Anyone that predicted the Phoenix Suns and Milwaukee Bucks would square off in the 2021 NBA Finals is likely much richer than they were at the start of the 2021 NBA Playoffs. While the Suns did finish with the second-best record in the Western Conference, many believed that LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers or Kawhi Leonard and the Los Angeles Clippers would eventually slow them down. However, a slew of injuries to the opposing team's best players and the incredible maturation of DeAndre Ayton and Devin Booker have helped Chris Paul lead this team to their first NBA title in more than two decades. Similarly, the Bucks had doubters as well. With the Philadelphia 76ers and Brooklyn Nets standing in their way, many experts believed that the Bucks would have issues in the second round or Eastern Conference Finals. To their credit, the Bucks performed well from the very beginning. They swept the Heat before taking out the injury-riddled Brooklyn Nets in seven games. To cross into new territory, they took care of the upstart Atlanta Hawks to have a shot to win their first NBA title in 50 years.
Phoenix Suns: Road To The 2021 NBA Finals
First Round: Suns def. Lakers (4-2)
Second Round: Suns def. Nuggets (4-0)
Western Conference Finals: Suns def. Clippers (4-2)
Just one year ago, the Suns missed the playoffs for the tenth straight season. However, the season wasn't a complete loss. Phoenix hired veteran coach Monty Williams to lead the young squad that featured Booker and Ayton. With Williams at the helm, the Suns finished the season with an eight-game winning streak in the NBA bubble. During the off-season, Phoenix added future hall of fame inductee, Chris Paul, to the roster along with Jae Crowder. Paul and Williams were able to turn this team from a promising young squad to the third-best team in the Western Conference. Despite never playing in the playoffs before, Booker and Ayton showed no fear during their first-round series against LeBron James, Anthony Davis and the Los Angeles Lakers. Actually, Booker and Ayton have become accustomed to taking down MVPs throughout the playoffs. During their first three postseason series, the Suns have taken out three NBA Finals MVPs, two NBA MVPs and five NBA All-Stars.
Milwaukee Bucks: Road To The 2021 NBA Finals
First Round: Bucks def. Heat (4-0)
Second Round: Bucks def. Nets (4-3)
Eastern Conference Finals: Bucks def. Hawks (4-2)
It has been a long time coming, but Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks have finally arrived in the NBA Finals. However, the run to the NBA's mountaintop has not been easy. In 2019 and 2020, the Bucks held the top seed in the Eastern Conference, but they fell to the eventual Eastern Conference Champions in both seasons. After the 2020 NBA Playoffs, the Bucks picked up Jrue Holiday and headed into the season with high expectations. However, they flew under the national radar for much of the 2020-2021 NBA Regular Season and finished with the third-seeded in the Eastern Conference. Taking out the Miami Heat in the first round, the Bucks were on a roll before they ran into the Nets in the second round. The Bucks lost the first two games of their second-round series by an average of 23.5 points. Fortunately, the Bucks were able to bounce back with a three-point win in game three. Then, the Nets began to fall apart. Both James Harden and Kyrie Irving missed games due to injury, leaving Kevin Durant to carry the load. While Durant was able to average 33 points in the final three games of the series, the Bucks proved to be just too much for the Nets. Just a few days later, the Bucks were hit with injuries just like the Nets were. Antetokounmpo hyperextended his knee in game four of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Hawks. Fortunately, Khris Middleton and Holiday pulled through and finished the series without their two-time NBA MVP.
Game One: Suns def. Bucks (118-105)
Score: Suns def. Bucks (118-105)
Points: Suns - C. Paul (32) | Bucks - K. Middleton (29)
Assists: Suns - C. Paul - (9) | Bucks - J. Holiday (9)
Rebounds: Suns - D. Ayton (19) | Bucks - G. Antetokounmpo (17)
After falling short in the NBA Playoffs time and time again, Paul finally earned a spot in the NBA Finals and he's not letting it slip through his fingers. Paul scored 32 points through three quarters after going scoreless in the first quarter. Most notably, he took over the third quarter with a 16-point performance on 86% shooting from the field.
"When it's going like that, you just want to space the floor well and let him orchestrate," Williams said about Paul's third-quarter explosion.
"I thought he was making the right plays."
Paul was not alone on Tuesday night. Booker also poured in 27 points of his own. At times, the Suns backcourt took turns going at Bucks' big men, Brook Lopez and Bobby Portis. Milwaukee's decision to keep switching on defense fed into Phoenix's offensive game plan and allowed the Suns to gain momentum.
"We have to punish teams for switching 1 through 5 like that," Booker said after Tuesday's win.
"Like I just heard Chris say, we prepare for any type of defense and we watch a lot of basketball, and where we have been most successful in that situation is space out. So, every time he shoots it, we think it's going in."
Time: 9 p.m. ET
Date: July 8, 2021
Location: Phoenix, AZ (Phoenix Suns Arena)
Where To Watch: ESPN