity. Pat Connaughton has played well with his minutes increased. If Giannis is healthy, this bench was made for this moment.
Monty Williams vs. Mike Budenholzer
In terms of coaching, both are new to the NBA Finals as head coaches. Williams previously coached Paul with the New Orleans Hornets/Pelicans, but the team never made it past the second round of the playoffs. This is the first time we have seen Williams coach in the playoffs because the Suns missed out last year in the bubble. So far, Williams has helped this group rank No. 1 in the NBA in the playoffs for team defense, allowing a best 101.9 points per game.
Budenholzer won a championship as an assistant with the Spurs under Gregg Popovich, but this will be his first appearance as a head coach. Budenholzer is right behind Williams as the Bucks rank No. 2 in team defense, allowing 103.7 points per game. That also includes coaching this group to back-to-back wins with two-time MVP Giannis out of the lineup.
The way both of these coaches are coaching, is honestly a coin flip. Given that Budenholzer had to coach without Giannis, we will give Budenholzer the slight nod for now, but it should be mentioned that it was Williams that won the 2021 NBCA Coach of the Year Award.
Right now, the Suns have a huge advantage because the health of Giannis is to be determined. Traditionally speaking, the recovery time for a hyperextended knee is 10-14 days. Even if Giannis were to start Game 1, he wouldn’t be 100%. If Giannis does not play, the Bucks will have to play more conservatively on offense.
When you look back, the Suns have been graced with some luck with their opponents. Anthony Davis was not 100%. Jamal Murray missed the playoffs, and Kawhi Leonard didn’t play a single game for the Clippers in the Western Conference Finals. Could Lady Luck strike again by holding Giannis off the court?
If Giannis plays, it will be the first time that the Suns have to play a true big man inside. Giannis poses a huge matchup problem for Ayton with his size and skillset. The Bucks are the best rebounding team in the playoffs, averaging 49.8 rebounds per game, which is close to five more than the Suns.
The X-factor will be Brook Lopez. The center for the Bucks can shoot outside. He showed that in Game 5 against the Hawks with 33 points. If Lopez can play small ball against the Suns, the Bucks will throw the Suns off defensively given his ability to score inside as well.
Who Will Win The 2021 NBA Championship?
When it comes to winning championships, it comes down to three factors. That includes star power, health, and luck. Right now, the Suns have more star power than the Bucks. Even if Giannis plays, Paul could leave the league today and be considered a top-3 point guard of all time. Booker is potentially the best shooter in the league right now, while Ayton is playing with the highest confidence of any young big man in the league.
In terms of health, we don’t know how healthy Giannis is or will be when he returns. That is a huge concern given how much value to the team’s offense he provides. Despite missing the first two games of the Conference Finals, Paul appears to be 100%, while the rest of the Suns are perfectly healthy.
Finally, the Suns are the luckiest team in the playoffs. While we do not dismiss their winning ways, you cannot deny the fact that the team hasn’t had to face Anthony Davis, Jamal Murray, or Kawhi Leonard and their teams at full strength. There is no reason to believe that the Suns are going to lose any luck going into this series. Plus, the narrative that Chris Paul will win his first NBA championship is too much for the common fan to cheer against.
Prediction: Phoenix Suns vs. Milwaukee Bucks 4-1