“Bucks in six, always. That’s for the culture.” The infamous quote from Bucks great Brandon Jennings was brought to life more than ever as the Milwaukee Bucks defeated the Phoenix Suns 105-98 in Game 6 en route to being crowned NBA champions. The long hard-fought Game 6 was very reminiscent of the physical scrappy playoff battles that we often think back to in the 90s and mid-2000s. Both teams didn’t shoot the ball well from the perimeter (Suns 3P/3PA: 6/25 (24%) Bucks 3P/3PA: 6/27 (22%) ) as every point scored was earned.
Giannis Antetokounmpo, who was named Finals MVP, put on one of the most masterful dominant performances in NBA Finals history putting up 50 points, 14 rebounds, and five blocks becoming the seventh player in NBA history to put up 50 points in an NBA Finals. (Michael Jordan, Lebron James, Bob Petit, Elgin Baylor, Rick Barry, and Jerry West). The Greek Freak also re-wrote history books as the first player ever to average 30/10/5/1/1 on 60% shooting from the floor in an NBA finals. Antetokounmpo’s running mates, Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday were also superb, especially in the last four games after dropping the first two in Phoenix. Middleton hit a huge clutch 17 ft fall away perimeter jumper with 56 seconds left in the game to make it 102-96 and then followed that up with two big makes from the free-throw line with 44 tics left. No surprise here as Middleton has earned his reputation as one of the NBA’s best closers. The former 2nd round pick who also did a D-League stint early on in his career posted 24 points, 6.3 rebounds, and 5.3 assists on 44/35/89 shooting splits.
Defensive swiss army knife and Bucks unsung hero point guard Jrue Holiday had a slow start offensively in the series first two games similar to Middleton. Coming into the series, Holiday was undoubtedly going to be the x-factor and potentially the most vital piece on the Bucks. The series felt like an initial momentum shift once Jrue Holiday decided to start checking Chris Paul full court. A hot topic amongst the NBA’s top five all-time point guard debates as of late CP3 had his hands full trying to orchestrate offense in half-court sets as his first task every possession was to get by Holiday without turning the ball over.
Holiday, a three-time All-NBA Defense selection (1st team in 2021), pested not just CP3 but Devin Booker as well. CP3 committed the most turnovers this series amongst all Finals players. Devin Booker shot 1-12 from the field when Holiday was his primary defender through the Finals first three games. So as expected, Holiday’s ability to completely eliminate opposing perimeter star scorers and elite floor generals were on full display. Though the former UCLA standout went through numerous cold-shooting stretches all series when Holiday’s shot was falling like in Game 3 and 5 the Bucks became virtually unstoppable. Holiday’s iconic Game 5 play when the game was with the Bucks up 120-119, with just 19 seconds left ripped the basketball out of Booker’s hands on a drive which ignited an instant fast break leading to an and-1 alley-oop pass to Antetokounmpo ultimately put the game away. That was just the icing to cap off Holiday’s impressive 27/4/13 Game 5. Holiday led all Finals players in assists per game (9.3) and plus-minus (+159). The high-risk high reward trade to bring in Holiday back in November and giving him that extension proved that it was worth every penny and asset.
The Finals weren’t won by the Bucks because they possessed more nuclear star power but because they were just slightly deeper and tougher physically than the Suns. Devin Booker, who was outstanding in his first playoffs run 28 pPG, 3 rebounds, 5 assists in Finals), reached 40 points in Games 4 & 5 was helpless towards the end of the series. CP3 did the most he could while dealing with a hounding Holiday and the Suns simply didn’t have any sort of formidable big men depth off the bench to help Deandre Ayton. Once Giannis realized that absolutely no one on the Suns would be able to neutralize him at all in the paint the series’ momentum was not going to shift again.
Asking Ayton to be the wall at the rim on Giannis’ drives, try to avoid foul trouble, sets all sorts of screens for Booker and Paul so they can thrive in space, be a lob and pick and pop presence is quite a lot to ask for especially a talented player at his age. Ayton still averaged a double-double and shot 53% from the field and 90% from the charity stripe, the best is still yet to come. Mikal Bridges, Cameron Johnson, and Jae Crowder (all shot over 40% from the three-point line in Finals) have been great all year for the Suns, hitting perimeter shots and defending opposing star wings but once a floor general like Chris Paul begins to struggle, they have to find ways to initiate their own offense and that’s not particularly what they’re on the floor to do.
The Suns are a young team, they’ll have time this offseason to grow even more and analyze how they can come back even stronger next year. The foundation is there even with an aging Chris Paul they’ll still get some cracks at it. Teams like the Lakers, Warriors, Nuggets, Jazz, and who knows how the Kawhi situation plays out for the Clippers but all those teams will be reloaded in the West, this year could have been their best opportunity. As for the Bucks, they’re now the defending champs. The East may be even more competitive than the West as a lot of the deep playoff contenders such as the Celtics, Nets, 76ers will be looking to run it back next season but now it’s solidified that the East runs through the Greek Freak now.
Nass’ Final Player Pyramid
Giannis Antetokounmpo – Kevin Durant
Lebron James – Kawhi Leonard
Luka Doncic – Joel Embiid – James Harden – Nikola Jokic
Steph Curry – Anthony Davis – Paul George – Damian Lillard – Kyrie Irving
Devin Booker – Trae Young – Bradley Beal – Donovan Mitchell – Jayson Tatum
Khris Middleton – Zion Williamson – Chris Paul – Jamal Murray – Russell Westbrook
Jrue Holiday – Jimmy Butler – Jaylen Brown
Draymond Green – Bam Adebayo – Ben Simmons – Ja Morant – Karl Anthony Towns – Julius Randle – De’Aaron Fox – Domantas Sabonis
*Klay Thompson fresh off of ACL and Achilles injuries are too detrimental to guess how close of a player he’ll be once he comes back. Could be in all sorts of ranging spots.
- NBASeptember 3, 2023Nass’ Trip Around the Association Vol. 3, Page Ten
- NBAJuly 15, 2023Nass’ Trip Around the Association Vol. 3, Page Nine
- NBAJune 26, 2023Nass’ Trip Around the Association Vol. 3, page 8
- NBAMay 14, 2023Nass’ Trip Around the Association Vol. 3, Page Seven