There’s something exhilarating about seeing the finish line to any season, and especially so this year. The NBA season started in December, just over two months after the Los Angeles Lakers were crowned champions in the Orlando bubble, and is finally set to wrap up next Thursday at the latest.
We’ve watched star players on every team suffer injuries in these playoffs, from the significant, season-ending kind to the lingering injury kind, which might play a role in determining the eventual NBA champion.
Milwaukee and Phoenix (say it again: Milwaukee and Phoenix! The NBA Finals!) are tied 2-2, so the season is down to a best-of-three. We spend all season analyzing trends and picking apart players while harping on small sample sizes and variance. Well, it’s almost time to throw that all out the window because whatever happens over the next few days will decide it all.
(How close have the Suns and Bucks been this season? Across six matchups, two in the regular season, and the first four games of the Finals, Milwaukee is currently leading by a cumulative score of 693-692.)
Before the series resumes tomorrow in Phoenix, here are five key questions for the remainder of this series:
Which team will have the better point guard for the remainder of the series?
Game 4 was a battle for the ages at point guard, and by a battle for the ages, I mean it was a duel between Chris Paul and Jrue Holiday to see who could put up a bigger stinker. Paul shot 5-for-13 from the field in 37 minutes, scoring 10 points and adding five turnovers, including a crucial one in the final minute of the fourth quarter. Holiday countered with a 4-for-20 shooting night, finishing with 13 points, seven rebounds and seven assists.
Paul looks limited at the moment, and the turnovers have become a trend in this series. It’s hard to speculate about injuries this time of year, but the Suns guard is clearly dealing with a wrist injury which he talked about briefly after the Western Conference final. Holiday appears healthy but has been inconsistent on offence throughout this playoff run. His defensive presence has been impactful, but the Bucks didn’t mortgage pretty much all of their future draft capital to get a slight upgrade on Eric Bledsoe.
Both players are crucial to their team’s winning formula. When both Paul and Devin Booker are humming on offence, everything else falls into place for Phoenix. The Bucks are hard to beat when Holiday joins Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton to form a big three on offence. The starting point guard matchup feels like it will determine the rest of this series.
How many more all-time performances does Giannis have left in this series?
Two days later, we are all still marvelling at Antetokounmpo’s block of Deandre Ayton in Game 4. Booker threw a perfect alley-oop pass to his centre, who looked poised to tie the game with a dunk, except The Greek Freak earned his nickname by recovering and then leaping in mid-air to block the shot. It was a play that only a handful of players (if that) in NBA history could have pulled off. The best way to appreciate the block is to watch it unfold in slow motion:
There’s a threshold the greatest players in the game cross at some point, where we simply start to take their night-to-night greatness for granted (we started doing this with LeBron James like a decade ago). This just might be the series where Antetokounmpo crosses that threshold.
Two wins away from a championship, expect at least one more jaw-dropping performance from Milwaukee’s franchise cornerstone in this series.
Will Khris Middleton or Devin Booker get to 40 points again?
Devin Booker has to be the first player to score 42 points in a Finals game, as he did on Wednesday, and be remembered for a personal foul he intentionally committed. A personal foul, by the way, that wasn’t called. A personal foul, by the way, that would have been his sixth foul:
The “NBA is a conspiracy” crowd would have had a field day the following morning if not for the Bucks pulling off the fourth-quarter comeback, thanks to 40 points from Khris Middleton.
Booker and Middleton are the two best pure scorers in this series. They’ve had stretches of being absolutely unstoppable in these playoffs, and other times have disappeared for stretches. Which one (or maybe it’s both?) has another 40-point game in them?
Which role player will step up?
Listen, I’m not saying Bobby Portis is going to win Finals MVP. But say he explodes for 35 points and seven three-pointers in a one-point victory over the Bucks in a series-clinching Game 6 win, are you telling me he’s not getting the votes?
I’m rooting for a chaotic final few games of this series, and that includes a random role player stepping up and getting at least a few MVP votes. Portis is my pick for the Bucks. On the Suns’ side, I’m going with Cam Johnson. Although if you told me the season ends with Jae Crowder hitting 11 threes and salsa dancing as Adam Silver hands him the Larry OB, I would not be surprised at all.
Can the Bucks continue to win on the margins?
The box score didn’t look too bad for the Suns in Game 4. Their best scorer got 42 points in 39 minutes. Antetokounmpo only put up 26 points and 14 rebounds. Phoenix shot 51.3 percent from the field in a road game. But look deeper, and you’ll see two key stats: 17 turnovers for the Suns (compared to five for the Bucks) and 17 offensive rebounds for the Bucks (compared to five for the Suns). The advantages in those two areas added up to 19 more field-goal attempts for Milwaukee, a huge reason why they came back to steal this game in the fourth quarter.
It’ll be worthwhile to keep an eye on these stats for the remaining games of this series.
Who is the worst player to ever get Mike Breen’s signature “bang”?
I’ve been thinking about this question for the past 24 hours, and I think Bomani Jones is right:
Finally, a shoutout to the official Nigeria Basketball Twitter account:
Listen, Team Canada won’t be at the Olympics, and the USA men’s team has played some uninspired basketball during their exhibition schedule. We should all get on the Nigeria bandwagon. They upset both the Americans and the Argentina team this week and also have the best team account on Twitter:
The man behind the account is Zion Olojede, who is currently working at Complex. Olojede told me earlier this week he’s been running the Nigeria account since 2012 when the men’s basketball team finished 1-4 at the Olympics, including an 83-point loss (yes, eighty-three) to Team USA. He’s built the social media presence of the national team from scratch and says all of the attention on Nigeria this week has been fulfilling.
Olojede is an expert at Twitter and says everything he does on the team account comes pretty naturally. “Although I have been warned to chill out before,” he says, “I know the boundaries of social media and having fun.”
Count me in on the Team Nigeria bandwagon.
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