Here we go. Game 1 of the NBA Finals between two unlikely teams, the Milwaukee Bucks and the Phoenix Suns. If you bet online on these two to be playing each other for the Larry O’Brien Trophy, you are probably one rich person by now.
They were underdogs heading to this moment but come Tuesday night, the Suns are -230 favorites while the Bucks are +190 underdogs per the NBA’s Las Vegas odds. In terms of winning the series, Phoenix is also favored at -200 and they look to win Game 1 for the fourth straight time in these playoffs.
Bucks: Big Dogs
The Milwaukee Bucks can win the NBA championship even without two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo (knee), who remains day-to-day. After all, this team did beat the Atlanta Hawks decisively in the two games he didn’t play. How did they do it? By finally using their biggest strength: their size.
Milwaukee dominated Atlanta from the inside. The team shot 57.2 percent from inside the arc, mainly in Game 6 where center Brook Lopez went 14-of-16 and scored a playoff high 33 points. He also had seven blocks in the last two games while Khris Middleton averaged 29 points.
Against the Suns, the Bucks will also have a size advantage. They can look to pound the rock as the old adage goes and that may force Phoenix to defend them inside. That should open up the arc where they can improve on their 31.1 percent three-point shooting.
Suns: Chasing History
They appear to be the “team of destiny” but the Phoenix Suns will maintain the dogged mentality that has pushed them this far. Both Chris Paul and the franchise can win their first NBA championship, but they need to solve the bigger Bucks.
The Suns lost four games in the playoffs and most of these happened with rebounding playing a big factor. They either gave up too many offensive boards or rebounded too little. However, they’ve only lost four games because that is usually their only weakness.
Phoenix has stayed consistent. Even when Paul missed games, the Suns still found ways to beat the Los Angeles Clippers. This is a team that doesn’t “wow” offensively but continues to make efficient plays. On top of that, their defense has forced teams to shoot below 50 percent from an effective field goal standpoint. They’re almost complete.
Pick: As I Walk Through the Valley …
Bucks fans may want to close their eyes for this one. They will be walking into the valley of death as the red-hot Phoenix Suns will melt the Bucks before they can adjust.
Milwaukee may be big, tough and even more athletic, but the Suns are like a well-oiled machine that will mow them down. The Bucks are notorious slow starters as their Game 1 losses against Brooklyn and Atlanta exposed.
Add Milwaukee’s poor three-point shooting and sloppy decision-making (turnover percent at 13.4 percent) and Phoenix will keep exploiting their many mistakes. It may be a slow burn, but bank on Phoenix to walk away with a comfortable win here.
Pick: Phoenix Suns -5½
Bonus Pick: Temperature Rising
Even if Phoenix plays at a slow pace, this is a team that can pile up leads by continuing to make the right plays while taking advantage of their opponent making a mistake. That’s the Paul factor, as he and Monty Williams have coached this team to being wise beyond its years.
This will be a slow build for the Suns, but the lead could be as big as 15 points or more by the time the game is decided. Parlay Phoenix’s efficient shooting and playmaking with the Bucks’ streaky offense for a double-digit victory.