Eastern Conference Finals Game 6 reaction: Bucks headed to finals…with Antetokounmpo?

Milwaukee Bucks center Brook Lopez (11) shoots against the Atlanta Hawks in the first quarter during game four of the Eastern Conference Finals for the 2021 NBA Playoffs at State Farm Arena
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Ricky Dimon


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Since graduating from Davidson (The College That Stephen Curry Built), I have been writing about sports -- just about any and all you can think of! -- and coaching tennis in Atlanta, GA. Beyond the four major sports, I am an avid tennis fan and cover the ATP Tour on a daily basis. If I'm not busy writing, you can generally find me on a tennis court or traveling the world wherever a sporting event takes me. For Ricky Dimon media enquiries, please email contact@pickswise.com.
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Without the services of two-time NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo for the last two games of the Eastern Conference Finals, the Milwaukee Bucks managed to finish off the Atlanta Hawks—who were also depleted—on Saturday night. After winning Game 5 at home 123-112, the Bucks went on the road and won the clincher 118-107.

Milwaukee’s complimentary players took turns stepping up in Antetokounmpo’s absence. On Thursday it was Brook Lopez and Bobby Portis down low; Lopez and Portis played well again on Saturday, but this time it was Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday who rose to the occasion in a big way. Middleton finished with a game-high 32 points, while Holiday added 27.

Bucks were just the better team

The East finals turned into a war of attrition between the Bucks minus Antetokounmpo and the Hawks minus Trae Young. Both missed two full games and some of a third. Young returned on Saturday, but he was nowhere near his real self.

With both stars missing, Milwaukee was the better team. With both stars on the floor, Milwaukee was the better team. The key difference is that the Bucks could dominate down low with or without Antetokounmpo. They could endure a poor shooting night and still win simply due to points in the paint. The Hawks, on the other hand, had no choice but to shoot well. If their outside shots were not falling, they had no chance. And even if they were, Milwaukee was still good enough to overcome it. Bogdan Bogdanovic drained seven threes in Game 5; Cam Reddish sank six in Game 6. The Bucks still won both without much trouble.

These young Hawks are here to stay. They should be one of the East’s beasts for years to come. But in this series, they got beat a better team.

A quick look at the NBA Finals

Obviously the NBA Finals’ landscape hinges on Antetokounmpo’s status. That being said, I would take the Suns even if the Greek Freak plays. The good news for the Bucks is that they have two days off instead of just one, but it’s still not a full week off like the Suns are enjoying. Plus, Phoenix is healthy; Milwaukee—we think—is not.

Even if you don’t take injuries and rest into account, the Suns are a well-oiled machine—and they have been after being the sensation of the Orlando bubble in 2020 (8-0 record to close out the regular season). Chris Paul has taken this team from good to great and he has plenty of games under his belt following a return from a Covid-19 hiatus. Devin Booker has emerged as a star in this league. Deandre Ayton can battle down low with the Bucks better than the Hawks did. Head coach Monty Williams’ squad also boasts plenty of depth in the form of Jae Crowder, Mikal Bridges, Cameron Payne, and other.

If Antetokounmpo plays all or most of the series, this should be a fun and competitive NBA Finals. Even if he doesn’t, the Bucks proved over the past two games that they cannot be discounted. But either way, give me CP3 and the Suns.

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