Phoenix Suns the $1.31 JustBet favourites to win NBA title
Milwaukee Bucks offered at $3.45Friday, July 09, 2021
BY MARK ARCHER
The 2021 National Basketball Association (NBA) Finals got underway a little earlier than anticipated after the Milwaukee Bucks dispatched the Atlanta Hawks in their six-game, Eastern Conference series last Saturday, June 3. Their opponents in the finals, the Phoenix Suns, had already completed their own six-game Western Conference series against the Los Angeles Clippers a few days earlier (Wednesday, June 30) and were waiting to see who they would be up against.
So, the most unlikely of combatants are vying for the crown: Milwaukee won its only NBA title in 1971 against the Baltimore Bullets and last appeared in the championship series in 1974, 47 years ago, where they lost to the Boston Celtics.
The Suns have never won a championship, last getting to the finals with Charles Barkley in 1993 where they were beaten in seven games by Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls. The Suns also lost the finals in 1976 to the Boston Celtics.
Milwaukee's path to the finals was filled with drama, culminating in their 118-107 Game 6 victory against the Hawks (in Atlanta). Two-time NBA Most Valuable Player (MVP), Giannis Antetokounmpo missed the game (and also Game 5) due to a knee injury sustained late in Game 4 and it took the heroics of Khris Middleton (32 points) and Jrue Holiday (27 points) to thrust Milwaukee into the finals. But the emergence of Phoenix in these finals has overwhelmingly usurped all the headlines of the Bucks.
For the past five seasons (previous to this one), the Suns have been one of the worst teams in the NBA, sometimes openly losing as many games as possible to secure higher draft picks. They did provide a renaissance signal in last year's 'bubble' – winning all eight games played – but, in the three-year span prior to this season, they have ranked 27th and 28th in winning percentage, in a 30-team league.
This season, the Suns leapfrogged into the league's second-best winning percentage and no team in NBA history has had a 10-year drought from making the play-offs, only to skyrocket all the way to the finals in year 11. Additionally, Chris Paul (at 36 years, 55 days), after his 41-point, play-off-best performance in Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals, is now the oldest player to score 40+ points in a closeout game. The previous oldest was Michael Jordan (35 years, 117 days) in 1998.
Admittedly, the Suns had a few things go their way in the play-offs: Anthony Davis was injured in their first-round matchup with the Los Angeles Lakers, Jamal Murray couldn't play for the Denver Nuggets in the second round and the Clippers didn't have Kawhi Leonard for the previous series, but Phoenix also had their own struggles.
Floor orchestrator Chris Paul hurt his shoulder in round one, and missed the first two games of the Clippers' series after getting placed in the COVID-19 health and safety protocols. Plus, Devin Booker broke his nose in Game 2 of the Clippers' series and there has been a noticeable fall-off in his shooting percentage ever since.
The Suns are definitely on a mission and are now squared up with the Bucks who they faced twice in the regular season, with both encounters concluding in the same manner. Both were extremely high scoring. Both went down to the wire. Both saw Phoenix win by a single point, with a free throw by Booker securing the game winner each time. The Bucks lost 125-124 in Phoenix on February 10, then lost 128-127 in overtime at Milwaukee on April 19 —It cannot get any closer than that.
Giannis averaged 40 points on 60 per cent shooting against the Suns in those games but averaged 28.2 points, 12.7 rebounds and 5.2 assists per game in the play-offs prior to his injury. He entered Game 1 of the Finals on Tuesday (July 6) less than 100 per cent and it showed in his scoring (20 points), but he did bag 17 rebounds. Middleton contributed 29 points, but the Booker-Paul combination proved too hot to handle.
Milwaukee's defence did their best to contend with Booker's wily scoring, Paul's expert pick-and-roll play and Deandre Ayton's dominance in the lane but couldn't provide enough resistance to avoid a 118-105 Game 1 defeat. Booker finished with 27 points and Ayton scored 22 while dominating the board with a game-high 19 rebounds but Paul's imprint on the game was undeniable.
Paul, who went scoreless in the first quarter, exploded for 16 in the third and 32 points overall. He was masterful in the first Finals appearance of his 16-year career and becomes only the third player aged 36 or older to have 30+ points in a finals game, joining hall-of-famers Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Tim Duncan. Additionally, with his nine assists, Paul becomes the first player with over 30 points and eight assists in a Finals debut since Michael Jordan in 1991.
It's early days yet but this is shaping up to be the 'Chris Paul Finals' (unless something significant happens). JustBet has Paul tipped for the Finals MVP award and he is off to a brilliant start - the Suns are clicking, and he is pulling the strings.
The Suns have secured the first game of the series and statistically have a 72 percent chance of hoisting the Larry O'Brien Trophy. It is said the series doesn't really start until both teams play on home-court, but every win provides a firmer grip on the prize. For the Suns, this season will most likely end better than their previous two appearances in the Finals.
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Phoenix Suns 1.31
Milwaukee Bucks 3.45
*Odds are subject to change
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