On July 20th, the Milwaukee Bucks defeated the Phoenix Suns, winning their first NBA Championship since 1971. Instead of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Oscar Robertson at the helm, it was Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton as the main firepower. The anticipation for this matchup was lackluster, depending on who you ask. LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers were bounced in the first round, the big-bad Brooklyn Nets hobbled their way to a seven game series in the second round but lost, and injuries piled up like never before. In fact, at one point in the playoffs, the only All-NBA player that was actually playing was Paul George.
Regardless, this NBA Finals promised to bring us good basketball, and it did just that. The Bucks roster is centered around two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo with his two sidekicks in Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday. The rest of the roster fits well alongside them, as they have fantastic players in Brook Lopez, P.J. Tucker, and Pat Connaughton to name a few. They boast a solid all-around team that loves to push the ball in open space while having shooters surrounding their stars.
The Phoenix Suns are led by one of the greatest point guards in NBA history, Chris Paul, and two rising stars in Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton. The Suns have a blistering offense that loves to play in the halfcourt with Paul controlling the tempo. The defense is led by Ayton holding it down in the paint while Mikal Bridges and Jae Crowder scour the perimeter. The first two games went to Phoenix as their backcourt combined for an average of 56.5 points per game while Milwaukee’s combined for 33.5 points per game. Just like the Brooklyn series, Milwaukee was going home down 0-2. Game 3 was a much different story from the first two, as Giannis and Middleton single handedly outscored the Suns in the second quarter (19 points to the Suns’ 17) to put them up by 15 at the half. That 18 point differential in the second quarter ended up being too much for the Suns.
That was the beginning of the end for the Suns. Milwaukee would go on to win the next game by six despite Booker putting up 42 points to tie the series. Game 5 was almost a mirror image of the previous one, as Booker scored 40 but the Suns ended up losing at home by four. What was the one of the biggest differences between the first two games and the next three? Paul averaged 27.5 points per game while shooting an insane 59 percent from deep the first two games. The next three games saw those numbers drop to 16.6 points and 41 percent. Khris Middleton only scored 20 points per game while shooting 39 percent from the field the first two games. The next three games, those numbers inflated to 29 points and 47 percent. Basically, each team’s respective secondary scoring option was trending in a very different direction. Game 6 was one that kind of felt like it was over from the start. Milwaukee had just won three in a row, they were at home, and Giannis looked like the only player whose soul was in their body. Deandre Ayton particularly looked rattled all game long, and he played like it too. He only shot 33 percent from the field with four total field goals while his fellow rising star teammate Booker wasn’t much better at 36 percent.
While that definitely played a role in the outcome of the game, it pales in comparison to the play of Giannis. He scored 50 points, becoming only the seventh player in NBA history to do so in a Finals game; Bob Pettit, Elgin Baylor, Rick Barry, Jerry West, Michael Jordan, and LeBron James are the six others. Giannis also scored 33 points in the second half, joining Michael Jordan as the only players in the past 50 years to score 33+ in a half in the Finals. What was most impressive though was his performance at the free throw line — a place that has haunted him this playoffs. He shot 17 for 19 at the charity stripe in Game 6, by far the best performance from the line in his playoff career. Giannis joins Michael Jordan as the only players in NBA history to win multiple MVP awards, Defensive Player of the Year awards, and Finals MVP. He doesn’t care about that, though. He just cares about the fact that he fulfilled his promise to the city of Milwaukee that he made almost a decade ago.