The daily preview muscles into the paint with NBA Playoffs tips for Game 1 of the NBA Finals between Phoenix Suns and Milwaukee Bucks.
11:00 (AEST), Wed 7th Jul @ Phoenix Suns Arena
History: Played 148: Suns 75 V Bucks 73
Last meeting: April 19, 2021: Suns 128 d bucks 127 (OT) at Fiserv Forum
Final Thoughts: It’s an NBA Finals match-up few predicted – even at the start of these playoffs. Fewer still would have imagined Phoenix Suns, back in the NBA Finals for the first time since 1993, would be $1.53 favourites for the Championship ahead of Game 1 against Milwaukee Bucks.
The second-seeded Suns accounted for the Lakers in six games in the First Round, swept the Nuggets in the Semifinals and outlasted the Clippers in a six-game Western Conference Finals series.
Devin Booker has had some huge moments in his maiden playoffs – most notably a 40-point triple-double in Game 1 against the Clippers. But veteran guard Chris Paul, the Finals MVP favourite, shapes as their most important player. He went off for 41 points and 8 assists as Phoenix sealed the deal against the Clippers 130-103 in Game 6.
Big man Deandre Ayton, just 22 years of age, has also been influential. He averaged 17.8 points and 13.7 rebounds during the Conference Finals. Mikal Bridges and Jae Crowder round out the starting line-up, while Cameron Payne has had some big moments off the bench.
Bucks sweat on superstar
Milwaukee’s chances hinge on the fitness of spearhead Giannis Antetokounmpo. He missed the last two games as the Bucks closed out the Hawks in six. Nevertheless, the Bucks – who swept the Heat and finished over the top of the Nets in a classic seven-game series – were impressive in finally dousing the plucky Hawks’ flame.
As he did against the Nets, the enigmatic Khris Middleton stepped up when it mattered against the Hawks. He put up 26 points, 13 rebounds and 8 assists in Game 5 and helped clinch the Bucks’ first NBA Finals appearance in 47 years with a 32-point night in Game 6. Jrue Holiday contributed 52 points across those two victories, but it’s his renowned defence on Paul and Booker that will arguably be his most important attribute in the Finals.
PJ Tucker and Brook Lopez arguably appear outmatched in their looming individual battles with Bridges and Ayton, respectively.
Suns boast recent rivalry edge
It may come as a surprise to learn the Suns have won five of their last six against the Bucks. The Suns took out both games this season by one-point margins.
Booker (30 pts, 6 reb) and Paul (28 pts, 7 ast) combined to negate a bombastic performance from Antetokoumpo (47 pts, 11 reb, 5 ast) in a 125-124 result in Phoenix in February.
Paul (22 pts, 7 reb, 13 ast), Booker (24 pts, 7 reb, 7 ast) and Ayton (20 pts, 13 reb) starred the Suns’ 128-127 overtime victory in Milwaukee in April. Giannis dropped 33 points and Middleton and Holiday combined for 51 for vanquished hosts.
Phoenix are 33-11 at home this season (28-16 against the line), winning six of eight as hosts in these playoffs. The Bucks are a modest 25-20 on the road overall (24-21 ATS), going 5-4 away in the playoffs.
The question mark hanging over Giannis’ health renders it difficult to make a case for a Bucks upset on the road in Game 1. They are $3.03 outsiders here.
It’s a chunky line and the pressure valve will crank up on the Suns as pronounced title favourites, but I think they cover here.