With the Milwaukee Bucks’ 118-107 victory over the Atlanta Hawks in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference final Saturday, the NBA Finals have been set.
Scheduled to begin Tuesday, the Bucks will look to win their first title since 1971 against a Phoenix Suns organization that has never won a championship in its history.
In advance of the Finals we’ll have more, but for now, here are three questions we have heading into the 2021 championship series.
What’s the status of Giannis?
The largest question that will loom over the start of these Finals is the injury status of Bucks superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Antetokounmpo suffered a knee injury during Game 4 of Milwaukee’s series with the Hawks and, even though he reportedly didn’t suffer any ligament damage and his injury is listed as a hyperextended left knee, he was forced to miss both Games 5 and 6 of the conference final.
And now, given how quickly the Finals will be starting, the question on everyone’s minds will be if he can give it a go in Game 1, or later, in the series.
Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports reported that, had the Hawks forced a Game 7, then there would be “belief” that Antetokounmpo would play, but no one knows for sure now.
Still, this is optimistic if you’re a Bucks fan as that’s an indication that Antetokounmpo is well enough to at least give it a go in an emergency.
The days off he’s had sitting out games and in the lead-up to the Finals also have to help as well.
We probably won’t really know if Antetokounmpo can play in Game 1 until Tuesday itself, but for now we can keep our fingers crossed that probably the biggest star in the Finals won’t have to be sidelined during them.
Who will Holiday guard?
In the absence of Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday stepped up to carry the load for Milwaukee offensively, but perhaps more important than that is the apparent renewed confidence Holiday has found on the defensive end.
Heralded as one of the best two-way players in the league, Holiday hasn’t looked like it during most of this post-season but has more closely resembled it over these past two games, as he’s taken on the assignment of Trae Young, Bogdan Bogdanovic and Kevin Huerter.
There’s a small asterisk there. Young, of course, was hobbled in Game 6 as he came back on an emergency basis playing with a bone bruise in his foot; Bogdanovic and Huerter are great shooters, but aren’t really drive threats. But the outcome shouldn’t be disparaged, Holiday still did a good job.
Against, Phoenix, however, Holiday will have a much tougher task ahead of him in likely being the primary defender on one of the Suns’ two backcourt studs Chris Paul or Devin Booker.
The question, however, is who will it be?
Chances are the assignment will be Booker. He’s the more dangerous offensive player, overall, as a young budding superstar who can get his shot from just about anywhere on the floor and make them. But to leave Paul unimpeded would also be at the Bucks’ own peril.
Paul has had some of the most prolific scoring outbursts of his career during this post-season and he’s always a constant threat to pick you apart with his passing.
Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer may need to pick his poison with who he puts Holiday on. Of course, he does have P.J. Tucker at his disposal to also throw onto Booker and Paul, but the quickness advantage both have over Tucker may be too great for even Tucker to overcome there.
Is this Chris Paul’s first and only shot at a ring?
And while on the subject of Paul, this is the 36-year-old’s first-ever Finals appearance and may be his one and only shot to win that elusive ring that has always seemed like it would be out of his grasp.
With all due respect to Antetokounmpo, he’s 26 years old and has a higher shot at another kick at the can than Paul does so these Finals are certainly more important to Paul’s overall legacy than the Greek star’s.
For years Paul has been criticized for not being able to win the big one and, for some reason or the other, he’s been forced to miss critical playoff games for teams he’s been on.
Not this year, though.
Other than a small time spent in the NBA’s COVID protocols, Paul has been very much present for the Suns’ run and he’s been playing arguably the best basketball of his career during it.
It certainly feels like everything’s aligning just right for him to finally win a title, whether or not that happens, though, is yet to be seen.