In what may be the most unlikely matchup in the NBA finals in decades, the Phoenix Suns will take on the Milwaukee Bucks. The two teams have a linked history from the very beginning so it is fitting that they take on each other. Both teams joined the NBA as expansion teams in 1968, and both had tumultuous first seasons. The #1 pick in 1969 was decided by a coin flip between the two teams, a flip that the Bucks won and got to select Lew Alcindor out of UCLA. The Suns got the 2nd pick and drafted Neal Walk.
The Bucks come into the finals as a somewhat known commodity. They have been good for several seasons, even reaching the conference finals in 2019. The Suns on the other hand are in their first playoffs since 2010. Both teams have had a history of playoff failures and regardless of who wins this season will be seen as a success and one of their best seasons in team history by both teams.
With Lew Alcindor, who later changed his name to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, the Bucks saw the greatest era of their franchise’s history. Jabbar led the Bucks to the finals twice, once in 1971 and again in 1974. The Bucks would win their only title in 1971. They got close in 74, but lost a pivotal game 7 vs the Celtics. The Suns wished that Walk would have turned into a quarter of the player that Jabbar did. Walk did have a few good years including one season where he averaged 20 points a game, but lasted just 8 seasons in the NBA playing for the Suns, Jazz and Knicks. He never made an all-star team and is largely forgotten. Jabbar on the other had played 20 seasons in the NBA, became the games all-time leading scorer, was a 19 time all-star, one of the 50 greatest players to ever play in the NBA, and lead the Bucks to their only title and the Lakers to 5 more.
The Suns would make the finals in 1976, and game 5 of their series vs Boston is often regarded as the greatest NBA game ever played. The Celtics won that game 128-126 in three overtimes. The Suns would make it back too the finals in 1993, but again lose in six games this time to the Chicago Bulls.
But that was the past, this is now. Both teams are lead by generational talents who have changed their franchises outlook. The Bucks are lead by two-time MVP Giannis Antetokoumpo, while the Suns are lead by two-time all-star Devin Booker.
Antetokoumpo is a more known player than Booker, having helped the Bucks turn nearly 50 years of missery into success. He is rightfully seen as one of the top basketball players on the planet. Booker has not been seen onn the national stage as much due to the struggle of the Suns in the past decade.
Booker has become one of the most overlooked stars in the game. He has averaged 20+ points per game every season since 2017 but has never truly been named to an all-star team. Both of his appearances have been as an injury replacement.
One reason for the turn around of the Suns has been the point god Chris Paul. Paul in his 15th season in the NBA will be playing in his first NBA fiinals. He has appeared in 123 playoff games, which is the most for a player before making his first NBA finals appearance. The old record was 108 by John Stockton. Paul, who the Rockets traded a few years ago because they thought he was done, has reinvigorated his career the past few seasons and especially this season.
One key thing to watch this series is going to be injuries. Antetokoumpo is coming off a nasty knee injury in the conference finals and it is unkown if he will play in game 1. Paul too has been injured in this post-season. One reason for this matchup is that both teams have been able to overcome injuries better than other teams.
If the Phoenix Suns are to win the title they will need to do so in a short series, because the longer this series goes the healthier Antetokoumpo becomes and the greater the liklihood of Chris Paul being slowed by injuries.
Gambling and betting insiders actually favor the Bucks for this series. Betway has priced the Bucks highest odds of any finals contestant since the 2016 Warriors. Antetokoumpo had the best odds for winning finals MVP but those have since dropped due to his injury with Jrue Holiday emerging.
Secondary role players are also going to be a huge factor in this series. This is one area where the Suns are going to have trouble. The Suns lack the depth of the Bucks. Outside of Booker and Paul the Suns rely a lot on 3rd year man DeAndre Ayton and the trio of Mikal Bridges, Jae Crowder and Cam Payne.
The Bucks meanwhile have a bunch of former all-stars to rely on. Kris Middleton at times has been the best Bucks player this off-season. Middleton kick started their post season with a buzzer beater vs Miami in the first game of the playoffs and has not looked back. Brook Lopez looks like a totally different player this year and that has come in huge vs the Hawks and Nets. And than there is Jrue Holliday, who the Bucks picked up this off-season. Holliday really stepped up vs the Hawks when Antetokoumpo was out.
The depth and sheer star power of Bucks will give them the advantage in this series. It will be difficult for them to overcome the Suns homecourt advantage, but if the Bucks can win one of the two games in Phoenix they should be able to win the series in six games.