|Moneyline||+185 / -225|
|Time||Thursday, 9 p.m. ET|
|Odds as of Wednesday and via DraftKings|
After a thrilling Game 1 where Phoenix secured its first NBA Finals victory since 1993 on the shoulders of Chris Paul, the Bucks and Suns face off just two days later in Game 2.
The Suns won and covered in convincing fashion in a 118-107 victory on Tuesday night. They limited their turnovers and were lethal from the charity stripe, sinking 25 of 26 free throws. This is a performance Phoenix will look to build on Thursday night, but can we expect a stronger performance from the Bucks on the road?
Let’s break it down.
Bucks had Execution Issues in Game 1
Giannis Antetokounmpo (knee) was a surprise starter in Game 1, but it was not enough for the Bucks to steal a win on the road. While he looked spry to start the game, it was clear he was not 100 percent; he played 35 minutes and his lateral movements were a bit slow. That being said, I’m surprised he was so effective offensively and the opening alley-oop to him set the tone for how ready he was to play.
One of the big takeaways from Game 1 was the coverage that coach Mike Budenholzer deployed. For the past few years, we have ripped on Budenholzer for not making enough (or any) adjustments and relying solely on drop coverage.
Now that he made a preemptive move to play some switch there’s a collective, “Wait, but not like that!” But when watching the game, the issue wasn’t necessarily the adjustments or strategy; rather, it was the execution.
There were multiple instances where the Bucks just did not execute. The entire purpose of the switch is that when there’s a drive or a screen you don’t then rotate and give up drive-and-kicks look due to help defense and hedging. However, they can’t just give easy switches every time that result in mismatches. There’s no need to switch on everything.
Bucks have Giannis at the 5, switching everything. The issue still for the Bucks is the switching is taking away the actions but not impacting the ball handler. Chris Paul takes the matchup vs. Connaughton, walks him down, lulls him to sleep and rises. pic.twitter.com/3pn5uwfGpG
— Steve Jones Jr. (@stevejones20) July 7, 2021
Here in the second video, you can see Chris Paul hunting Pat Connaughton and putting him on an island. Jrue Holiday can execute better here. He can fight over what’s realistically a weak screen by Jae Crowder and force Chris Paul to work, rather than giving him an extremely easy matchup nearly five feet beyond the 3-point line. That’s lazy defense, especially since Crowder could not hit the broad side of a barn in Game 1. This is not a coaching issue, this was an execution issue.
The Bucks were also outscored at the free throw line 25-9, a 16-point differential. Part of this is a bad whistle, and you expect these numbers to even out. The Bucks have the best allowed free throw rate of the playoffs (16.3). In Game 1 they allowed a rate of 29.8, per Cleaning the Glass. Milwaukee can improve here, and I’d expect more than just two combined free throws from Holiday and Khris Middleton in Game 2.
Suns Must Improve 3-point Defense
The Suns did everything right in Game 1. Their shots were falling, they did not turn the ball over, and they dominated at the free throw line. They controlled the game and never trailed again after taking a 21-20 lead in the first quarter. Can they replicate this performance?
Unfortunately, the Suns recently announced that backup center, Dario Saric, was diagnosed with a torn right ACL and he will be out indefinitely. Although he’s the backup, this loss is significant. It shortens the Suns rotations and forces them to play either Torrey Craig or Frank Kaminsky. Craig has played 199 minutes this postseason, Kaminsky has played just 29. Neither is particularly effective and during the regular season, Craig’s on/off differential was -12.4 and Kaminsky’s was -3.5.
Saric has been awesome as a floor spacer and change of pace to Deandre Ayton, and during the playoffs when Saric is on the floor and Ayton is off, the Suns posted an excellent +14.1 point differential per 100 possessions, per Cleaning the Glass. There have been just 102 possessions with both Saric and Ayton off the floor during the postseason, so the data just is not reliable, but this also means the Suns will be forced into a rotation that is atypical for them to run. This likely means more minutes for Ayton.
One issue for the Suns is the Bucks were able to get good looks from 3-point range, and they converted at a solid clip (44.4%), but not at an unsustainable rate. The Bucks took 36 3-pointers in Game 1, 31 of which were taken when the Suns did not have an opponent within at least four feet of the shooter, including 17 where the closest defender was not within six feet, per NBA Advanced Stats. The Bucks may have these looks all series if the Suns are not able to adjust, and open 3s are a just the thing to straighten out an offense that’s struggled this postseason.
Game 2 is a huge bounce-back spot for the Bucks, but even if they’re unable to even this series, they get to head home to Milwaukee afterwards. That being said, I think the Bucks are a live dog in Game 2.
The Suns are awesome, but everything broke right for the Suns in Game 1, while the Bucks failed to execute defensively and had an unfavorable whistle. Even without any strategic adjustments, the free throw gap should close, and the Bucks can play better defense. The Suns’ 118.0 Offensive Rating in Game 1 was the fourth highest mark the Bucks surrendered this postseason, and with some slight adjustments and crisper switches, the Bucks can curb this Phoenix offense.
Since 2010, Game 2 favorites coming off of a win in Game 1 are just 3-7 ATS and 4-6 straight up, per Betlabs. This is a get-right game for Milwaukee, and I expect the Bucks to cover the 5.5-point spread. I’ll sprinkle the moneyline as well.
Pick: Bucks +5.5