With the 2021 NBA Finals set to begin on Tuesday night,
BasketballNews.com will have you covered every step up the way with
the top storylines, breakdowns, player quotes and more. Alex
Kennedy will be reporting with a focus on the Phoenix Suns, while
Spencer Davies will take the assignment for the Milwaukee Bucks.
Nekias Duncan will have film breakdowns for both teams.
Monday afternoon at Phoenix Suns Arena marked NBA Finals Media
Day, where both teams discussed the upcoming spectacle. Neither
team has a single player on its roster that has won a championship
– the first time that has
happened since 1971. There is just one player who has reached the
championship stage, and that is Jae Crowder on the Suns, who made
the Finals in back-to-back years.
In the regular-season series, the Suns swept the Bucks 2-0 in a
pair of one-point victories, the latest of which was an overtime
thriller in Milwaukee.
As a team, the Bucks have not appeared in the Finals since 1974,
and head coach Mike Budenholzer will be making his Finals debut in
addition to the players.
Here are the main takeaways from the Bucks’ side of things from
Media Day, including keys to Game 1 and the series as a whole:
What is Giannis Antetokounmpo’s status?
It’s the burning question on everyone’s minds in Wisconsin.
Unfortunately, we did not get an answer. Budenholzer indicated that
he didn’t have a feeling one way or another, but did seem
encouraged by the progress Giannis Antetokounmpo is
His Bucks teammates didn’t seem to know much on the matter,
“Obviously, Giannis attracts a lot of attention. He's a huge
part of what we do,” Brook Lopez said. “But I think, in a way, with
or without Giannis, we know we have to just go out there and play
Bucks basketball. We're going to have to play great team
basketball, rely on each other, play together, and play great
defense for 48 minutes.”
“[We’re] just a team that's trying to play unselfish, trying to
do it as a committee [without Giannis],” Khris Middleton said.
“When Giannis is out there, a lot of times we can just give him the
ball and let him go to work and let him orchestrate a lot of things
out there. Without him, we have to do it by committee, moving the
ball around, driving it a little bit more, playing just a little
bit faster with a little bit of different flow. But I think guys
have done a great job of adjusting with him out – with him not out there in two of the
most important games of our season."
According to NBA TV’s Jared Greenberg, Giannis will work out in
a private gym in Phoenix in front of “an army of observers” to test
his injured knee. Per Greenberg, he’s made significant progress
over the last several days, originally going through drills on one
leg to now being able to use the recovering leg. Giannis has been
able to do individual workouts, but hasn’t been doing them with the
team itself. Greenberg said that he is “fighting tooth and nail” to be
in the lineup for Game 1.
“You can't replace a player the caliber of Giannis -- two-time
MVP, the things he does on a nightly basis on both sides of the
ball, you can't replace it,” Pat Connaughton said. “But I would
say, as a human being, it's even more impressive what he does, and
what he's done since he's been injured, continuing to be vocal (if
not even more vocal), pulling players aside individually,
addressing the team collectively, making sure he's still present
and more than a big part of what we're doing has instilled
confidence in both individual players as well as the team in
“Obviously, you're talking about a guy that puts up 30 points a
night. You're talking about a guy that rebounds the basketball,
passes the basketball, defends as well, if not better, than anybody
else. You're not going to necessarily replace that with one guy or
with one thing.
“The way we've tried to make sure we've put our best foot
forward to have his back while he's out is doing it together.
Obviously, Khris, Jrue [Holiday], Bobby [Portis], there's been a
bunch of guys that have stepped up in his absence, but it's been a
collective group effort. It's been playing together. It's been
sharing the basketball. It's been defending as a team and gang
rebounding and doing all of the little things that it takes to win
a basketball game so that we can try to put ourselves in this
position, [getting] to the Finals to give Giannis some more time to
get healthy because, without him, we wouldn't be here. We all see
what he does on the court, but the things he does off the court
are, in my opinion, even more impressive.”
In Budenholzer’s eyes, it’s next man up.
“I think it's one of those sports clichés. There's a reason for
those clichés, because you see it happen time and time again in
different sports, in the playoffs and what the group was able to do
without Giannis in Game 5 and Game 6,” Budenholzer said.
“Bobby Portis, obviously, shouldered a lot of that, but I think
what Pat Connaughton was able to do, Jeff Teague, Bryn Forbes,
Brook taking on a more significant role, how Jrue and Khris led and
P.J. Tucker, everything he does that's about winning. So I think
the whole group, I guess next man up is the phrase, but it's really
each man taking a little share of that load, and the guys did that
well. We may have to do that going into Game 1 and until Giannis
hopefully is able to return.”
Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday look to step
Speaking of “next man up,” the attention shifts to Khris
Middleton and Jrue Holiday, who both played a huge part in the
Eastern Conference Finals against the Atlanta Hawks.
Middleton didn’t quite have the three-ball working consistently
when Giannis went down, but he put plenty of pressure on the
defense with his mid-range game and foul drawing, averaging 24.7
points, 8.3 rebounds and 6.7 assists in the three games without his
Holiday’s aggressiveness ramped up when Milwaukee needed him
most, as his shot attempts exploded to 20 tries per game. He
stepped up to average 23.7 points, 10.3 assists, 6.3 rebounds and
1.7 steals in that window as well, helping send the Bucks to the
“Just to continue to be aggressive,” Holiday said of his
mentality. “No letdowns, because the way Giannis plays, there are
no letdowns. He's continually going to the basket, being aggressive
on both ends of the floor. He brings so much to this team. He does
so much for us that I feel like losing that would really be hard
for us. So just continuing to be aggressive from minute zero to
“'I’m going to ride with [my teammates],” Middleton said. “I
think we're all having each other's back out there. Jrue has been
fantastic. Giannis has when he's been out there. Brook, Bobby, Pat.
