After the opening two games of the 2021 NBA Finals between the Phoenix Suns and the Milwaukee Bucks, it felt like the Suns might be sailing their way to the franchise’s first-ever championship, but Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton had other plans for the Bucks.
Led by a monster Game 3 from Giannis and an even bigger Game 4 from Middleton, Milwaukee has managed to knot the series up at 2-2 despite falling into an early 2-0 hole on the road. With the Bucks’ crowd behind them, those two were the stars of the last two games and now have their team within two victories from winning the NBA Finals.
Devin Booker was something special in Game 4, dropping 42 points on 17-28 shooting, but he and his backcourt teammate Chris Paul can’t seem to sync their games at the same time. Game 5 is scheduled for Saturday night at 9:00 p.m. EST on ABC and will be the most pivotal outing of the series yet.
Let’s answer some roundtable questions as we prepare for it.
It’s a three-game series now. Who is taking home the Larry O’Brien trophy?
Zack Geoghegan: Before the series began I went with Suns in seven (although I was a bit hesitant after the first two games…) and I might as well see it through now. If we’re playing the numbers, two more home games for Phoenix plays in their favor, and the team that wins Game 5 of a series tied at 2-2 goes on to advance more often than not. For that reason, I’ll stick with Suns in seven.
Alex Weber: The Suns are Chosen Ones. Chris Paul is two wins away from ascending to Messiah status in the desert and experiencing the fresh smell of an NBA Finals trophy at 36 years old. The story is too good not to be completed at this point and a deterrence in Milwaukee won’t convince me otherwise. Chris Paul is about to have the game of his career in Game 5 before he and Booker wrap it up in six.
Wynn McDonald: Last time we did this, I was probably 70% confident in my Suns pick. Now that number is down to around 50%. Nothing has really surprised me, but the Bucks have a long history of defying my expectations. I still like Phoenix, but at this point, I’d be surprised if it doesn’t go seven games.
Kassidy Stumbo: It’s still the Suns for me. I like how Alex put it – “the chosen ones.” I have mad respect for Giannis and the Bucks, but in the end, I’m going with Suns in 6.
Who is the current Finals MVP?
Zack: It has to be Giannis Antetokounmpo. He was arguably the best player on the court when his team went down 2-0 but it’s no contest at this point–the Greek Freak has been the most valuable player for either team. Booker and Middleton are right behind him, though. Chris Paul had a terrible Game 4, which knocks him out of my race for now.
Alex: After we anointed him the MVP after the first two games, Chris Paul tried his best to give away the award in Milwaukee–and Giannis snatched it up. He’s at 32 points a game on over 60% shooting from the field in the Finals while doubling as the best defensive player in the series.
Wynn: As of today, it’s Giannis, No doubt. I still like Booker as my ultimate pick though. He was every bit of that dude in Game 4.
Kassidy: Short answer: Giannis…at this point. The man has been absolutely unstoppable this series, averaging over 32 points per game. There’s a reason they call him the Greek Freak, right? I like Wynn’s thinking on who will be MVP in the end, though. D-Book was an absolute beast in Game 4, and I expect the same or better in the next two.
Who needs to step their game up the most in these final three games?
Zack: The easy answer is Chris Paul, considering he looked unnaturally horrendous in Game 4. When he’s managing the game and looking to score, the Suns are incredibly tough to beat no matter how well Booker performs. The Suns can’t win this series if he doesn’t bounce back. That being said, if Middleton can drop 40 points again in one or even two of the final three games, the Bucks should win the series.
Alex: Jrue Holiday. Aside from a good outing in Game 3 (8-14 FG for 21 points), Holiday has shot 15-55 from the field in the other games. That is 27.3%. A heartbeat or two from the eldest Holiday brother in Games 1 or 2 could have the Bucks on top 3-1. But he’s a defensive specialist though? Well, both Devin Booker and Chris Paul are above their season averages and shooting a hair more efficiently. A step up from Jrue could give Milwaukee the final edge.
