July 20, 2021

5 Reasons Why Phoenix Suns Can Still Win 2021 NBA Finals

After the Suns surged to a 2-0 lead over the Milwaukee Bucks in the 2021 NBA Finals, Phoenix has dropped three straight games and is on the brink of elimination. 

While the Bucks' Big Three — Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday — have all been fantastic in Milwaukee's championship comeback, the Suns have missed plenty of opportunities since emerging victorious in Game 2. 

Despite being on the verge of losing the NBA Finals, the Suns should still have hope to turn this series around. The Suns won't be able to stop the Greek Freak from going Super Saiyan, sure, but here's how they can turn the tables on the Bucks and win two straight games and, ultimately, an NBA championship. 

Shooters Shoot

The Suns have been losing the field-goal-attempts game against the Bucks so far. Obviously, teams win by making field goals, so the goal is to shoot more times than your opponent. And the Bucks have been clobbering the Suns in that department, especially in Game 4, where Milwaukee attempted 19 more field goals and 10 more free throws than Phoenix. 

That type of discrepancy is unsustainable for the Suns, who have actually shot 50% compared to Milwaukee’s 47% from the field this series. But shooting percentages don’t matter as much when one side is hoisting way more attempts. Milwaukee is averaging over seven more shot attempts per game this series.

The Suns will struggle to keep the Bucks off the free-throw line, but there's another way to limit Milwaukee's shot attempts. 

Keep the Bucks off the Boards

Part of the reason the Bucks are winning the shooting game is because they get a plethora of second-chance opportunities. The Bucks are gobbling up almost 14 offensive rebounds per game, which doubles up the Suns' output. 

Milwaukee’s strategy of going big — albeit, out of necessity — by surrounding Antetokounmpo with Brook Lopez, Bobby Portis and P.J. Tucker has been a huge reason behind their dominance. Tucker may be smaller than the usual power forward, but he’s burly. Portis has been invaluable crashing the glass and draining 37% of his treys, while Lopez is still a load to deal with in the post, especially when he gets a mismatch.

The Bucks’ big-ball lineups have presented a serious issue for a Suns squad that features exactly zero reliable big men other than Deandre Ayton. Jae Crowder has been forced to guard either Lopez or Portis, which has been an absolute disaster for a Suns team that dearly misses Dario Saric.

Limit Turnovers and the Fastbreak

If the Suns seriously want to get back in the series, they'll need to cut down on debilitating turnovers. 

During the regular season, the Suns were one of the most sure-handed teams in the league. In the NBA Finals, the Bucks’ band of bandits has forced the Suns to cough the ball up at a league average rate. While that may not seem like anything revolutionary, every edge counts at this stage. 

Phoenix had a huge advantage in the turnover department. It was an advantage they could bank on, and while Milwaukee is still coughing the ball up more, the gap has shrunk. Paul, who is rightfully known as one of the most turnover-averse players in league history, has 16 turnovers in the last four games. If the Point God is giving it away that much, Phoenix is in deep trouble.

The clearest effect of turning the ball over is that the other squad gets out in transition, and Milwaukee has feasted in that department. The Suns are actually doing a great job of stunting Milwaukee’s scoring efficiency in the half court. Even though part of that is because the Bucks employ very few sharpshooters, Phoenix deserves their fair share of praise for playing stifling defense.

Highlight the Suns' Strengths

The Suns must play to their strengths, which, in this case, is keeping the Bucks in the half court, where it's tougher for Milwaukee to create shots. That also allows Ayton to roam the paint and deter drivers to the rim. 

Phoenix must also continue to burn Milwaukee when Jeff Teague steps on the floor. Teague has had a respectable career, but he’s lost more than a few steps. Now, he’s simply a liability. The Bucks have been almost 20 points per 100 possessions worse with Teague on the court.

Phoenix needs to relentlessly attack Teague, and to a lesser extent Lopez, on switches. Every possession Teague is on the floor and not targeted on defense is a big win for the Bucks.

Play the Suns' Starters More Minutes

While the previous four reasons are somewhat out of the Suns' control, one thing they can do is unleash their stars by playing them more minutes. 

Even though the five-man lineup of Paul, Booker, Mikal Bridges, Crowder and Ayton has played an enormous amount of minutes together, they should be playing even more. 

The Suns’ vaunted starting five has blasted Milwaukee by 14 points per 100 possessions this series. Even in the past three losses, that group has beat the Bucks by seven points per 100 possessions. It’s the perfect blend of shot creation and playmaking, floor spacing, versatile defense and rim running. 

Ayton played 45 minutes in Game 5, which is virtually the entire game, but not quite. In those three precious minutes Ayton rested, the Suns were outscored by 10 points. They lost Game 5 by four points.

Bridges has averaged just 31 minutes per game this series, which is not enough. The Suns have outscored the Bucks by 22 points with Bridges on the floor this series. He dropped a career-high 27 points in Game 2. Bridges may be flawed thanks to his lack of playmaking ability, but he simply needs to be on the floor more. 

The same goes for Paul, who at 36-years-old may not have the ability to play as much as his younger teammates. CP3 has only played 40 minutes twice the entire postseason, both of which were Suns victories.

Phoenix desperately needs Paul’s playmaking capabilities. And besides Booker, he’s their only reliable player who can take advantage of a mismatch in isolation. With Cam Payne struggling against Milwaukee’s tall trees, Paul should be playing more than 37 minutes a game if he can manage it. At this point, there will be a maximum of two games left in the season. If there’s ever a time to play a lot of minutes, it’s right now.

This series is far from over, however, the Bucks have obviously turned the tables and are now in the driver’s seat to win their first championship since 1971. But the Suns are smart, versatile and very resourceful. If anyone can win this series, it’s them.

Photo: Getty Images