I can go down the line. P.J. Tucker. We all use each other out
there. We all need each other out there.”
Defending Devin Booker and Chris Paul
Coming off an Eastern Conference Finals where Trae Young did
damage out of the pick-and-roll and in the in-between areas, the
Bucks will have their hands full with Devin Booker’s incredible
Booker scored 54 total points in two games against Milwaukee in
the regular season (on 20-for-45 from the field). He was able to
score and get to the line at will in those contests, as well as
dish off the attention he drew, doing most of his work inside the
“[He’s] just a guy that hits tough shots, a guy that can score
from the three, the mid-range and the paint, a guy that can get to
the free-throw line,” Middleton said. “He's a guy that really can
score in every single way, which is tough to guard because you
don't know when he's going to stop and shoot, when he's going to
keep going, when he's going to look to create for others. It's just
a great balance he has.”
Chris Paul also diced up the Bucks in those regular-season
contests, registering 50 points on 50% from the field to go along
with 20 assists. The Suns’ backcourt duo will be a major thorn in
Milwaukee’s side if the East representatives aren’t attentive to
“They're very special players. They're gifted, talented. We have
to do our best to make everything hard on them,” Budenholzer said.
“Limit their easy looks. Limit their good looks. Keep them off the
free-throw line. I feel like we have a lot of guys we can throw at
them, but they test you and challenge you like great players
“They're different players,” Holiday said. “You just really have
to know their tendencies, what they like to do. I think everybody
has watched Chris Paul play as a little kid – not saying he's old, but we have seen
him play a lot, and he gets to his mid-range and he's great at his
mid-range, especially in the pick-and-roll. Book is great in the
iso, going left or right, pull up. He's athletic, so he can get to
the basket too. Just attention to details and try to be as solid as
PJ Tucker has been teammates with both Paul and Booker, and
knows what each is capable of, especially when they get a mismatch
“For the switching defense, it's always a problem. You're
getting a lot of what are presumed to be mismatches on sometimes
centers on guards,” Tucker said. “We've done that pretty much most
of the playoffs – Brooklyn,
Atlanta. It's tough. No matter what, at this level, at this point,
all the guards are really good. They can all score. Even putting
guards on bigs now, it's tough trying to rebound.
“That's something we carry heavy on our shoulders. Guys know to
guard their own, be able to guard to take guys off the glass, being
able to help and fight with each other, that's just a part of it.
Obviously, it's going to pose that situation a lot of times, but we
like our chances. We like our guys out there.”
Battle of the Big Men: Brook Lopez and Deandre
Brook Lopez will have the task of slowing down a thriving
Deandre Ayton in these Finals. Ayton has been a dominating force in
multiple facets to this point, including a ridiculous 70.6% mark
from the field in the postseason as a whole thus far.
“I mean, he's obviously developed very rapidly and even this
season and even in the playoffs, he just continues to get better,
and so I know he's going to be a load down there,” Lopez said.
“He's very talented in the post. He can step out and shoot it. He's
great in the pick-and-roll, and he crashes the offensive boards
hard, just plays hard in general. So, he's definitely going to be a
load to guard and it's going to be a fun matchup.”
“Definitely O-boards,” Ayton said of his focus area. “I think
I'm great at it. Just attacking the glass and being relentless on
the glass. Being the first man in transition. If he crashes, I'll
probably be the first man on my end to probably get early seals,
just to try to put some pressure on the rim to change the game up a
little bit. Angles, just finding good angles on the way I set
screens to get people open –
pin-downs, on-ball screens. Just ways to put pressure on him having
two against one.”
Clash of the Second Units
Bobby Portis and Pat Connaughton were crucial in their roles of
helping the Bucks get to this point, particularly when Giannis went
down in the East Finals. Bryn Forbes has been able to catch fire as
But the bench bunch for Phoenix can be just as deadly,
consisting of a confident Cam Payne, Cameron Johnson, Dario Saric
and former Buck Torrey Craig.
Portis feels that it will play a pivotal part in who comes out
“It's big, man. Obviously, me, Bryn, Jeff and Pat, we're the
catalysts of the second unit,” Portis said. “We have to come in and
be ourselves and come in and bring some energy to the game, some
scoring and things like that. So, I think it's going to be very
vital to help out the starting lineups and things like that. They
do a good job on their end too, with Cameron Payne and Saric and
those guys. Cam Johnson as well coming off the bench and scoring
the basketball and bringing some energy to the game.
“I think whoever has the most energy and plays with the most
effort is going to win these games. That's what it's really going
to come down to. Obviously, it's July. Guys have been playing since
December, and it was a short offseason last year. I think whoever
is the most conditioned, the most well-rounded, and the most
energetic team is going to obviously come out victorious.”
Game 1 Woes
Budenholzer was asked about the last two series openers that
Milwaukee has failed to win, and how the team will approach that
going into the first game of the Finals.
"I think everybody is locked in going into a Game 1,"
Budenholzer said. 'I think sometimes the team that's maybe more
free and more competitive and more just playing basketball
– you know, it's players,
coaches, we're all similar. You have time and you talk about things
and you work on things, and the great debate is does that free you
up to go compete or does that put you in a place where you're
overthinking? Every coach that's ever been through this, and I
guess to some degree players, that's the great – you got to walk that line. And I think
we want our guys to be free and to play and compete tomorrow."
Stay tuned to BasketballNews.com for coverage on the 2021