The two regular-season games between Milwaukee and Phoenix this season fit the same script. Both were extremely high scoring. Both went down to the wire. Both saw Phoenix win by a single point, with a free throw by Devin Booker ending up as the game winner each time.
There was also this: Giannis Antetokounmpo couldn’t be guarded in either game.
And now, it’s the Bucks and Suns — forever tied together after Milwaukee won a 1969 coin flip after the teams' first seasons for Lew Alcindor — in the NBA Finals, with Antetokounmpo’s status a major question.
The NBA’s title series is set: Game 1 between the Bucks and Suns will be in Phoenix on Tuesday night, the last matchup of this compressed season that navigated its way through the coronavirus pandemic, players and coaches testing positive for COVID-19, and a slew of injuries to some of the game’s biggest stars — Antetokounmpo and Phoenix’s Chris Paul included.
Paul is back, set to play in the NBA Finals for the first time in his career.
Antetokounmpo can only hope to be that fortunate.
The two-time NBA MVP averaged 40 points on 60 percent shooting against the Suns this season but hyperextended his left knee during Game 4 of the Eastern Conference finals against Atlanta. The Bucks went 2-0 in the two full games that Antetokounmpo missed to win that series in six games, finishing it — and earning the team’s first finals berth since 1974 — with a win on the Hawks’ home floor on Saturday night.
“We've got more work to do," Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said during the East trophy ceremony.
The Bucks lost 125-124 in Phoenix on Feb. 10, then lost 128-127 to the Suns in overtime at Milwaukee on April 19.
Milwaukee won its lone NBA title in 1971. The Suns have never won a championship, last getting to the finals in 1993. They also lost the finals in 1976.
Milwaukee getting to the finals means USA Basketball will be more than a bit short-handed when it starts Olympic training camp in Las Vegas on Tuesday. The U.S. has a 12-man team for the Tokyo Games — and three of those 12, the Suns’ Booker and Milwaukee’s Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday — will be otherwise engaged for the next few days.
Game 7 of the NBA Finals, if the series goes the distance, is July 22. The Olympics open July 23 and the first U.S. game in Tokyo is July 25 against France. USA Basketball will arrange to get Booker, Middleton and Holiday to Tokyo as quickly as possible if the American team leaves for Japan while the finals are still happening.
“It could be worse,” USA Basketball managing director Jerry Colangelo said. “I guess one option is we’re going to have nine players for the first game against France. That’s the worst-case scenario.”
No player on either team has ever won an NBA championship. Jae Crowder went to the finals last season with Miami, then chose to sign a three-year deal with Phoenix last summer.
“I knew our potential,” Crowder said. “I knew where we could get to, the level of basketball we could play, when I first got here. I just knew it was a special group. I knew we had a chance to do something special.”
The Suns indeed have that chance.
So, now, do the Bucks.
One of them is only four wins from hoisting the Larry O’Brien Trophy.
Milwaukee Bucks (46-26, third in the Eastern Conference during the regular season) vs. Phoenix Suns (51-21, second in the Western Conference during the regular season)
Phoenix; Tuesday, 9 p.m. EDT
FANDUEL SPORTSBOOK LINE: Suns -5.5; over/under is 217
NBA FINALS: Suns host first series matchup
The Suns are 27-9 on their home court. Phoenix is 37-20 when giving up 100 or more points.
The Bucks are 20-16 on the road. Milwaukee is sixth in the Eastern Conference scoring 48.8 points per game in the paint led by Antetokounmpo averaging 16.7.
TOP PERFORMERS: Jae Crowder leads the Suns with 2.5 made 3-pointers, and is averaging 10.1 points while shooting 38.9 percent from beyond the arc. Booker is averaging 25.4 points and 6.6 rebounds while shooting 42.4 percent over the last 10 games for Phoenix.
Jrue Holiday leads the Bucks averaging 6.1 assists while scoring 17.7 points per game. Khris Middleton is averaging 24.7 points and 7.6 rebounds while shooting 44.7% over the last 10 games for Milwaukee.
DURING THE PLAYOFFS: Suns: Averaging 108.9 points, 44.1 rebounds, 24.4 assists, 6.2 steals and 4.2 blocks per game while shooting 47.8 percent from the field. Their opponents have averaged 101.9 points on 43.0 percent shooting.
Bucks: Averaging 109.8 points, 49.9 rebounds, 22.8 assists, 7.8 steals and 4.5 blocks per game while shooting 46.0 percent from the field. Their opponents have averaged 103.7 points on 44.2 percent shooting.
INJURIES: Suns: None listed.
Bucks: Giannis Antetokounmpo: day to day (knee), Donte DiVincenzo: out for season (foot).
- Game 1: Tuesday, July 6 | Milwaukee at Phoenix, 9 ET, ABC
- Game 2: Thursday, July 8 | Milwaukee at Phoenix, 9 ET, ABC
- Game 3: Sunday, July 11 | Phoenix at Milwaukee, 8 ET, ABC
- Game 4: Wednesday, July 14 | Phoenix at Milwaukee, 9 ET, ABC
- Game 5: Saturday, July 17 | Milwaukee at Phoenix, 9 ET, ABC (if necessary)
- Game 6: Tuesday, July 20 | Phoenix at Milwaukee, TBD, ABC (if necessary)
- Game 7: Thursday, July 22 | Milwaukee at Phoenix, TBD, ABC (if necessary)