And then there were two. This week sees the Milwaukee Bucks and the Phoenix Suns kick off their best-of-seven series to determine who will be lifting the Larry O’Brien Championship Trophy this season.
You’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who would have picked these two teams specifically to reach the Finals a month ago but both outfits are thoroughly deserving of their place in the NBA’s showpiece event. The Bucks had to overcome a tough Atlanta Hawks with a 4-2 series win in the Eastern Conference Finals, while the Suns beat the Los Angeles Clippers by the same scoreline in the Western.
Regardless of the outcome, a little slice of history will be made on the court this month whoever wins. The Suns are making their first appearance in the Finals since 1993, where they were led by regular season MVP Charles Barkley but were ultimately defeated 4-2 by Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls. The Bucks, on the other hand, have had to wait even longer, last appearing in the Finals in 1974 where they were beaten by the Boston Celtics by four games to three. Unlike the Suns however, the Bucks actually lifted the title in 1971, when they were led by the great Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
The two teams that will go head-to-head in the Finals this season are hardly a rivalry on the same level as, say the LA Lakers vs the Celtics, but they do share a history of sorts - particularly around the aforementioned Abdul-Jabbar, one of the greatest stars to ever grace the sport.
In 1969, two years before he led the Bucks to the 1971 Championship, the Suns lost out on a chance to draft Abdul-Jabbar after losing a coin toss with the Minnesota franchise. One has to wonder whether the Bucks would be carrying that sole Championship win going into game one on Tuesday night, had they not been so lucky with the flip of a dime. There’s no Abdul-Jabbar this time around, of course, but each of these sides have their own stars looking to cement their names into NBA history.
For the Bucks, Giannis Antetokounmpo has been absolutely crucial to their success this season. In the two games the Bucks have played against the Suns this season, the 26-year-old scored 80 total points with a 68.2 true shooting percentage.
Antetokounmpo left the court in game four against the Hawks after suffering from a hyperextended left knee and remains a doubt for the first game of the Finals - but when he returns, the Suns will need to find answers on how to keep him quiet.
Meanwhile for the Suns, Chris Paul, who until recently had the most post-season starts without a Finals appearance (123), is one of the best point guards in recent memory and a shoo-in to make the Hall of Fame. Paul’s command of the floor is unrivaled and the battle between him and Bucks’ Jrue Holiday will be a fascinating battle across the series.
Nobody could have expected seeing these two sides in the Finals but the showdown between Bucks and Suns is balanced on a knife-edge. This could be one of the most compelling and fascinating Finals’ match-ups in a long time.