The most unpredictable Finals matchup is set to tip off Tuesday night between the Suns and Bucks. This marks the Suns’ first Finals appearance since Charles Barkley and Phoenix were defeated by Michael Jordan and the Bulls in 1993. The Bucks last appeared in the championship in 1974, 47 years ago.
Giannis Antetokounmpo is doubtful for Game 1 due to a knee injury.
The Crossover makes their Finals predictions.
Chris Mannix: Suns in 6
Anthony Davis, Jamal Murray, Kawhi Leonard and now Giannis Antetokounmpo. The Suns are good, but they keep landing opponents with stars that are either out or hobbled, and that will be the case this series. There's simply no way Giannis, after that fall in Game 4 of the conference finals, will be 100%. Phoenix, however, is, and the Suns’ backcourt will provide the bulk of the firepower that I think the Bucks will have a hard time matching. Even with a healthy Giannis, this was going to be a close series—Phoenix was 2–0 against Milwaukee in the regular season, with both games decided by one point, and both teams have been stifling defensively in the playoffs—but a less-than-full-strength Giannis clears the path for the Suns—and Paul—to claim their first championship.
Rohan Nadkarni: Suns in 5
The Suns and Bucks have been the top two defensive teams during the playoffs so I expect a pretty rough and tumble series. While Milwaukee has the horses to slow down Chris Paul and Devin Booker on the perimeter, the knee injury to Giannis Antetokounmpo is looming large over this series. Unfortunately, I don’t know if Giannis is going to be able to make a great impact even if he’s able to play. Meanwhile, Paul has been ruthless this postseason whenever he’s sensed an opportunity to finish off an opponent. I’m giving the edge to the Suns and a highly motivated, highly determined CP3.
Michael Shapiro: Suns in 6
Antetokounmpo’s health remains a major question, though he could very well return to the floor when this series heads to Milwaukee. But even with a healthy Giannis, I’m not so sure that the Bucks will stand in the way of Paul’s quest for the Larry O’Brien Trophy.
The Point God turned in a classic closing performance in Game 6 of the Western Conference finals, and he remains a genius floor general with plenty left in the tank. It’s easy to see Paul dicing up Milwaukee’s drop coverage, then feeding Deandre Ayton a flood of lobs as the defense creeps up toward the foul line. Paul, Ayton and Devin Booker form a worthy trio to battle Milwaukee’s Big 3. This is a deeper rotation than many assume. Monty Williams could prove to be difference-maker in the series as he coaches circles around Mike Budenholzer.
Perhaps Giannis will get healthy in a hurry and turn in an all-time effort. But that’s more wishful thinking than anything right now. When the Finals come to a close, expect Paul to be celebrating on the podium.
Chris Herring: Suns in 5
Short of the Suns ending up with another ailment of their own (a Paul shoulder or COVID-19 diagnosis, or Booker’s requiring a rhinoplasty mid-series), I likely would take Phoenix here either way; even if Giannis is able to play.
The Suns have looked the part all season and all postseason. It just feels like their year. And obviously Antetokounmpo's health—either likely not playing, or presumably not being at full strength if and when he does—would merely make it an easier pick. (If Giannis can go, and he resembles himself, I’d take the Suns in 6.) More than anyone in the league, I’d worry about Antetokounmpo playing before he’s fully ready. So much of his game is tied to his athleticism, and his ability to contort and Eurostep. His steps are so much longer than the average person’s. You don’t want to see him tweak something.
The Kevin Durant injury in the 2019 Finals still has me scarred, so I hope Antetokounmpo doesn’t come back any sooner than he should—even though this series is for all the marbles.
Jeremy Woo: Bucks in 7
Do I feel especially good about this? No. But I do think there's a universe where Milwaukee keeps the series tight and works it to 2–2, gets Giannis back before things get especially dire and then finds a way to win the series. Phoenix is the better team right now, but the Bucks have battled quite a bit of adversity over the last two rounds and found ways to get it done. Middleton and Holiday are capable of trading blows with Booker and Paul. It'll be on the Bucks' supporting cast to make shots, which is the scary part. But if Giannis makes it back at close to full strength, there's a chance.
Michael Pina: Suns in 6
The big question heading into these Finals is Antetokounmpo’s knee, and assuming he’ll be less than 100% for the entire series, the most important matchups lie in Phoenix’s favor. Booker and Paul should have plenty of success running pick-and-rolls against Milwaukee’s deep drop coverage. And if the Bucks switch, as they did in Games 5 and 6 of the conference finals, it’ll only let Ayton feast on the offensive glass. Defensively, Mikal Bridges is an ideal body to throw on Khris Middleton, leaving too much pressure on Jrue Holiday to attack downhill like he did after Giannis went down. The Suns have had extreme injury luck in every round. If that continues in the Finals, as it likely will, the title should be theirs.
Elizabeth Swinton: Suns in 6
Both regular-season contests between the Suns and Bucks were decided by one point, and the Finals will likely reflect that same intensity. Phoenix held the edge in each game thanks to late free throws, but with Antetokounmpo's status still up in the air, the Suns have health and home-court advantage on their side to get the job done in the Finals. The Bucks have shown their supporting cast can step up in Giannis's absence if he does miss time, so this should be a fun series that can easily go the distance.
Howard Beck: Suns in 6
You can run all the numbers, dissect all the film, analyze the matchups for days … and none of it will matter as much as the state of Antetokounmpo’s knee. It’s really that simple. And as of now, we have no reason to believe his knee is ready, a week after that scary hyperextension in Game 4 of the conference finals.
The Bucks can’t win this series without Giannis. They can’t take four games from the Suns if he’s playing but limited. The Bucks did beat the Hawks twice without Giannis to close out the conference finals, thanks to stout performances from Middleton, Holiday and Brook Lopez. But the Suns are deeper and stingier than the Hawks. They’re armed with lengthy, versatile defenders—Bridges, Jae Crowder, Ayton—who can stifle the Bucks’ offense. If Giannis plays, I still think the Suns will win it all in a long series. But if he can’t, Phoenix might take it in five.
Robin Lundberg: Suns in 6
This is nearly an impossible series to pick without knowing the status of Antetokounmpo. If he were to return effectively near the beginning of the series, I’d take the Bucks in seven, given the emergence of Middleton as a closer this postseason. But without him close to 100% I see CP3 capturing his first ring with an athletic Phoenix team and Ayton’s size to deal with Lopez. I suppose it’s fitting the healthiest team at the end is likely to win this year’s NBA Finals.
Ben PIckman: Suns in 6
The Finals is set up to be a highly competitive series made up of two worthy foes. The Suns and Bucks have nearly identical records this playoffs (Milwaukee has one additional loss) and are separated by just 0.7 points in net rating. Both have withstood injuries to major players to reach the Finals, and both have seen a number of role players step up in major ways. Antetokounmpo’s status is obviously the biggest question hovering over this series, and, without him, I think Phoenix is clearly favored. Even with him, I lean to the Suns taking home the title. I'm interested to see how the Bucks try to stop Ayton and whether they elect to have Holiday and Middleton matched-up against Suns' stellar backcourt of Paul and Booker all series long. Phoenix has put up the league's best record since Jan. 28, and, while it seemed unlikely heading into this season that it would win the championship, it’s certainly deserving.
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