The NBA Finals are tied at 2-2. Neither team has won a road game yet. Will either side steal one, or are the Suns going to close things out in Game 7?
Ryan Blackburn (@NBABlackburn): It certainly feels like we are on track for a seven game series at this point. Both home crowds have been incredible, and the stars have shown up at home in a way that they have failed to take on the road thus far. However, with the Bucks winning each of the last two and Giannis Antetokounmpo looking like the most dominant player in the game today, I will predict that the Bucks steal Game 5 and close things out in Game 6, reverse sweep fashion. All it takes is for one of Khris Middleton or Jrue Holiday to have a big game, and the Bucks can absolutely get it done after that.
Gage Bridgford (@GbridgfordNFL): Based off of how these two teams are playing right now, I would have said they were destined for a Game 7, but I saw something in Game 4 on the Suns that told me otherwise. Phoenix got a near-perfect storm to steal a game on the road. The Suns did a good job initially of slowing down Giannis after he had put up back-to-back 40+ point games. Devin Booker couldn’t miss a shot if he tried for much of the game, and Jrue Holiday put up one of the worst offensive games of his career. Despite that, they still ended up losing by six points. It’s possible the Suns just gave their best offensive punch, and the Bucks still won. If the Bucks win Game 5, I think they seal the series at home in Game 6.
Gordon Gross (@GMoneyNuggs): I’ll say it’ll go seven. The refereeing in this series has been something other than ideal and I can see the games getting bogged down in things other than momentum and on-court play. I’m taking the Bucks in a Game 7 though, so we may be set up for some weirdness as this year closes out. It really couldn’t finish any other way, right?
Giannis Antetokounmpo has been nearly impossible to stop in the series. What, if anything, can the Suns do to slow him down?
Blackburn: The Suns need to give up defending the three-point line a bit and continue to pack the paint. They tried to do so in Game 4 to help slow down Giannis, and it worked to a certain degree. Putting pressure on the Bucks role players to hit outside shots is probably the best way to stifle Milwaukee’s offense though, and if Middleton and Holiday don’t have enough outside jumpers in them to get it done, then the Suns can double Giannis unabated.
Bridgford: As Ryan said, clog the paint and forced Giannis to take jump shots. When he’s able to romp to the rim, there’s nothing the Suns can do. They only gave him eight free-throw attempts in Game 4 after he had attempted 35 combined in Games 2 & 3. He’s attempted 11 3-point shots in the series, and seven of those came in Phoenix’s two wins in Games 1 & 2. If Milwaukee wins by Giannis knocking down mid-range jumpers and 3-point shots, you have to just accept that if you’re Phoenix. However, if you let him romp to the rim and to the charity stripe, that’s on you. Force Giannis to shoot more jumpers and hope that he misses.
Gross: Get him in foul trouble. Right now it’s Giannis dictating how he plays, but the best way they can slow him is not by getting him to free throw line, but rather by putting him on the bench in foul trouble. With the King Of Drawing Ridiculous Fouls on their team in Chris Paul, the Suns will have to go at Giannis and get him in position to stay off the court for longer stretches. Antetokounmpo played 43 minutes in the last game, and Phoenix can’t afford for that to continue. The only game he was in foul trouble - Game 1 - was a relatively easy win for the Suns. They have to make him make tough choices and either give up buckets or take a seat.
Who has been the biggest disappointment in the Finals thus far?
Blackburn: Can I say Kendrick Perkins?
Bridgford: It’s Jrue Holiday’s offense. Holiday is shooting 33.3 percent from the floor, and there are times when he’s bordering on unplayable on that end of the floor. Milwaukee brought him in to be a boost over Eric Bledsoe, and they sent out a lot to get that deal done. While he’s been a boost on defense, his offense is just abysmal. A dishonorable mention is due for Chris Paul’s ability to take care of the ball. After averaging just 1.4 turnovers per game through Phoenix’s first three rounds, he’s averaging 4.3 per game in the finals.
Gross: The referees. In what should be a showcase of the best the NBA has to offer, the refs gave Booker somewhere around 7 or 8 fouls to use instead of the normal 6 in Game 4, nearly tilting the final result in favor of the Suns. All NBA fans want is a hard-fought series to have as much care taken with the whistle as it deserves, and they’re not getting it. The number of basketball fans cheering on this thread of how non-NBA refs call high level basketball should tell the NBA something, and they’ve promised to listen - next year. For this year, we get what we get.
Blackburn: Let’s go with Bucks in 6. As predicted above, it will be difficult for the Suns to slow the momentum of the Bucks after two Bucks wins at home. Despite Milwaukee going back on the road, I will go out on a limb and say they pick up a third straight win to get the series to 3-2 going back to Milwaukee. Then, they close things out at home with a strong defensive effort. Giannis is simply playing at an unbelievable level right now, and the only way for the Suns to truly slow him down is to overcommit and send double teams when he drives to the paint. At that point, it’s about trusting the players around him, which is a big leap...but I think they get it done.
Bridgford: I’m going with Bucks in 6 as well. The Suns have lost two straight games, and the Bucks haven’t even played their best game yet. Giannis has been superhuman. Middleton exploded in Game 4. Holiday has been lagging behind outside of some hot shooting in Game 3, and we haven’t seen the random other player that always has at least one big game in the Finals. If the Suns don’t change their strategy of defending Giannis for Game 5, Milwaukee is stealing that game, and they’re closing things out at home in Game 6.
Gross: Bucks in 7. They’re not the kind of team to make things easy on themselves, and Phoenix is well-coached. Phoenix is gonna have to shoot the lights out the rest of the way to take this series, though, and I’m not sure they can.