The Milwaukee Bucks meet the Phoenix Suns in the 2021 NBA Finals with the East’s No. 3 seed looking to add to the franchise’s title count. Giannis Antetokounmpo’s health is the big question mark surrounding the Bucks, who are underdogs at +150 to win the series according to DraftKings Sportsbook. Antetokounmpo missed nearly three games in the Eastern conference finals, but Milwaukee was able to take the series 4-2 behind contributions from Khris Middleton, Jrue Holiday and Brook Lopez.
Here’s what the Bucks will need to do to lift the Larry O’Brien trophy.
Key 1: Jrue Holiday needs to stay aggressive
Holiday was Milwaukee’s big offseason addition after Antetokounmpo’s extension. The Greek Freak wanted the franchise to show him it was committed to making championship moves regardless of the cost and Holiday checked both boxes. The Bucks sent two first-round picks and two first-round pick swaps to the New Orleans Pelicans to land the former All-Star.
In the first two playoff series, Holiday was relatively quiet. He averaged 15.2 points and 7.5 assists per game, but shot a porous 39.8 percent from the floor and 24.6 percent from deep. That might’ve been okay with Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton in the lineup, but the former’s health questions means Holiday needs to take on a bigger role.
Against the Hawks, Holiday broke out. He averaged 22.0 points and 10.0 assists per contest in the series, shooting 46.4 percent from the floor and 37.0 percent from deep. If the guard can keep putting up those numbers, the Bucks will be able to ease the pressure on Antetokounmpo assuming he returns.
Key 2: Win the fourth quarter
The Bucks have been one of the worst teams in the playoffs when it comes to closing out games. They are averaging 25.2 points in the final quarter, good for 12th among playoff teams. Milwaukee is ninth in field goal percentage and 15th in three-point percentage in the final frame.
There are several reasons for this. Antetokounmpo hasn’t been a great closer and Middleton’s shooting has been off during the playoffs at times. Head coach Mike Budenholzer has made some questionable lineup decisions and has struggled to draw up good plays. If the Bucks continue to struggle in the fourth quarter, expect the Suns to take advantage. Phoenix is ranked fourth in field goal percentage for the final quarter among playoff teams.
Key 3: Force someone outside Devin Booker to beat you
Booker is averaging 27.0 points per game in the playoffs and is capable of taking a contest over, as he showed in Game 6 against the Los Angeles Lakers and Game 1 against the Los Angeles Clippers. The Bucks need to take the ball out of his hands as much as possible and force someone else to make shots.
Mikal Bridges and Jae Crowder are decent defensive players, but are struggling offensively. The duo is averaging only 21.8 combined points per game and is inconsistent from behind the arc.
Bridges is shooting 35.1 percent from deep, well off his regular season percentage of 42.5. Crowder is more respectable at 36.9 percent, but that’s still down from 38.9 percent in the regular season. The latter is also buoyed by two great performances against the Lakers and Clippers. Take out those games and his percentage drops to 31.7.