• Ian Evans

2021 NBA Finals Preview and Prediction

Updated: Jul 7, 2021

Ian Evans

Co-Founder/Contributor, ISM

Photo Courtesy: Christian Petersen/Getty Images

The 2021 NBA Finals are finally here! After an exciting three rounds of the NBA Playoffs filled with close games, spectacular performances, plenty of Game 7s, and exciting finishes, the 2021 NBA Finals matchup is set. The Phoenix Suns will face off against the Milwaukee Bucks for the Larry O’Brien trophy. Both teams have battled through injuries, setbacks, and tough games to win their conference championships and make it this far. There are also plenty of implications and factors for both teams going into these playoffs as well. Here are some key points to know about before Game 1 on Tuesday night.

For the first time in his illustrious 16-year career, future Hall-of-Famer Chris Paul not only won his first conference championship, but he is also making his first NBA Finals appearance. If you are a true NBA fan, you’ve waited for this moment for a long time, and it has finally come to fruition. Alongside elite scorer Devin Booker, a rising star big man in Deandre Ayton, incredible role players and bench, and Phoenix Suns head coach Monty Williams, the Suns are the favorite to win the NBA Finals.

This team is a juggernaut defensively as they were 6th in defensive efficiency rating (110.4) and were 7th in points per game allowed during the regular season (109.5). They also produce on the offensive end as they were 7th in offensive rating (116.3) and 7th in points per game (115.3) during the regular season. This team is special with a young core and veteran leadership, but the Bucks are a formidable foe.

The Bucks are one of the best teams in the league on both ends of the floor. Milwaukee lead the league in points per game (120.1) and was 5th in offensive rating (116.5) during the regular season. They are also one of the longer teams in the league which can be troublesome to deal with when setting up offensive sets. Lead by two-time league MVP and 2019 Defensive Player of the Year Giannis Antetokounmpo, the Bucks are in the Finals for the first time since 1974. It’s safe to say it’s been a long time coming for them.

Alongside Giannis is an incredible supporting cast that consists of the two-time All-Star Khris Middleton, one of the best perimeter defenders in Jrue Holiday, and a savvy veteran center in Brook Lopez. Coached by Mike Budenholzer this team is ready to show why they made it this far and have what it takes to win the Finals, especially after years of disappointment.

With this all being said, let’s see the road both of these teams had to take in the playoffs to get here.

Milwaukee’s Road to the Finals

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The Bucks started their playoff campaign by playing the team that knocked them out of the playoffs in the bubble last year: the Miami Heat. And they got their revenge easily sweeping them in four games. The only close game of that series was Game 1 when the Heat took the Bucks to overtime but lost 109-107. Every other game? The Bucks won by more than 17 points each time. Clean sweep, pass the sticks.

Their toughest challenge for Milwaukee was arguably the Brooklyn Nets. The Bucks did have some luck in this series, but that doesn’t discredit them winning the series. James Harden went with a calf injury that sidelined him until Game 5. Even after coming back from the injury, he didn’t look the same. Also, as the Bucks were down 2-0 in the series early, Nets superstar Kyrie Irving went down with an ankle injury in game 3 and we never saw him again.

The Bucks would then find a way to tie the series 3-3, meaning they would have to win a highly anticipated win Game 7 in Brooklyn. This Game 7 would go into overtime as Kevin Durant’s game-tying jumper, which was this close to ending the Bucks season, tied the game in regulation. Despite Durant’s 48, the Bucks would win 115-111 in overtime to advance to the conference finals where they would face the Atlanta Hawks.

This series was interesting as both Trae Young (ankle) and Giannis Antetokounmpo (knee) went down with injuries. This series could have gone either way but the Bucks showed more resilience. Even after losing Game 1 at home, the Bucks still found a way four of their last five and beat the Hawks in six games.

Their last task will be finding a way to beat Chris Paul and the Suns in the desert.

Phoenix’s Road to the Finals

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Injuries were a major theme in this playoffs sadly, but as I stated before, this doesn’t discredit the Suns’ road to the Finals. Their first task was against LeBron James and the seven-seed Los Angeles Lakers. However, Anthony Davis played with a groin injury while James played on a weak ankle. Phoenix ended up winning a scrappy series in six games and would move on to face a team with a ton of momentum on their side after winning a Game 7 on the road: the Los Angeles Clippers.

