The daily preview muscles into the paint with NBA Playoffs tips for Game 6 of the NBA Finals – and a chance for Milwaukee Bucks to seal the Championship against Phoenix Suns.
11:00 (AEST), Wed 21st Jul @ Fiserv Forum, Milwaukee
History: Played 153: Suns 77 V Bucks 76
Last meeting: July 18, 2021 (Game 5): Bucks 120 d Suns 100 at Fiserv Forum
Final Thoughts: Seemingly on the brink after two games, Milwaukee Bucks are now just one win away from the franchise’s first NBA Championship in 50 years. They get the first chance to take out the NBA Finals in Game 6 thanks to three straight victories.
The home teams won and covered the line in the first four games. But the Bucks broke the road drought in Game 5 with a thrilling 123-119 win in Phoenix. Giannis Antetokounmpo has been absolutely dominant throughout the series, Khris Middleton has stepped up at crucial times and Jrue Holiday was the Game 5 hero with a late clutch play that snuffed out a blistering Suns comeback. The momentum is all theirs and the Bucks have the opportunity to wrap it up in front of their fans in Cream City.
It’s do-or-die time for Phoenix Suns, who find themselves behind in the count for just the second time in these playoffs (they trailed the Lakers 2-1 in the First Round before winning in six). They’ve been so consistent and composed throughout the post-season, but this is arguably the first time the acid has truly been applied on the Suns. While Devin Booker has produced 40-point games in consecutive losses heading into Game 6, all eyes will be on back-court talisman Chris Paul to get them out of this jam and force a Game 7 decider.
The Suns initially took the ascendancy with a 118-105 win in the series opener. Chris Paul put up 32 pts (12-for 19 shooting) and 9 assists. Devin Booker had 27 points, while big man Deandre Ayton (22 pts, 19 reb) was superb at both ends. Giannis Antetokoumpo managed 20 points, 17 rebounds and 4 assists in 34 minutes of game-time, defying a knee injury that kept him out of the last two games of the Eastern Conference Finals. Khris Middleton (29 pts, 7 reb, 4 ast) attempted to pick up some slack and hit five three-pointers.
The Suns reached the halfway mark of what they need for a maiden Championship by taking out Game 2 by 118-108. Antetokoumpo (42 pts, 12 reb) was back to somewhere near his blockbusting best, but support was lacking. Middleton and Jrue Holiday managed just 12-for-37 from the field between them. The Bucks shot better from three-point range in Game 1 but struggled from behind the arc in Game 2, hitting just 9 of 31. The Suns nailed half of their 40 three-point attempts in arguably the key difference. Devin Booker (31 pts, 6 ast) went 7-for-12 from three, while Mikal Bridges (27 pts, 7 reb) and Paul (23 pts, 8 ast) also starred. Ayton and Jae Crowder both had double-doubles.
Nevertheless, the Bucks were $1.52 favourites to get on the board at home – and they justified that faith with a comprehensive 120-100 victory in Game 3. Behind by three after the first quarter, they rallied to lead by 14 at halftime. Giannis emphatically announced his knee injury was in the rearview mirror with 41 points, 13 rebounds and 6 assists. Middleton and Holiday rediscovered their range – nailing eight of 17 three-point attempts between them. This time it was the Suns who struggled from three (9-for-31). Booker scored just 10 points. Paul (19 pts, 9 reb), Crowder (18 pts, 6 reb) and Ayton (18 pts, 9 reb) were decent.
A large surge secured a series-levelling 109-103 victory for the Bucks. Giannis (26 pts, 14 reb, 8 ast, 3 stl) dominated – and sent the NBA world wild with a bombastic block – while Khris Middleton dropped 40 points. Devin Booker’s 42 points was to no avail but the big talking point was Chris Paul’s horror night, committing five turnovers and scoring just 10 points.
The Bucks started slow in Phoenix and almost blew a double-digit fourth-quarter lead, but they did enough to get a 123-119 win and take the series lead. The Suns led by 16 at the end of the first quarter but found themselves down by three at halftime. Trailing by 10 with three and half minutes left, the Suns surged to create a grandstand finish. Holiday (27 pts, 13 ast) capped a huge game with a steal on Booker in the dying seconds before tossing up an alley-oop for Antetokounmpo to seal it. Giannis (32 pts, 9 reb, 6ast) and Middleton (29 pts, 7 reb, 5 ast) shone again. Booker went off for 40 points, while Ayton (20 pts, 10 reb) and Paul (21 pts, 11 ast) also kept the Suns in it.
The Suns have excelled on the road – 24-12 in the regular season, 6-4 in the playoffs – but this sudden-death situation adds a new element of pressure. Their elite ball movement has dropped off in recent games; creating more three-pointers will be key. Meanwhile, they need to find a way to frustrate the Bucks’ big three on offence, as they did in the opening two games.
The Bucks are $1.48 favourites to salute in front of the Milwaukee faithful. But in what has been a great NBA Finals, I feel there’s a twist or two left. The Suns won’t die wondering and I’ll take them to cover for the 13th time in their last 18 games.