History is not on the side of the Milwaukee Bucks. Of the 35
teams that have lost the first two games of the NBA Finals, only
four came back to win the championship. That is a mere 13.4%
But it is not a 0% success rate, and we have already seen
Milwaukee come back from an 0-2 deficit in the second round against
the Brooklyn Nets. So it can be done, which was the operating
principle behind taking a drive across the New York-New Jersey
border on Friday evening to drop $40 into the sinkhole known as the
legalized U.S. sports gambling industry.
Giannis Antetokounmpo has been the Bucks’ one and only star
during the first two games of the series, but there are – at least
in theory – five games left. That means there is an opportunity for
other Milwaukee players to rise to the occasion and be the catalyst
for four victories over the remainder of the series, and the time
to wager on them for NBA Finals MVP is when their odds are
With that thought in mind, $20 went on Khris Middleton at odds
of +6000 (60-1) and another $20 went on Jrue Holiday at +10000
(100-1). Only three games will be played over the next seven days,
and that gives Giannis Antetokounmpo more healing time for his
hyperextended knee. He has been fantastic in Milwaukee’s first two
games, but those games were losses. And if a different player steps
up and becomes the difference-maker in four Bucks wins, that will
be a determining factor in whether someone other than the Greek
Freak (currently +400) becomes the Finals MVP.
As Saturday begins, the favorites are Chris Paul (-143) and
Devin Booker (+200). Friday was a travel day, so we will get an
update on everyone’s status at some point today. The guy whose
comments will be interpreted most closely is Bucks coach Mike
Budenholzer, who reportedly was a dead man walking back when the
Bucks were down 0-2 vs. Brooklyn.
Will he shake up his starting lineup and go big by inserting
Bobby Portis as he did in Games 5 and 6 against the Atlanta Hawks?
And if he is planning to do so, will he show his cards prior to
And most importantly, will he change some of his offensive
schemes to provide more shot opportunities for his secondary stars,
Middleton and Holiday?
Middleton shot 12-for-26 in Game 1 for 29 points, but just
5-for-16 in Game 2. Holiday was 7-for-22 in Game 2 after going
4-for-14 in Game 1. One of them has to become a consistent second
scorer while also adding something on the defensive end, and since
Holiday was an All-Defensive-First-Team selection, his 100-1 odds
were most enticing.
Let’s not forget that he was the player who defended Kevin
Durant at the end of the epic Game 7 of the Nets-Bucks series when
Durant airballed a three-pointer with 0.3 seconds remaining in
overtime and the Nets trailing by two. Somebody needs to do
something better against Paul, who was brilliant in Game 1 — with
32 points and nine assists — and nearly as efficient in Game 2 —
with 23 points and eight assists (along with six turnovers, tying
And even if Budenholzer gets Holiday to force Paul into a
sub-par game, the next concern is finding a way to defend Booker,
who has scored 27 and 31 in the first two games, knocking down
seven three-pointers in Game 2 after going only 1-for-8 in Game
It is very much a “pick-your-poison” type of situation for
Budenholzer when figuring out how to defend Phoenix’s guards. And
then there is the matter of defending Deandre Ayton, who went
8-for-10 and had 22 points and 18 rebounds in Game 1 and then came
back to earth with 10 points and 11 rebounds in Game 2. Also, Mikal
Bridges has been the unsung hero for the Suns over the first two
games: 14 points in Game 1 and then 27 points in Game 2. He has not
missed a single one of his 10 free throws.
Antetokounmpo’s knee remains a question mark, and there may come
points when the Bucks are going to have to get things done without
him. That is all the more reason to take a couple of $20 flyers on
Middleton and Holiday when their odds are so high, as unlikely as
it seems that the Bucks can come back from 0-2 without their best
player having a significant role.
The last team to come back from an 0-2 deficit to win the finals
was the 2016 Cleveland Cavaliers, who were down 0-2 to Golden State
but won the series in seven games. Previously, the 2006 Miami Heat
did it against the Dallas Mavericks, winning four straight. (The
others were the 1977 Portland Trail Blazers and the 1969 Boston
And if you think things look bleak for the Bucks, a history
lesson is in order. In the 2016 Finals, the 73-win Warriors jumped
to a 2–0 lead in the series and recorded the largest combined
margin of victory (48) through two games in NBA Finals history in
the process. Cleveland won Game 3 at home, 120–90, but Golden State
bounced back to take Game 4. The rest is history. The Cavaliers won
the next three games, becoming the first team in NBA Finals history
to overcome a 3-1 deficit.
The 2006 Heat lost the first two games on the road and were down
13 points with six minutes to go in the fourth quarter of Game 3
but rallied against Dallas. They then won Game 5 in overtime, as
Dwyane Wade shot 25 free throws, making 21. And the series ended in
Dallas when Wade scored 36 points and Miami rallied from a 14-point
first-half deficit to win Game 6.
The Lesson: Even when things look hopelessly bleak, things can
change. And so while the Bucks look dead in the water, this series
will not be over until somebody wins four games.
In the sports gambling universe, the way to get paid is to latch
onto a key player at a ridiculous set of odds and hope for the
best. Chances are that if the Bucks win, Giannis will get all the
credit. He remains the third choice on the board at DraftKings
sportsbook at +400, followed by Ayton at +1600.
But Middleton had superb outings in Games 3, 4 and 6 against the
Hawks and in Game 1 against the Suns, starting to change the
narrative regarding whether he is a better regular-season player
than postseason player. And Holiday, who cost a king’s ransom for
the Bucks to acquire from the Pelicans, is not going to continue to
shoot 31.6% from the field and 16.7% from the three-point line. He
had four fantastic games against the Hawks, and one must figure
that his chamber is not empty.
If the Bucks lose Sunday, stick a fork in them because they will
No NBA team has ever come all the way back from an 0-3 deficit.
But if the Bucks win at home, we are not going to see these types
of prices on Milwaukee players (Brook Lopez is currently +30000, as
is P.J. Tucker). Bobby Portis, who can be inserted into the
starting lineup if Budenholzer wants to put a pair of big men on
the court together as he did in Games 5 and 6 against Atlanta and
try to force the Suns to match up, is +50000.
We are two games in. There could be five games left. And while
it looks as though the Suns are unstoppable, the Warriors looked
that way five years ago; and the Mavs a decade before that.
It ain’t over yet.