However, the Clippers were without their best player, and superstar Kawhi Leonard was unable to play after suffering a knee injury in the Western Conference semifinals against the Utah Jazz. Although the Clippers did win steal a Game 5 win in Phoenix, Paul George’s efforts were not enough to take Los Angeles to their first-ever NBA Finals as the Suns won in 6 games. You could see the frustration and disappointment in the Clippers’ staff and players’ faces. This frustration even caused the Clippers point guard Patrick Beverley to shove Chris Paul which resulted in a one-game suspension for Beverley.

That series showed that even with the setback of not having Chris Paul for two games (due to COVID-19 protocol) that the Suns were ready to be in the position they put themselves in. Devin Booker recorded his first career triple-double while dropping 40 points in Game 1. Deandre Ayton proved why he was the number 1 pick in the 2018 NBA Draft as he averaged 17.8 points and 13.7 rebounds in that series. And finally, Chris Paul put up 41 points and made seven of his eight three-pointers in Game 6 to lead the Suns to the NBA Finals.

Regardless of injuries, the Suns were a good enough team to make it to the Finals. I mean they were the number 2 seed for a reason. The only thing standing in the way of Paul and the Suns’ first-ever championship is the ever daunting Milwaukee Bucks. And this is where we got to where to we are now. But first, let’s take a look at some players who could be x-factors for their teams.

Milwaukee’s X-Factor: Jrue Holiday

Photo Courtesy: Eric Gay/AP Photo

It’s no secret that the Suns’ guard play is elite so defense should be the Bucks’ main focus, especially when guarding Devin Booker. Because of this perimeter defense will be key. And for that reason, Jrue Holiday will be Milwaukee’s x-factor. He’s already been tasked with guarding the best scorers in the East in Trae Young and Kevin Durant.

Holiday will most likely be tasked with guarding Devin Booker who averages nearly 26 points per game. A player likely Booker has a quick first step, a plethora of dribble moves, and is a shot creator who can finish at the rim and shoot the midrange jumper efficiently. Not to mention he shoots 34% from the three-point line. It’s going to be a tough task for Holiday, but he’ll manage. Why? He finds ways to make opposing players uncomfortable.

Holiday had a spectacular series against the Hawks. He averaged 22 points per game, 10 assists, and five rebounds in the Bucks series against the Hawks. He was a vital catalyst for them while Giannis was dealing with a knee injury. Whether or not Giannis does or doesn’t play in Game 1, Jrue Holiday will have to continue playing at this level to keep the Bucks in this series. Series.

If there’s one piece of advice I have for Jrue Holiday, it’s simply don’t be Eric Bledsoe.

Phoenix’s X-Factor: Deandre Ayton

Photo Courtesy: Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY Sports

As I previously stated, Milwaukee is one of the longest and tallest teams in the league. Their length can cause problems on both ends of the floor, so defensively and offensively opponents have to be creative in their gameplan and approach. We know how great both teams are when it comes to guard play, but the big man role could be a game-changer in this matchup.

If Phoenix took advantage of the center position, the Suns could be sitting pretty, and for that reason, Deandre Ayton is my x-factor for Phoenix. Why? The Bucks are a tall and lengthy team as I previously stated, and Ayton is Phoenix’s focal point in the paint. He needs to be big, aggressive, and adaptable when playing a team that can run the pick and roll with Brook Lopez efficiently.

He’ll need to defend the paint as well as even close out on Lopez when needed. The Bucks can also play small ball and put P.J. Tucker at the center position which could give Ayton problems mobility-wise. Ayton is averaging a double-double in these playoffs and his production should continue. If Ayton can contribute to the level he has been producing at while finding a way to cause problems for Milwaukee’s bigs defensively, the Bucks would be in a world of trouble. Deandre Ayton’s play is crucial for the Suns to win the Finals.

2021 NBA Finals Prediction

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There’s a lot to factor in when deciding who to pick to win the 2021 NBA Finals. There’s bench production, x-factors, star power, role-player contribution, coaching, and so many more intangible aspects. This will be a tight series and won’t be a dull series whatsoever, However, when it is all said and done, I believe one team is simply better than the other if you look at their roster breakdown.

The Phoenix Suns have a better bench, have better role players, and simply have been playing more consistently than the Milwaukee Bucks. Phoenix not only is playing with home-court advantage, but they also have the whole NBA world on their side as every fan will want to see Chris Paul win the ring that he has desperately yearned for. Phoenix has more speed, more consistent shooting than Milwaukee, and will find a way to make you play at their pace.

It’s crazy and it actually gives me chills to write this next sentence. Chris Paul will be an NBA champion and secure that elusive ring.

The Pick: Phoenix Suns defeat the Milwaukee Bucks in 6 games.

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