NBA Finals 2021

NBA Finals 2021: Five stats that loom large over the Milwaukee Bucks and Phoenix Suns

Here. We. Go.

In defeating the Atlanta Hawks in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals, the Milwaukee Bucks punched their ticket to the NBA Finals for the first time since 1973-74.

Their opponent? The Phoenix Suns, who defeated the LA Clippers in the Western Conference Finals to advance to the NBA Finals for the first time since 1992-93.

MORE: Preview for 2021 NBA Finals

It's going to be a battle between two of the best teams in the league this season, one that will feature four multi-time All-Stars in Chris Paul, Devin Booker, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton, as well as some of the league's best defenders, including two-time All-Defensive First Team selection Jrue Holiday and Mikal Bridges.

From Antetokounmpo's success against the Suns during the regular season to where both of these teams excel, here are five stats that loom large entering the 2021 NBA Finals.

40.0: Antetokounmpo's scoring average against Phoenix in regular season

Antetokounmpo put up some big numbers against the Suns this season.

In the first meeting between Milwaukee and Phoenix, Antetokounmpo exploded for 47 points, 11 rebounds and five assists on 15-for-23 shooting from the field and 17-for-21 from the free throw line. The result? A one-point win for the Suns, who were led by Booker's 30 points.

Antetokounmpo was a little quieter in the second meeting, but he still finished with 33 points and eight assists on 12-for-22 shooting from the field and 9-for-10 from the free throw line, once again coming in a one-point loss.

Averaging 40.0 points over those two games, it made for Antetokounmpo's highest scoring output against an opponent on the season.

Antetokounmpo did the bulk of his scoring in the paint against the Suns, going 21-for-28 (75.0 percent) in the restricted area. He was 6-for-17 (35.3 percent) from everywhere else.

According to NBA.com's matchup data, Deandre Ayton defended Antetokounmpo more than anyone else on the Suns in those games.

Despite Antetokounmpo's gaudy averages, the numbers point to Ayton actually doing a good job against him, limiting the two-time MVP to 34 points on 10-for-24 (41.7 percent) shooting from the field. Antetokounmpo did a lot of his damage from the free throw line against Ayton, drawing seven shooting fouls and making him pay by going a perfect 14-for-14 from the charity stripe.

Ayton isn't a big-time rim protector, but he's a smart defender who matches up well physically with Antetokounmpo. He's also shown that he can hold his own against some of the league's biggest stars in these playoffs, having defended Anthony Davis in the first round and Nikola Jokic in the second round.

Jae Crowder defended Antetokounmpo the second-most on the Suns. The results weren't great - Antetokounmpo scored 15 points on a perfect 6-for-6 shooting from the field, per the matchup data - but Crowder was able to give him some trouble in the 2020 NBA Playoffs, when he was Heat's primary defender on Antetokounmpo in Miami's stunning second-round win over Milwaukee.

That experience could come in handy in the Finals.

Of course, this comes with the caveat that we still don't know much about Antetokounmpo's condition after he hyperextended his left knee in the previous round.

According to Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports, there was "belief" that Antetokounmpo would've been able to play in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals had the Hawks extended the series. Bucks head coach Mike Budenholzer said that they're approaching Antetokounmpo's availability for the Finals as a "day-to-day" thing.

If he is able to play, it'll be interesting to see if Antetokounmpo's success against the Suns in the regular season carries over into the Finals.

123.0: Milwaukee's offensive rating in Game 5 and Game 6 vs. Hawks

The good news for the Bucks? They were able to take care of business against the Hawks without Antetokounmpo.

Their defence slipped - more on that in a minute - but the Bucks scored at a high level in the two games Antetokounmpo had to sit out, putting up 123 points in Game 5 and 118 points in Game 6.

Brook Lopez starred in Game 5 with a playoff career-high 33 points, but Holiday (25), Middleton (26) and Bobby Portis (22) each scored in double-figures.

In Game 6, it was Middleton who stole the show with 32 points, 23 of which came in the third quarter alone. Holiday was Milwaukee's second-leading scorer, posting 27 points to go along with nine rebounds, nine assists, four steals and two blocks.

All in all, the Bucks scored at a rate of 123.0 points per 100 possessions in Game 5 and Game 6.

That almost certainly isn't sustainable - the Brooklyn Nets led the league during the regular season with an offensive rating of 117.3, need you be reminded - but the Bucks are going to need Middleton, Holiday and Lopez to continue stepping up in a big way if Antetokounmpo is limited in any way or isn't able to go.

89: How many shots Paul and Booker have made from midrange in the playoffs

Paul and Booker are two of the best midrange shooters in the league.

During the regular season, nobody made more shots from midrange than Paul (197). In second place was Julius Randle (171), followed by Brandon Ingram (169) in third and Booker (168) in fourth.

Entering the Finals, the only player who has made more shots from midrange than Paul (45) in the playoffs is Kevin Durant (57). Booker (44) is once again not far behind, ranking third.

Together, Paul and Booker are 89-for-199 (44.7 percent) from midrange in these playoffs.

Leaders from midrange in 2021 NBA Playoffs
PLAYER FGM FGA FG%
Kevin Durant 57 103 55.3
Chris Paul 45 92 48.9
Devin Booker 44 107 41.1
Khris Middleton 41 96 42.7
Paul George 33 72 45.8
Joel Embiid 27 66 40.9
Kawhi Leonard 27 41 65.9
Seth Curry 25 35 71.4
Trae Young 25 50 50.0

The reason that's notable: Milwaukee will usually live with its opponents shooting from midrange.

According to NBA.com, teams attempted 14.1 midrange shots per game against the Bucks in the regular season. The only team that gave up more? The Washington Wizards (14.6). It's been a similar story in the playoffs. The Bucks are allowing 15.6 midrange shots per game through three rounds, putting them behind the Philadelphia 76ers (16.9), Denver Nuggets (15.8) and Wizards (15.8) for most in the league.

Whether it's Lopez, Portis or Antetokounmpo, the Bucks like to have their bigs drop to the paint so that they can protect the basket.

It's worth noting that the Bucks have shown more of a willingness to adapt this season, especially when it comes to switching. They were even switching Lopez aggressively onto Atlanta's guards in the last two games of the Eastern Conference Finals, and he held up pretty well.

The Bucks will almost certainly mix up their coverages throughout the series, but the midrange will still be an incredibly important battleground.

Speaking of defence...

105.0: Milwaukee's defensive rating in the playoffs

The Bucks are holding their opponent to 105.0 points per 100 possessions in the playoffs. Not only is that a pretty big jump from what they posted in the regular season - 110.7, ranking them ninth overall - it's the best defensive rating in the league.

The Suns, meanwhile, are holding their opponent to 106.7 points per 100 possessions in the playoffs, up from 110.4 in the regular season, giving them the ... second-best defensive rating in the league.

Milwaukee and Phoenix haven't been quite as sharp on the other end of the court. According to NBA.com, the Suns currently rank 10th in offensive efficiency (113.6) while the Bucks rank 11th (111.2) for the playoffs.

Both the Bucks and Suns still have plenty of offensive firepower, but this series has the makings of a defensive showdown.

1: How many players on the Suns and Bucks have been to the Finals before

The one player from both teams who has been to the Finals before? Crowder, who made his Finals debut last season when he went to six games with LeBron James, Davis and the Los Angeles Lakers as a member of the Heat.

There isn't another player in this series who has appeared in even one Finals game before.

Who says you need experience to win it all?

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