The 2021 NBA Finals have finally kicked off, and the series began with a Phoenix Suns victory. The Suns defeated the Milwaukee Bucks 118-105 in Talking Sticks Arena, and won their first NBA Finals game since 1993. Chris Paul led the way with 32 points and nine assists, Devin Booker chipped in with 27 points, and center Deandre Ayton scored 22 points and somehow grabbed 19 rebounds! 19! In reality, he should have had 20 rebounds, but in the fourth quarter, Paul grabbed one from out of his hands, causing Ayton to lose his 20-20 statline. Although the Suns came together and played wonderfully as the game progressed, they had some trouble getting off the ground.
In a gesture that has become well known throughout the NBA world, the 2021 NBA Finals started off with complaining. During the tip off, Milwaukee center Brook Lopez took an extra jump to get the ball to Giannis Antetokounmpo, which made the Suns’ starters point to the ball and whine. They got their wish, the clock and jump ball reset… and then the Bucks won the tip again.
Speaking of Lopez, he was dominant inside the paint and outside, as Lopez shot 60% from three and 50% from the field, finishing the game with 17 points and six rebounds. A big part of this performance can be attributed to the fact that during the first quarter, he was being guarded by Jae Crowder, who is 6’6″. The Bucks did not play a true shooting guard to start the game, as their starters were Jrue Holiday (a point guard), Khris Middleton (a small forward), Antetokounmpo (a power forward), PJ Tucker (a power forward), and Lopez (a center). The Suns lineup of Paul, Booker, Mikal Bridges, Crowder, and Ayton was much smaller, meaning they could run circles around their matchup, but would get dominated in the paint. Ayton had to guard Antetokounmpo because if anyone else tried, they would have failed miserably due to his size and strength. Ayton is 6’11”, 250 pounds, meaning he is roughly the same size as Antetokounmpo.
Speaking of Antetokounmpo, The Greek Freak would finish the game with 20 points, 17 rebounds, four assists, two steals, one (monster) block, three turnovers, and five fouls, shooting 6/11 from the field and 1/2 from three. However, one thing in particular hurt the Bucks and may have cost them the game:
It appears as though the people of the valley had a word with their friends near Coney Island, as Suns’ fans would count the seconds it took for Antetokounmpo to shoot his free throws, and the general consensus is that it takes about 12 seconds. Technically speaking, free throw routines can’t be over 10 seconds, but the refs let it slide because of the star power Antetokounmpo brings. The chanting clearly gets to Antetokounmpo, as he went 7-12, or 58% from the free throw line. The Bucks shot a total of 16 free throws in Game One, collectively going 9/16, or 56%. The Suns, on the other hand, got to the line a lot more often, shooting 26 free throws. In total, they only missed a single free throw, going 25/26 for the game. Devin Booker alone went 10 for 10 from the line, and it’s no overstatement to say that drawing fouls and gaining points from the charity stripe won this game for the Suns, and currently, they are one of the best, if not the best, free throw shooting team in the NBA Finals… ever.
Play of the Game:
In a majority of NBA Finals, there has been an iconic shot or moment that summed up the series pretty well. In ’17 and ’18, Kevin Durant hit a three from about the same place on the court to close out the game and series for the Golden State Warriors. In 2016, LeBron James had an incredible chase down block on Andre Iguodala in Game Seven that led to a Kyrie Irving three over Steph Curry. In 2013, Ray Allen hit the shot of his life to send Game Six into overtime, and eventually help lead the Miami Heat to that year’s championship. In 2010, there was Kobe Bryant‘s iconic moment frozen in time after winning his fifth championship:
Lastly, in 2008, we had Kevin Garnett‘s, “Anything is Possssssssssible!” interview. Despite only Game One being concluded, we may have already seen the best play in the 2021 NBA Finals, and that was a chase-down block from The Greek Freak himself.
It’s ridiculous how similar Antetokounmpo’s shot block was compared to LeBron James’ block in 2016. Each play started with a fast break, where a teammate passed the ball to a cutter. Both players (Andre Iguodala and Mikal Bridges) avoided one defender before putting up their layup. Antetokounmpo and James each started on the left side of the court, were behind practically everyone in the play, and no one saw them coming until they sprinted the full length of the court and pinned the ball against the backboard in the same way. After they pinned the ball to the backboard it fell into the hands of a teammate, starting a play for their teams’ offense which would not be successful. While James’ moment is more iconic and meaningful, it is ridiculous how similar the blocks are.
This play also got me thinking, and made me realize that Antetokounmpo and James’ careers have played out in somewhat similar ways. James was drafted in 2003, and Antetokounmpo was drafted 10 years later, in 2013. Both would end up being the best player in their draft class, and four years later, each would have the first significant moment of their career. In 2007, James led the Cavaliers to their first ever Finals appearance, while in 2017, Antetokounmpo became an All-Star for the first time. In 2009, James won his first ever MVP award… ten years later in 2019, Antetokounmpo won his first ever MVP award. In 2010, James won his second MVP award… 10 years later in 2020, Antetokounmpo won his second MVP award.
Is it just me, or is it crazy how so many meaningful events of these two league MVPs happened 10 years apart from one another? The way their paths became different was that, unlike James, Antetokounmpo was loyal to the franchise that drafted him, and while many speculated he would leave in 2020, he signed a five-year extension instead of joining a super team like James did. To get into the 2011 NBA Finals, James had to team up with Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh. To get into the 2021 NBA Finals, all Antetokounmpo needed was Khris Middleton, Jrue Holiday, a decent supporting cast, and a pair of size 18 shoes. Unfortunately, if the uncanny accuracy of James and Antetokounmpo’s careers continue, then Antetokounmpo will lose in this Finals, though hopefully he will not be labeled a choker since it’s his first Finals and he didn’t have to create a super team to get to where he is.
My prediction for the series? Suns in six, with Chris Paul as your 2021 Finals MVP.
Let me know your thoughts on this year’s NBA Finals below, don’t forget to follow the NBA Blog for more updates on the 2021 NBA Finals, and as always, have an awesome day!