NBA FINALS: Bucks-in-sixFriday, July 23, 2021
BY MARK ARCHER
“Bucks-in-six” was the chant echoed in Fiserv Forum by an enthusiastic crowd last week Wednesday, July 14 following an emphatic, pivotal home win by Milwaukee in the 2021 National Basketball Association (NBA) Finals.
In a series where the Phoenix Suns jumped out to an early 2-0 lead (in Phoenix), the Milwaukee Bucks turned the tables when the finals changed venues to their home court.
As if to personify a quote by hall-of-famer (and former Bucks player) Kareem Abdul-Jabbar — “You can't win unless you learn how to lose” — the Minnesota team, with their backs against the proverbial wall, dug deep in Game 3 on July 11 to register a 120-100 victory to claw themselves back into the series. They shutdown the scoring of Devin Booker (who sat out the entire fourth quarter) and rendered the point-guard play of Chris Paul pointless.
After dropping the first two games of the series by 13 and 10 points, respectively, two-time NBA Most Valuable Player (MVP) Giannis Antetokounmpo and company dominated in Game 3 then, in Game 4 (July 14), they left nothing to chance and brought Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Oscar Robertson to the game. The two hall-of-famers were members of the Bucks team in 1971 that brought home the championship and the Bucks were possibly hoping they would be a good-luck charm — maybe they were.
Giannis proved why he was the two-time MVP a season ago after back-to-back 40-point performances (Games 3 and 4) in what has been a dominant play-off for him. Phoenix's Devin Booker's impressive 42 points night was eclipsed by Khris Middleton's clutch 40 points, 6 rebounds and 4 assists performance, to help Milwaukee tie the finals series 2-2 with a 109-103 win.
Booker's performance was history-making as he etched his name in the record books by scoring the most points ever in a first-ever play-off appearance. The 24-year-old passed Rick Barry (521) with 522 points (then later added the points scored in Games 5 and 6).
On Friday, June 16, the home of the Phoenix Suns — which had been going by the unbranded title 'Phoenix Suns Arena' — was renamed the Footprint Center (signalling a partnership with the local material science company) and Game 5 got the inauspicious honour of being the first game played under the new branding on June 17.
Historically, when a play-off series is tied at 2-2, the winner of Game 5 wins the series 72 per cent of the time. Phoenix may have armed themselves with this knowledge as they built a 16-point lead to end the first quarter. However, behind a 43-point second quarter, the Bucks went in at half-time leading 64-61 — a lead they never relinquished.
Milwaukee led by as many as 14 points in the second half, and even though Phoenix cut it down to one, they ultimately fell short 123-119. Booker scored 40 points for the second-consecutive game, joining a very exclusive group of NBA Finals legends that also includes Giannis in this series, but surrendering a 16-point lead, 5 minutes into the second quarter proved Phoenix's undoing.
The series moved back to Milwaukee for Game 6 on Tuesday, June 20 with Phoenix facing elimination for the first time this postseason. With 17,000 (plus another 65,000 outside) in attendance at Fiserv Forum, and the aroma of their first championship in 50 years circulating in the air, the celebrations began early as the Bucks ran out to a 29-16, first-quarter lead. The Suns rose to the occasion in the second quarter and went into half-time with a 47-42 lead, but this was short-lived as the second half belonged solely to the home team.
It was a scrappy affair but, as it turned out, there wasn't enough Booker and way too much Giannis. Booker could manage only four points in the first half and mustered 19 for the game while Giannis was out of the gate from jump and finished with 50 points, 14 rebounds and 5 blocks — the stats included overcoming his Achilles' heel (free throws), scoring 17 of 19 for the game (he was hitting just 55.6 per cent in the postseason).
At the final whistle, the Suns lost four consecutive games for the first time this season in the 105-98 defeat, the Bucks were crowned champions and Giannis was (fittingly) declared MVP of the Finals. The echo of “Bucks-in-six” that started as a hopeful chant at the end of Game 4, turned out to be a prophetic rally cry for Milwaukee.
And as the season closes, so does another chapter in the league's history— Spalding will no longer be the official basketball of the NBA. Albert Goodwill Spalding created the first basketball in 1894 at the request of the inventor of the game, James Naismith, and Spalding has been the official ball of the NBA since 1983.
Spalding's sponsorship contract with the NBA expired at the end of the 2020-21 season, and there were no new terms agreed on. Spalding will continue to produce the official NBA backboards and rims but Wilson, which provided the official NBA basketball from the founding of the league in 1946 until Spalding entered the picture in 1983, will provide the official balls.
The Wilson NBA game ball will reportedly have the same leather material, configuration and performance specifications as the current game ball so a name-change should be the only recognisable difference – next season can't start too soon.
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