This year will be the third time either the Bucks or Suns have reached the NBA Finals and the first time the matchup is specifically between these two teams. The last time either team made the Finals was nearly 30 years ago, in 1993, when the Charles Barkley-led Suns lost a close 6 game series to Jordan’s Bulls.
Milwaukee vs. Phoenix is expected to be an extremely close series as they are evenly matched, proven by both of their regular-season matchups being decided by one point, the most recent one even going into overtime.
In this clash of high-octane offense vs. athletic defense, only time will tell who will prevail. But in the meantime, here is my prediction.
The Suns are going into this series as the betting favorites, which, due to their incredible playoff run, isn’t a shocker, but if Giannis is healthy,
I believe the Bucks will capture their third ring, and Giannis his first, by defeating Phoenix in six games.
The driving reason behind this prediction is the inexperience that the Suns have in the Playoffs. Will their roster be prepared under the blinding lights of the NBA finals? As someone who watches with the hope that the series is nail-bitingly close, I hope so, but I don’t think so. To clear the air, I am not a Phoenix Suns’ hater (although they did single-handedly destroy my playoff bracket); on the contrary, I actually would be thrilled to watch this Cinderella story come to a climax with Phoenix winning it all.
Giannis’s injury will make this series that much more difficult for the Bucks to win, but the rest of the team's performance in games 5 and 6 of the conference finals laid my doubts of Milwaukee’s depth to rest. If Giannis misses two games or less and returns back to 100% health, in my mind, there are no excuses for the Bucks not to close out the Suns.
What to Pay Attention To:
Holiday vs. Paul:
The key matchup in this series will be that between Jrue Holiday and Chris Paul. As the captain of the Suns, the entire offense runs through Paul, and if Holiday can slow Paul down, the Suns' offense will be much more manageable for Milwaukee to handle. Holiday has long been known for his lockdown defense on the best guards in the league, and that’s one of the main reasons that Milwaukee traded for him in the offseason. His defensive performance in this series will be the most important task in his career, and if Holiday can limit Paul, the Suns will be flat out outmatched.
Bucks’ Role Players:
Guarding Chris Paul for the entires series will be an exhausting task, even for a premier defender like Holiday, meaning that the Bucks will need role players to step up and fill in the scoring hole that Holiday leaves. I am counting on Bobby Portis and Brook Lopez to fulfill this task, as both performed remarkably well under the spotlight in the conference finals.
For the Bucks to have a realistic chance in this series, Giannis needs to return to full health. It will be a disaster if he is rushed back from injury and it is aggravated, leading to a more severe injury, similar to what happened with Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson in the 2019 Finals. The Bucks, to be safe, should keep him out for at least Game 1 and only play him for 25 to 30 minutes in Game 2 to ease him back. This way, Giannis will avoid a serious injury, and he will be able to play at full health for the crucial closing games.
Booker has been nothing short of outstanding in the playoffs. In their first playoffs, the key for young players is to maintain their composure while still performing up to par. Booker, however, has not only maintained his composure, but he is also playing the best basketball of his career. If Booker, Paul, and Ayton, can maintain their productivity against one of the league’s best defenses in Milwaukee, which will be an enormous task, Phoenix might just bring their first ring to the desert.