The Phoenix Suns are up 1-0 after a big win in Game 1. What do the Milwaukee Bucks need to do to even things up in Game 2 tonight?
Gage Bridgford (@GbridgfordNFL): Jrue Holiday has to be better on both ends of the floor. He was just 4-of-14 from the field including 0-of-4 from 3-point range on offense while allowing Chris Paul to go 12-of-19 for 32 points on the other end. Jrue has been the measuring stick for Milwaukee throughout these playoffs. When he plays well, the team tends to follow suit, and they need him to be the two-way force he’s been.
Brandon Ewing (@B_Skip1717): Milwaukee made 16 threes in the first game and still lost by 13 points, so I think it’ll be tough for them to find a way to win Game 2 tonight in Phoenix. Finding a way to slow down Chris Paul has to be priority number one for the Bucks, but I don’t see them being able to do that. Paul is on a mission right now and looks virtually unstoppable every time he touches the court.
Ryan Blackburn (@NBABlackburn): Using Jrue Holiday to defend Chris Paul is a good place to start. With PJ Tucker focusing his efforts on Devin Booker, Holiday would be freed up to bother Paul as much as he possibly can, which feels like the pivot point in this series. The Bucks love to play drop coverage on defense, and that’s what they have to play if they want Brook Lopez out there. I like the Bucks tonight for this reason. Force Booker to be the player that beats you rather than CP3, which feels so much more relentless and painful to the opposition somehow.
Chris Paul put up 32 points on 12-of-19 shots in Game 1. Can he continue to carry this offensive load for the remainder of the series?
Bridgford: I think if you ask me this question during the first round of the playoffs, I’m saying no, but I have no reason to doubt him at this point. He’s answered the call for three straight rounds, and he looks even better now than he did three or four weeks ago. If the team needs him to score 32 a night, they might be in trouble because that means other guys aren’t stepping up, but he’s giving me no reason to doubt him with his play as of late.
Ewing: Absolutely, Paul is on mission to win his first career finals and I don’t see him slowing down anytime soon. Paul has been dominant in every game of every series in these playoffs so I don’t expect that to change anytime soon. All it takes is a little help from Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton for Paul and the Suns to continue and dominate.
Blackburn: There’s no doubt in my mind that he can, but there’s also the part of me that thinks he will have a 5-of-20 game in there at some point while doing the same thing. The mid-range is fickle, and as long as the Bucks are making things difficult on him, Paul won’t make every single shot. He will make about 45 to 50% of them, which is elite. Because they’re mid-range shots though, the Bucks can survive as long as they don’t foul.
Giannis Antetokounmpo played in Game 1 after being doubtful to play in the days leading up to the game. If you’re the Bucks, would you have rested Giannis for Game 1 to give him the extra rest before Game 2 to get him as close to 100 percent as possible?
Bridgford: I would have rested him. The Suns already had the extra rest heading into the series, and Giannis was already going to be pushing it to be fully ready. Having him on the floor gives them the best chance to win, but he wasn’t able to compete as he normally can prior to the injury. He also had a greater risk of re-injury by being out there. Take the early loss on the road in Game 1, and bring him back for Game 2 with those extra two days of recovery.
Ewing: I wouldn’t have rested him. I think Giannis looked fine out there in Game 1 and it’s the NBA finals, you can’t rest your MVP player if he’s anywhere close to 100 percent. I do believe Giannis will get stronger as the series goes on and the Bucks will need him if they have any chance of taking down the Suns.
Blackburn: The goal of any team in that situation should be to get their star back to playing condition as soon as possible. If Giannis had missed Game 1, he would have been trying to kick off the rust in Game 2. If he had missed Game 2, he would be rusty in Game 3. The Bucks, by getting him back for Game 1, are in prime position to surprise folks and take Game 2. Giannis knows exactly how his knee will react in certain situations now, and he’s off the injury report. That gives him an advantage, or at least the knowledge to approach the situation in a different way going forward.
Who is the biggest X-factor for each team excluding Giannis for Milwaukee and Paul for Phoenix?
Bridgford: I have to go with Holiday for Milwaukee. He’s the player that has the chance to effect the game on both ends of the floor and make life easier on his teammates while simultaneously harder on his opponents. His defense on Paul can disrupt the entire Suns’ offense if he’s effective. If he’s unable to prevent dribble penetration, it puts Giannis and Brook Lopez into tough spots in the mid-range and at the rim. If he locks in over the next several games, Milwaukee’s chances increase dramatically. For Phoenix, it’s Deandre Ayton. Ayton has found a new level of play during these playoffs, and he’s able to remain on the floor even when his opponents go small. While he may not have the sheer athleticism of Giannis, he’s got the size to bang with him inside on defense, and he can force the defense into tough spots on offense with his low-post game.
Ewing: Jrue Holiday is the guy who can really make a difference in this series. Holiday can change the series for both teams cause if he slows down Paul, it gives Milwaukee a much greater chance of winning. If Holiday can’t slow Paul down though it’s going to be a long series for the Bucks. From a Phoenix perspective I think Ayton is the guy that can take them over the top. Ayton was dominant in Game 1 and if he can build off that performance it’ll put the Suns in a great spot to win the finals.
Blackburn: The Bucks center rotation is very intriguing to me. Brook Lopez played 23 minutes last game after averaging over 30 per game in the playoffs beforehand. He was a team worst minus-17 in plus-minus as Chris Paul repeatedly sought him out in switches and drop coverage. Bobby Portis did not fair much better either, despite being one of the heroes of last series against the Atlanta Hawks. The Bucks found some success with Giannis at the 5, but taking Lopez off the floor means removing your fourth best player. That’s not a great way to maximize the playing talent of the roster.
Finals MVP Prediction?
Bridgford: Chris Paul. I don’t have the confidence in Holiday to put it together consistently enough to win this series for Milwaukee, and there hasn’t been a Finals MVP on the losing team since 1969 when Jerry West won the inaugural award. So, it doesn’t matter what Giannis or Khris Middleton does if they don’t win the series. Paul has been the Suns’ most consistent player all year, and he’s the driving force of this team. If they win the Finals, he’s getting the Bill Russell Finals MVP Trophy.
Ewing: Chris Paul. He’s playing on another level right now and he’s not taking his foot off the gas anytime soon.
Blackburn: To be a little contrarian but also because I believe in his talent, I will say Giannis. He’s going to eventually figure some things out, and as the series goes on, he will begin to feel better on that knee. If the Bucks take Game 2, they have a chance, and things will feel differently than they do right now if they can at least split.