We finally made it to the 2021 NBA Finals, and we are off to a great start. Giannis Antetokounmpo was surprisingly cleared to play just before tip, and we got a very competitive Game 1 early before Chris Paul and the Suns pulled away late for the home victory.
Will Chris Paul continue his march toward his first ring? Will Antetokounmpo look better in Game 2 after shaking the rust off? What sort of adjustments will we see from these teams as they react to everything in Game 1?
NBA Finals Player Props & Picks
Chris Paul, under 22.5 points (-121)
|Bucks vs. Suns||Suns -5.5|
|Time | TV||9 p.m. ET | ABC|
This is Chris Paul’s moment. This is what we’ve waited his whole career for.
Paul has played his best in Phoenix’s biggest moments this postseason. In a closeout win over the Nuggets, CP3 scored 37 points on a sterling 14-of-19 shooting from the field. He was even better in the closeout win over the Clippers, scoring 41 points on 16-of-24 shooting to bury his old team.
Game 1 of the Finals was more of the same. Paul ripped off 32 more points with another outstanding shooting night, going 12-of-19 from the field as the Suns won in front of a raucous crowd and grabbed an early series lead with relative comfort. Chris Paul is now the odds-on favorite to win Finals MVP. What a world.
Chris Paul has been absolutely magnificent of late. You already remember all of those brilliant recent performances just mentioned. And so do the books, which is why they have set Paul’s scoring line too high in Game 2.
The truth is that Paul has never been a high-end scorer. He scores enough, but it’s his passing, his defense, his leadership, and his all-around game that make him truly elite. It doesn’t feel like 22.5 points is that high of a line for an all-time great like CP3, but he’s actually gone under that line in 11 of 15 playoff games — and you just read about three of the overs above. Paul’s overs have been loud and well-timed, but he usually doesn’t score quite that high.
That was even more the case in the regular season, where Paul went under 22.5 points in 58 of 70 games. That’s an 83% hit rate to the under in the regular season, and it’s an 81% under rate including the playoffs.
Now, let’s be fair. Paul’s minutes are up significantly in these playoffs from the regular season. He’s played 35 minutes or more in seven straight games. His scoring was also particularly low early in the playoffs when he could barely even shoot with that shoulder injury.
But we can argue the other side too. Remember those three high-scoring games? Paul hit 11-of-15 3-pointers these last two games, an obviously unsustainable rate on a higher-than-typical volume. He also made 14-of-19 2s in that Denver win on historically great mid-range shooting.
There’s one other factor in play here. Milwaukee has one of the best defensive guards in the NBA in Jrue Holiday, but Holiday spent a big chunk of Game 1 defending Devin Booker. As good as Paul was in Game 1, expect Holiday to spend more of his time on Paul, and that should limit CP3’s scoring further.
This is not a vote against Chris Paul. That would be crazy the way he’s playing right now, with that elusive ring just three wins away. But it is a vote against unsustainable shooting and a line that feels a little inflated by books wanting to catch you getting a little too hyped for The Point God in his brightest moment.
Root for CP3 all you want. Just take the under too. I’ll play to -140.
Jrue Holiday, over 4.5 rebounds (-144)
Defending won’t be Jrue Holiday’s only job, though. The Bucks need more from Holiday on the other end, as a scorer. They need more from Holiday everywhere.
Milwaukee mortgaged its future and its depth to go get Jrue Holiday last offseason for exactly this moment. The Bucks knew they needed an upgrade on Eric Bledsoe, and Holiday has been just what they needed at times in this playoff run. He averaged 22.0 points, 5.0 rebounds and 10.0 assists against Atlanta and was one rebound and an assist away from a 27-point triple-double in the road closeout win without Giannis Antetokounmpo.
But then Holiday’s offense went mostly missing in Game 1 of the Finals. Until he hit a meaningless bucket late, Holiday wasn’t even going to crack double digit points. But while his scoring has been frustratingly inconsistent at times, one thing we know for sure is that Holiday is a warrior who will be out there soaking up as many minutes as he can handle. He played 39.7 minutes per game against Atlanta and was three seconds short of 40 in Game 1.
With so many minutes, Holiday will have a ton of opportunities to rebound, and he’s always been a good rebounding guard as a tough, physical player. He’s averaged 4.5 RPG or better in four straight seasons, and that’s in the regular season where his minutes aren’t as high as now.
Holiday is over 4.5 rebounds in only 10 of 18 games in these playoffs. That’s a 56% hit rate, but it’s not in our favor at -144 juice. But now filter those games down to just the ones where Holiday has played 36 or more minutes, and the hit rate jumps to 9-of-13, a reliable 69% rate. And four of those five games with low minutes were huge blowouts with a 29-point margin or higher, so unless we get that in Game 2, he should hit the minutes with ease.
Holiday has averaged 6.4 RPG in those higher-minutes games these playoffs, and three of the four times he’s failed to go over, he missed by a single rebound. This trend holds true in the regular season too. There he had 15 games with at least 36 minutes and went over 4.5 rebounds in 11 of them, hitting the over 73% of the time.
Over the full season including the playoffs, Holiday is over 4.5 rebounds in 20 of 28 games with at least 36 minutes. That’s a 71% hit rate, and he’s had at least four boards in all but one of those games, so we’re almost certainly going to have a shot.
I don’t want to rely on Holiday’s scoring these days, but I know Milwaukee will lean heavily on its star guard, and I know he’ll fight hard while he’s out there. The -144 juice implies a 59% success rate, so that swings this in our favor. I’ll play the over to -175.
Brook Lopez, under 19.5 points + rebounds + assists (-115)
Brook Lopez has also been inconsistent for the Bucks — really, who hasn’t in this up-and-down Milwaukee playoff run?
Sometimes Lopez mashes inside, hitting the offensive glass and playing like a 7-footer. In other games, Lopez is more like a tall wing, bombing 3s from deep. There are games where Lopez is a brilliant rim protector and key defender for the Bucks, like the end of the Nets series, but there are others where his patented drop coverage and switching aren’t cutting it and Lopez gets played off the court.
Unfortunately, the early signs in the Finals point to the latter sort of series for Brook Lopez. It’s not entirely his fault, but Lopez was put through the ringer in Game 1, far too often on an island against Chris Paul or Devin Booker, far too often taking the ball out of the net after allowing another open jumper.
Milwaukee didn’t have defensive answers in Game 1, and despite Lopez actually posting very nice numbers with 17 points and six rebounds, the Bucks went away from him in the second half. Lopez got the start but left the game with 4:42 remaining in the third quarter and never played for Milwaukee again.
The Bucks tried to find other solutions, and their most notable one is playing Giannis Antetokounmpo and P.J. Tucker as the two big men. Those two together are a much more switchable defense, far more able to stick with Phoenix’s guards on the pick-and-roll and cut off those mid-range jumpers.
This, then, is a bet against Lopez’s minutes, and that’s why we’re playing the combo prop, to get the highest line possible. Lopez has gone over 19.5 points + rebounds + assists in two of his last three games, but he’s gone under that line in 11 of 18 playoff games, and four of those overs came in games with 36 minutes played, two of them without Antetokounmpo and another in overtime.
Lopez played under 23 minutes in Game 1, his second lowest number of the playoffs. When Lopez played 28 or fewer minutes this season, he went under 19.5 PRA in 35 of 49 games, hitting this under 71% of the time.
Unlike Holiday, Lopez’s minutes and role are wildly inconsistent. Let’s bet on him seeing fewer minutes in Game 2 and bet against his overall production. I’ll play the combo under to -140, and we rate this prop a 10 out of 10.