Three games into the 2021 NBA Finals, the Phoenix Suns hold a 2-1 series lead over the Milwaukee Bucks.
It's no secret that each year, the outcome of the NBA Finals is legacy-altering, a fact that is especially true in 2021, as All-Stars Giannis Antetokounmpo, Devin Booker and Chris Paul are vying for their first-ever NBA title.
Up to this point in the series, each star has risen to the occasion by delivering signature performances to pace their respective teams. How has that impacted who will take home the Finals MVP trophy? Three games in, we take stock of the race to MVP of the 2021 NBA Finals.
1. Giannis Antetokounmpo
NBA Finals: 34.3 PTS, 14.0 REB, 4.7 AST, 62.5 FG%
The Bucks are currently trailing in the series, but Antetokounmpo has undoubtedly been the most valuable player on the floor through the first three games.
In Game 1, it was unclear whether or not Giannis' knee would allow him to play. A game-time decision, he finished with 20 points (on 6-for-11 shooting) and 17 rebounds in 35 minutes. How could he top that? Simple, back-to-back 40-point performances, beginning with a dominant performance in Game 2 that saw him finish with 42 points (on 15-for-22 shooting), 12 boards and four assists, but it still resulted in a loss.
As the series shifted locations, Giannis stepped up in a must-win Game 3, finishing with 41 points (on 14-for-23 shooting), 13 rebounds and six assists to lead Milwaukee to a dominant victory to avoid a 3-0 series deficit and get his team back in it.
🔥 Giannis TAKES OVER in Game 3! 🔥- NBA (@NBA) July 12, 2021
13-17 FTM@Giannis_An34 joins @SHAQ as the only players in #NBAFinals history with back-to-back 40+ point, 10+ rebound games, as the Bucks win Game 3! #ThatsGame
Game 4: Wed, 9 PM ET, ABC pic.twitter.com/lIazIIZbAo
While this series can go either way, only once in the history of the NBA Finals has a player from the losing team taken home MVP honours (Jerry West, 1969). It's a tall ask, but if Giannis continues this level of play in the series, it should be enough to lead the Bucks to a series victory.
If Giannis maintains this output and it somehow results in a loss in six or seven games, he'd have a very legitimate case for becoming the first since West to take MVP honours in a loss.
2. Chris Paul
NBA Finals: 24.7 PTS, 8.7 AST, 2.7 REB, 56.6 FG%, 50.0 3P%
It took 16 seasons, but Paul is relishing his first opportunity on the NBA Finals stage.
In his Finals debut, Paul led the Suns to victory with an efficient 32 points (21 in the second half), nine assists and four rebounds in a 13-point win.
☀️ @CP3 tallies 32 PTS, 9 AST in his Finals debut, guiding the @Suns to victory in Game 1! #ThatsGame #NBAFinals presented by YouTube TV Game 2: Thursday - 9:00pm/et, ABC pic.twitter.com/aXN1PS1Lwx- NBA (@NBA) July 7, 2021
Game 2 saw Paul again put forth a solid and efficient performance, finishing with 23 points (on 50.0 percent shooting), eight assists and four rebounds while committing an uncharacteristic six turnovers.
He was relatively quiet in Phoenix's first loss of the series but even then, Paul scored 19 points (on 8-for-14 shooting) and dished out nine assists in just under 34 minutes of action.
Much is made of Paul's leadership role with this team, and understandably so. He's the vocal leader on both ends of the floor and oftentimes a driving force that motivates the performances of the players that star in their respective roles.
At this point, it feels like a toss-up between Paul and Booker for Finals MVP, but I sense parallels between last year's Finals MVP race, with Paul taking the role of LeBron James and Booker being Anthony Davis in the situation.
Each of Phoenix's stars has delivered a signature performance in wins, but Paul has yet to have an uncharacteristically poor night, giving him the edge over his backcourt mate.
3. Devin Booker
NBA Finals: 22.7 PTS, 4.7 AST, 4.3 REB, 38.3 FG%, 33.3 3P%
Off nights happen, and as potent as Booker was in Game 2, he was surprisingly off in Game 3, finishing with 10 points (on 3-for-14 shooting) in 29 minutes.
Admittedly, Booker's performance in Game 3 is the deciding factor that lands him at third, but I'm not a prisoner of the moment - the margin between Nos. 2 and 3 is coin-flip thin, and Booker can easily move back up the ladder with a bounce-back performance in Game 4.
We know he's capable.
After shooting a combined 10-for-37 in Games 2 and 3 of the Western Conference Finals, Booker bounced back with a 25-point performance in a Game 4 win. In Game 2 of the NBA Finals, Booker showed that he was the type of scorer that can work through a slump, shooting 8-for-13 in the second half after a 4-for-12 showing in the first 24 minutes.
🔥 @DevinBook in Game 2:- NBA (@NBA) July 9, 2021
7 3PM@Suns go up 2-0 in the #NBAFinals presented by YouTube TV.. Game 3 is Sunday at 8 PM ET on ABC. #ThatsGame pic.twitter.com/E6BV9f6Nr8
He'll have an opportunity to do something similar in Game 4 of the Finals.
Just two wins away from his first-ever title, two signature performances from Booker would be enough to move him to the top of this list.
Deandre Ayton is averaging 16.7 points, 13.0 rebounds and 2.0 steals through the first three games of the series. While anchoring Phoenix's defence, Ayton has done a solid job covering Antetokounmpo and has thrived in his role offensively, efficiently getting it done as a roll man, cutter and midrange shooter.
Jrue Holiday stepped up when Milwaukee needed it most, finishing with 21 points, nine assists and five rebounds in a must-win Game 3, all while working to make life difficult for Paul and Booker on the defensive end. With respect to value, the Bucks will have an extremely hard time finding success without big nights from Holiday.
Khris Middleton has yet to have his signature game in the series but has almost quietly posted averages of 19.3 points, 6.7 rebounds and 6.0 assists. In games that come down to the wire, the ball will be in Middleton's hands, giving him the opportunity to deliver plenty of signature NBA Finals moments.
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