The Milwaukee Bucks will face off against the Phoenix Suns in the 2021 NBA Finals, as you may have heard. The Bucks powered through an injury to Giannis Antetokounmpo to get past the Atlanta Hawks, while Chris Paul helped his Phoenix squad squash the pesky Los Angeles Clippers to reach his first-ever Finals.
The narratives are there for the taking. The basketball should be excellent, even with the status of Giannis in question as we near Game 1's tipoff on Tuesday. Here are five of the boldest predictions your eyes will see ahead of the biggest event in basketball.
Every Game Will Be Decided By Three Points or Less
To say the series will be close is not exactly a bold prediction. But to say every game will truly come down to the final possession with the clock ticking and pressure at an all-time high? That's juicy. There's reason to believe it'll come to fruition, too. These two squads faced off twice during the regular season. The combined margin of victory? Two points. That's it. Both were one-point contests and one even went into overtime. Things have obviously changed a bit since February, when the last game between the teams took place; Giannis is dealing with a hyperextended knee, Paul has been banged up these playoffs, and both teams have suffered the wear-and-tear of playoff basketball over the last month. But Milwaukee has showed they are more than capable of competing without their superstar and Phoenix has yet to be truly tested. This series will be as close as we've seen in a long time.
Giannis Antetkounmpo Will Win Finals MVP
A hyperextended knee is nothing to sneeze at, and it's unclear when the Bucks' two-time MVP will return. Hell, if his condition doesn't improve, he may not return in time to help Milwaukee stave off elimination should the Suns dominate from the get-go. But this is for bold predictions, not depressing and potentially likely outcomes for basketball fans. In that spirit, I believe Giannis will not only return, but will play such a crucial role in the Bucks' first championship since 1971 that he'll take home the last piece of hardware missing from his trophy case. The odds are against him, as WynnBet has the star at +550 to win Finals MVP with his injury taken into account. But he is the Greek Freak, after all. Would any of us really be surprised?
Chris Paul Won't Fold in the Moment
The above prediction suggests the Bucks will ultimately emerge victorious. But if it does happen, it won't be due to the play of CP3. Paul has faced criticism his entire career for not coming up big enough when his team really needed it and it's part of the reason it's taken him 16 years to even appear in the Finals. But watching him this playoffs, you can tell Paul knows what's at stake. He scored 41 to eliminate the Clippers and 37 to eliminate the Nuggets. He will show up to play these Finals and absolutely dominate in a way we haven't seen in years from the future Hall of Fame point guard. Chris Paul will remind us all why he earned the Point God moniker, no matter how long the series goes.
Jrue Holiday Will Become Batman in Giannis' Absence
For whatever reason, trying to figure out who is the Batman and Robin of this Bucks team has become the most popular metaphor to use when power-ranking the importance of each player. Khris Middleton has been the most popular name to throw around as the key player for Milwaukee without Giannis, and that is probably true given his ability to blow up for 30+ points on any night his shot is falling. But Jrue Holiday is going to become the star of this team sans Giannis. He had 28 points and 11 assists to eliminate the Hawks and has a size advantage over CP3, who will likely be Holiday's primary defender this series. The Suns have too many wings to throw at Middleton for him to dominate without Giannis to take away attention. Holiday will capitalize and run the team's offense while playing elite defense on Paul to hold down the fort until Milwaukee's star is back on the court.
Mike Budenholzer Will Get His Flowers
Mike Budenholzer has faced a remarkable amount of criticism for a coach who turned the Bucks from a playoff hopeful to the best team in the Eastern Conference. Much of it is admittedly justified; Budenholzer is often far too slow to adjust during a playoff series and it has spelled the end of Milwaukee's season for two straight years now. But Budenholzer appears to have figured it out and has his greatest challenge yet as the Bucks prepare to embark upon a Finals series without Giannis. It will be Budenholzer's magnum opus. He'll put together a stellar gameplan and remind everyone why he was such a celebrated hire and why Milwaukee is smart to have stuck with him to this point.