The Milwaukee Bucks are trying to win four straight games in the NBA Finals to clinch the franchise’s first championship since 1970-71. The Phoenix Suns are hoping to break that winning streak to set up a Game 7 at home in an attempt to capture the franchise’s first championship.
The Bucks are -425 to win the series while the Suns are +310, according to DraftKings Sportsbook. Phoenix lost home-court advantage in Game 5, drastically flipping the series towards the Bucks. However, Milwaukee is still one win away from the title. As the late, great Kobe Bryant said, “the job’s not finished”.
So what does each team need to do win the Finals heading into Game 6 on Tuesday night?
Keys for the Bucks
Keep Khris Middleton going: The Bucks guard is averaging 29.0 points in the last three games, shooting 47.1 percent from the floor and 39.1 percent from deep. Milwaukee is using Middleton in screen-and-roll action with Giannis Antetokounmpo to perfection and the Suns haven’t adjusted yet. Middleton is also closing games extremely well.
The Bucks have to ensure their star shooting guard keeps getting good looks. The Suns will eventually either adjust their coverage or the shots will stop falling from midrange at the same clip. Middleton needs to be more aggressive attacking the basket, especially when Antetokounmpo goes to the bench.
Limit turnovers: Milwaukee had 11 turnovers in the Game 5 win, but seven came in the first quarter when the Suns jumped out to a 37-21 lead. Phoenix has been unable to match Milwaukee’s efficiency if possessions stay similar, so the Bucks need to keep taking care of the ball.
Antetokounmpo and Jrue Holiday are the keys to this. Both are the primary ball handlers for the Bucks for most of the game and need to keep making good decisions. Holiday looked for his shot more in Game 5 and hit a lot of fadeaway jumpers, helping Milwaukee’s cause. Those jumpers aren’t going to keep going in at the same clip, but Holiday’s overall playmaking has been a big boost. That includes him limiting turnovers.
Create extra possessions on the boards: The Bucks are dominating the boards when Deandre Ayton is not in the game for Phoenix, getting second chance shots and putbacks with ease. Milwaukee has 68 offensive rebounds through five games while Phoenix has 36. That discrepancy is giving the Bucks a massive edge in efficiency.
Bobby Portis, Brook Lopez and Pat Connaughton have been big on this front. These rotation players aren’t going to light up the scoreboard, but their work on the glass has helped Milwaukee’s stars stay positive and keep taking shots. And when all else fails, Antetokounmpo is good enough to grab some offensive rebounds as well.
Keys for the Suns
Make defensive adjustments: The Bucks hit a lot of tough shots in Game 5 and there’s not much the Suns can do with that. However, Phoenix is getting torched on Middleton-Antetokounmpo action and has to adjust its coverage. There’s no great answer to this puzzle, but the current plan is clearly not working. Even Holiday got into the act in Game 5, something Phoenix has to avoid.
Perhaps the Suns can bring an off-ball defender into the mix and force the ball handler to make difficult passes across the court. Maybe Monty Williams challenges Jae Crowder or Mikal Bridges to fight through screens and stick with Middleton in a one-on-one assignment. Phoenix needs to introduce more variety on the defensive end and add an element of surprise. The Bucks figured out this coverage at some point late in Game 2 and have been dominating since then.
Get Mikal Bridges involved: In the first two games of the Finals, Bridges averaged 20.5 points and shot 38.5 percent from behind the arc. In the next three games, he hit 57.1 percent of his threes, but only averaged 8.0 points.
The Suns forward got hot, but the team decided to go away from him more often. Devin Booker has been playing extremely well, but Phoenix needs role players to step up to match Milwaukee’s star power. Crowder has been on fire from deep, but Bridges is the more complete player and should be tasked with more offensively. Expect the Suns to draw up some plays to give him early looks in Game 6.
Better execution in late-game situations: With a few different bounces of the ball, there’s a chance the Suns could have already won the Finals at this point. In Game 4, Chris Paul had two turnovers in the last four minutes which led to two baskets. In Game 5, Booker didn’t have a chance at a winning shot after losing the ball on Holiday’s steal. These are the little things that make the difference in a series.
The Suns have played well in the last two games, but have failed to deliver in the big moments late. The Bucks have certainly clamped up defensively, but Phoenix was one of the most efficient offensive teams this season and continues to do well outside of the one or two late moments. The Suns have a 114.0 offensive rating in the fourth quarter during the playoffs, in line with their regular season numbers. It’ll be up to Paul to ensure he and the others take care of the ball at the end of games.