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The Phoenix Suns hype train was taken down a notch on Sunday evening last weekend as Giannis Antetokounmpo led the Milwaukee Bucks to victory with his historic performance and joining elite company
in the process
There have only been 5 other players in NBA history with consecutive 40+ point games in the finals including Jerry West, LeBron James, Rick Barry, Michael Jordan, and Shaquille O’ Neal. To take it a step further, Jordan and O’Neal are the only two on the list to join the man with the nickname “The Greek Freak” in having consecutive games with 40+ points and 10+ rebounds.
While these performances excited Bucks fans, it is important to look at NBA games as a team sport and analyze it from different angles. For example, Giannis has had two of these historic games, yet they have only won 1 game of the series. In game 2 he posted a stat line of 42 points, 12 rebounds, 4 assists, and 3 blocks in a losing effort, showing that even when he dominates the game, it is not always enough to beat a deep, strong team, especially in the NBA finals.
So, for the sake of analyzing this game, let’s assume that Giannis has a similar type of game. He is one of the biggest stars in the game playing under the lights in one of the largest moments of his life on his home court, so we’ll give him that advantage. This is not necessarily the end of the discussion when it comes to looking at possible game flows and paths to victory for either team.
This Suns team is capable of much more than they showed on Sunday night, with none of their players reaching the 20-point mark, but one game should not and will not minimize the strengths and potential we have seen on display for the Suns in the first two games of the series. In game 2, the Phoenix Suns became only the 3rd team in NBA history to make 20+ three-pointers in an NBA finals game.
Now that we can move on from what the Greek Freak may or may not do during Game 4 tonight and the talent and depth of the Phoenix roster, we can move on to one of the most underrated aspects of basketball (and professional sports overall), coaching.
Monty Williams was an obvious candidate for Coach of the Year this season taking a team that was 21-61 in 2018 and helping turn around the franchise in seemingly record time as well as proving that the 8-0 magical streak in the NBA bubble last season was not a fluke. Part of the quick turnaround most definitely is attributed to the addition of Chris Paul, but many people don’t understand one of the main reasons that Chris Paul is a cornerstone to this team, and that is his relationship with Williams.
Paul and Williams knew each other quite well before the Suns acquired Paul via trade in mid-November of 2020. 9 years prior, Williams was the head coach of the New Orleans Hornets in his first stint as the head honcho of the coaching staff. He was a rookie coach who had a well-versed and experienced veteran point guard and the two formed a friendship that would grow stronger over the years despite Paul moving to several organizations before landing on a Williams-led roster again, and this time they have made the most of it, working together to continue through the playoffs and making the proper adjustments when needed to come back against talented rosters.
Because of their deep roster and strong coaching, the Suns have had a leg up on a number of their opponents this season, and the Bucks have seemed to have trouble with Phoenix in their most recent meetings, as PHX is 4-1 against the spread in the last 5 meetings between the two teams.
When trying to predict what is going to occur in a future matchup in the NBA, looking at what happened in the past and what adjustments may be made is vital to understanding the flow of the game and the changes that are made by both coaching staffs. For example, in Game 3, we saw Giannis dominate in the paint with the rest of the Bucks team collapse around him and forcing the Suns to play physical basketball, which caused Deandre Ayton to get in foul trouble early (forcing Frank Kaminsky into the game to play in the Center role) and took away one of the 3 main options on offense for Phoenix.
Nobody on the Phoenix Suns reached double-digits in any stats besides points and scoring-wise nobody scored over 20 points. Add into that equation the fact that the Suns were 19-6 after a loss during the regular season this year and you get to the conclusion that there is simply no way the Suns play as poorly in Game 4 as they did in Game 3, improvement is simply inevitable. 10 different players on the Suns have had a game with 20 or more points this season, and to think that the Bucks will be able to defend whatever adjustments Monty Williams has made to that degree AGAIN is wishful thinking in my opinion.
The background story behind Giannis in this game is Jrue Holiday guarding Chris Paul. Many people think this has made Paul struggle in recent games due to Holiday’s well-known defensive prowess, and while that may be a strong argument, the idea of regression must be present in this conversation. During the regular season, when guarded by Jrue Holiday, Chris Paul averaged 16.5 points/game on 50% shooting from the field and 39.5% shooting from 3 alongside 9 assists per game and 4.5 rebounds. Simply put, I believe that if Jrue Holiday can take it up a notch, Chris Paul can as well and will take a more aggressive approach to tonight’s matchup. To expand on that further, if Chris Paul is more aggressive with his ball-handling tonight I see PHX attempting to run in transition if Paul sees a chance to score quickly or if he has an open man up-court.
That was a lot of writing to unpack, so let’s look at the main facts of the matchup tonight based on the analysis we’ve just done of these two teams and the advantages we’ve established.
· Even when Giannis goes for 40+ and 10+, the Suns have shown that they are capable of taking the game
· Nobody on PHX reached the 20-point threshold in the last game, an occurrence that we likely will not see again
· Monty Williams is the superior coach in this series (no offense to Mike Budenholzer) and CP3’s knowledge of the game gives the Suns the advantage of having a coach on the floor who knows what and how Williams wants them to execute.
· Deandre Ayton was in foul trouble from the very beginning of the game on Sunday and only played 24 minutes, missing valuable time as one of the main options on the team as well as being their paint enforcer. I anticipate Williams either going to a zone or allowing Ayton to sag off of Lopez when he drops to the perimeter so that Ayton does not have to lunge back into the paint when Giannis makes his move.
· PHX was 19-6 after a loss this season as well as 4-1 ATS in their last 5 games against MIL
· Chris Paul being “locked up” by Jrue Holiday is a myth that should be dispelled tonight
· PHX is currently at +165 odds (via Action Network) which translates to a projected 37.7% chance of winning this basketball game.
I don’t know about you, but that 37.7% number just does not seem right to me, and I do not think we see the same thing we saw on Sunday. The Suns will come out stronger and maintain their pace unlike in Game 3. I’m sure Giannis will get his but at the end of the day, this Bucks team does NOT have the depth to compete unless most or all of their role players perform above their typical standards, and the adjustments made by Monty Williams will throw the Bucks off on both ends of the court, creating a fast-paced and high-scoring affair.
Score Prediction: PHX: 115 – MIL: 107
(Lines via Action Network)
· Phoenix Suns Moneyline +165
PROP TO LOOK AT (Not an official pick)
· Mikal Bridges OVER 17.5 Pts+Rbs+Ast
LEAN (not an official pick)
· Over 220.5
I obviously have this game at 222 total points, so this cuts a bit close, but I do have the total above the Vegas estimate.
#Wearethevalley lets ride.