NBA FINALS: History of Suns, Bucks being written with every second of every gameFriday, July 16, 2021
BY MARK ARCHER
The Phoenix Suns and the Milwaukee Bucks are knee-deep into the 2021 National Basketball Association (NBA) Finals and, win or lose, both finalists have already contributed a significant chunk of history to their respective franchise.
Both teams entered the NBA in 1968 (raising the total number of teams to 14) but only the Bucks have won a title — that was 50 years ago (1971). This is their first NBA Finals appearance in 47 years — having also done so in 1974 — and their third overall.
The Suns have never won an NBA title, and this is their first Finals appearance in 28 years (last time was 1993) and their third overall (they also made it in 1976). They had the worst record in the NBA three seasons ago, the worst record in the Western Conference two seasons ago and no play-off appearances in the previous 10 seasons.
The Suns and Bucks have played each other once before in the NBA Playoffs (1978) when they were both in the Western Conference and Milwaukee defeated Phoenix 2-0 in a first-round series.
In 1969, Phoenix and Milwaukee participated in a coin toss to determine which team would receive the No 1 overall pick in that year's NBA Draft. The Bucks won the coin toss and used the top pick to select Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who led them to their only NBA championship two years later.
Now, for the first time since 1971, no player in the NBA Finals has previously won a championship and, prior to the start of these Finals, the roster of both teams had a combined total of six games with NBA Finals experience — all by Jae Crowder of the Suns who played for last season's beaten finalists, the Miami Heat. Excluding the first NBA Finals, this is the second-fewest combined games of Finals experience — the 1977 championship series between the Philadelphia 76ers and Portland Trail Blazers had a combined zero games of NBA Finals experience (though some players had previously appeared in the American Basketball Association [ABA] Finals).
For the Bucks, they are the first team to reach the NBA Finals without a player with previous Finals experience since the 2014-15 Golden State Warriors (who defeated the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Finals that year) and, having made the Finals, they have guaranteed that Torrey Craig will be an 'NBA Champion' regardless of who is victorious.
Craig played for the Denver Nuggets up to the 2020 play-offs but, before the start of the 2020-21 season, he signed with Milwaukee. After having little to no effective role with the Bucks, they traded him to the Suns at the trade deadline earlier this year where he has proven positive coming off the bench. Since Craig spent over half the season with the Bucks, they would be obligated to give him a ring if they win. If the Suns win, he gets a ring for being part of the current squad.
Both head coaches in the Finals, Monty Williams of Phoenix and Mike Budenholzer of Milwaukee, 'served' under foach Gregg Popovich at the San Antonio Spurs. Williams played for the Popovich-coached Spurs, served as a coaching intern under him and later worked in San Antonio's front office while Budenholzer spent 17 seasons as a Spurs assistant coach under Popovich, helping San Antonio win four NBA championships.
The series is indeed wrought with history with both teams literally joined at the hip in so many ways. The intrigue of their commonalities makes this matchup all the more interesting and the longer the series, the more intense the fascination.
With the Suns up 2-0 and the series moving to Milwaukee for Game 3 last Sunday, July 11, the Bucks could ill-afford to sink in a 3-0 hole. Before a riled-up crowd inside Fiserv Forum, two-time NBA Most Valuable Player (MVP) Giannis Antetokounmpo possibly produced the biggest game of his career to finish with 41 points and 13 rebounds. He participated in getting Suns' DeAndre Ayton into foul trouble and shot 13-of-17 from the free throw line in the career performance.
Giannis has had some huge games in these play-offs — his 40-point and 13-rebound effort in Game 7 against the Brooklyn Nets comes to mind — but given the Bucks were facing the possibility of going down 0-3 in the Finals, Game 3 might have been the biggest game of his career thus far.
The Bucks were largely in control of the encounter but blew it open with a 30-9 run in a pivotal third quarter. Suns' standout Devin Booker was withdrawn with less than one minute remaining in the third quarter (with Phoenix down 17 points) and sat out the rest of the 100-120 loss.
Booker had been averaging 27.2 points on 44.3 per cent shooting in these play-offs and 29.2 points on 43.5 per cent shooting in the first two games of the Finals. He recorded 10 points on 21.4 per cent shooting in Game 3 — his worst of these play-offs — while the Bucks had five players in double-figure scoring to ensure the win and that the series remains interesting.
So far, these unexpected principals are doing their part on the NBA's biggest stage. No matter who wins, it will be a first for everyone and the history of both franchises is being written with every second of every game.
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Phoenix Suns 1.39
Milwaukee Bucks 3.05
*Odds are subject to change