Some would say that the Milwaukee Bucks had a lucky run to the 2021 NBA Finals.
After they convincingly destroyed the Miami Heat in a 4-0 sweep in the first round, they ran into the Brooklyn Nets in what was supposed to be the most interesting matchup of the postseason.
However, James Harden and Kyrie Irving went down on separate occasions, and the Nets never actually had a chance to field a fully healthy ‘Big Three’ of Harden, Irving and Kevin Durant. Harden did come back for the last few games, but looked like he was playing on one leg – and it still took the Bucks seven games to survive thanks to Durant’s greatness.
Then, while matched up with the Hawks, they saw themselves lose the first and third games of the series for a 2-2 lead, and Trae Young hurt himself in one of the unluckiest injuries I’ve ever seen. The man stepped on a referee’s foot, for crying out loud! Young did come back for the do-or-die Game 6 today, and while he showed flashes of brilliance, he was clearly hampered by the bone bruise on his ankle.
It’s a little unfair to pin everything on injuries, though, because people always get hurt in the playoffs. Guys still have to get out on the court to make shots and get stops. LeBron James and the Lakers still had to earn their ring last year, and the Raptors still had to earn their title the year before after Durant and Klay Thompson went down.
Plus, the Bucks also dealt with an hyperextended knee suffered by Antetokounmpo, which took him out of the second half of Game 4 and saw him sit the last two games as well.
Even without Young, the Hawks proved to be a scrappy team, and the Bucks had to endure the pain of getting blown out in Game 4 while ‘Ice Trae’ sat out alongside Giannis.
With Antetokounmpo still gone in Game 6, though, Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday finally stepped up and both produced two good games in a row to clinch the series.
In Game 5, Middleton shot 10 of 20 and had a near-triple-double of 26 points, 13 rebounds and 8 assists. Holiday had a double-double of 25 points, 6 rebounds and 13 assists.
In the closeout game, Middleton started off slow with 5 points at the half, but had another scoring explosion that saw him finish with 32 points, 4 rebounds, 7 assists and 3 steals after the break.
Holiday was all over the place on both ends of the floor, too, and he finished with 27 points, 9 rebounds, 9 assists, 4 steals and 2 blocks.
Closing out the series in six games is doubly important for Milwaukee because it affords them more time to rest their ailing superstar. There’s no doubt Antetokounmpo would have tried to force his way on the court for a Game 7, because he’s that kind of competitor. Without that scenario looming on the horizon, they can focus on treating his knee and hopefully getting it healthy enough for a potential seven-game series.
Now, the Bucks have to prepare for another hard challenge: the Phoenix Suns. The Western Conference Finals winners are firing on all cylinders at the moment, and their ageless point guard Chris Paul is raring to go in what may be his first and last NBA Finals appearance.
It should be a fun series if their two regular season matchups are anything to go by. Both of those games were won by the Suns, but were each decided by a single point. Let’s hope we get seven games like that.