Wynn: CP3. He was magnificent in Game 1 with that 32-point performance, but has not done much since. His late turnover might have cost them the game on Wednesday night. They don’t need him to drop 30 to be an elite contributor, but he has to make plays when it counts. Otherwise, Booker will just get double-teamed to high hell.
Also, not so much a call-out, but if Khris Middleton can be the guy he was on Wednesday going forward… that’s formidable. He’s got a borderline un-guardable, KD-esque game in the mid-range.
Kassidy: If you read our last roundtable, you know I’m a big Chris Paul fan. He was one of the first players I can remember watching as a kid and I have always admired his fierce competitiveness. For that reason, I would love to see him finally win a championship. For that to happen though, he has got to be better. We need more Game 1 and 2 Chris–not the Cliff Paul we saw in the last two games.
Bigger moment? Booker’s no-call after fouling or Antetokounmpo’s block on Ayton?
Zack: I asked this question, and the answer is the block from Giannis (which will likely go down as the second-best block in Finals history over recent memory, just behind LeBron James’ famous block of Andre Iguodala in 2016). The no-call on Booker–when he should have fouled out after completely wrapping Jrue Holiday with both arms late in the game, to the point that the announcer preemptively called a foul in anticipation–is more a result of terrible officiating than anything.
But let me go on a quick rant: If we’re talking officiating, Booker should have never even been in the situation where he had five fouls late in the fourth quarter. At least two of the fouls he was previously called for could have been considered bad calls at the time. He was forced to the bench for the first six minutes of the fourth quarter after shooting 7-7 in the third, gifting the Bucks an opportunity to keep things close. I’m sure there were times he committed other fouls, as well, where he should have been called but wasn’t. Giannis even put back Holiday’s missed shot after Booker wasn’t called for the foul.
What I’m trying to say is this: don’t focus too much on one foul call (or non-call) as the deciding factor of a game. There are plenty of other calls/no-calls that led to that moment.
Alex: That block could be the defining play of the series if we’re looking back at a 2021 Milwaukee title year down the road. It’s athletically alien–just a jaw-dropping play and recovery to hedge on Booker off the screen and still swat the oop attempt by Ayton. A different result on that sequence could have resulted in a 3-1 Suns lead vs. a 2-2 tie after four. For me…it’s the best play of Giannis’ career.
Wynn: Given the way things played out, it’s gotta be the block. Booker only scored made two shots after the foul, and one was a garbage-time layup. I actually think the bigger call was that bogus fifth foul they called on the P.J. Tucker flop, because it held him out for most of the fourth quarter and allowed Milwaukee to take control. But the block is what people will remember.
Kassidy: The block. It reminded me a little of MKG’s big block in the 2012 National Championship game. It looked like he had gotten beat, but not so fast. A great player never gives up on a play–particularly one that can change the game. If the Bucks are able to complete the comeback and win the Larry O’Brien, that play will be a huge factor.
How Booker and the Suns can win it all…
Zack: It’s going to come down to Chris Paul. I’m not certain if he’s slightly injured or if his age is slowing him down, but he simply has to play better. Phoenix is 6-1 when Paul scores 20 or more points in these playoffs and just 6-5 when he doesn’t.
Alex: Phoenix’s advantage is the totality of their rotation. In any given game, Antetokounmpo and Middleton can be the two best players on the court, but Phoenix has the next three or four best after that, including a backcourt that can match the Bucks super-duo. The Suns are at their best when all five players are executing in unison whereas Milwaukee peaks with individual playmaking. I think the latter is easier to adjust to and gameplan for.
Wynn: I still think they’re the better team, it just comes down to execution. Booker has to be smarter. Paul needs to be locked in. The Suns are deeper, and they’ve had success guarding Giannis by committee. Just please, for the love of all that’s holy, don’t make him mad!
Kassidy: As I said earlier, I really think Chris Paul has to be better. I know that’s easy for me to say from my couch, but he really has to step it up. And as Zack said, Phoenix wins when Paul can score…not so much when he can’t.