The Milwaukee Bucks didn’t do all that bad shooting the ball in Game 1 of the NBA Finals, connecting on 45.5% from the field and 44.4% from three-point range, which is much better than usual.
But as BetAnySports patrons saw, the Phoenix Suns had a big advantage in one part of the game, and that is something Milwaukee is going to have to correct as they move into Game 2, which begins at 9:05 PM ET on Thursday at the Phoenix Suns Arena.
One of the things that the Bucks pride themselves on is the ability to defend the opposition without committing fouls. In fact, they surrender fewer free throw attempts than any other team in the NBA.
That is why it was, in the words of head coach Mike Budenholzer, “frustrating” that Phoenix got to the line 26 times in their 118 – 105 victory in the opener of this best-of-seven series. What’s more, the Suns, who have shot 86.2% from the line during the playoffs, made 25 of those 26 attempts. There just was no way to deny Devin Booker, who raised his own playoff free throw accuracy rate to 92% with a perfect 10-for-10.
One of the interesting storylines going into the first game was the status of Giannis Antetokounmpo, who had suffered a hyper-extended knee that kept him out of the last two games against the Atlanta Hawks.
Well, in the space of a few hours, he went from doubtful to questionable to being the starting lineup for Game 1, after what Budenholzer described as a very good workout. Giannis had 20 points and 17 rebounds, but he experienced some woes at the free throw line, where he took twelve of the Bucks’ 16 attempts. Honestly, the free throws were the real difference in this ball game. Milwaukee’s metrics weren’t really that bad.
In the NBA Finals betting odds that have been posted on this game by the folks at BetAnySports, the Suns are, of course, the favorites once again:
Phoenix Suns -5
Milwaukee Bucks +5
Over 219 points -110
Under 219 points -110
Center DeAndre Ayton figured to be prominent in this series, because he had rarely missed when shooting. In fact, his effective field-goal percentage of 70.6% coming into the series was third best in the playoffs. However, he was going to face something of a challenge in Brook Lopez, his Milwaukee counterpart who had held opponents to 51.2% shooting at the rim.
Well, all Ayton did the score 22 points with 19 rebounds, and, for a player the only went to the line seven times in the previous series, he hit all six of his attempts from the charity stripe. Again, another case where the free throws made a big difference.
So, what do the Bucks have to do to turn things around on Thursday night? Honestly, if they can even out that free-throw situation, they wouldn’t be in bad shape. Throughout the playoffs, Milwaukee has led all teams in rebounding percentage (53.1%), which held up pretty good in Game 1, as well as shooting percentage and point differential in the paint. The highest scoring team in the league during the regular season (120.1 ppg), the Bucks we’re allowing just 105 points per 100 possessions in postseason play, which was best among the 16 playoff participants.
Inasmuch as Giannis was not likely to be 100% – a key factor – considering he had 80 points in the two regular season meetings – Khris Middleton did pretty well to fill some of the vacuum, scoring 29 points. And the Bucks did a very good job keeping Phoenix from taking any kind of control from beyond the arc; Booker, for example, made just one of eight triples, while Jae Crowder missed all five of his attempts from long range.
But Booker does not earn his money shooting from downtown. Between Chris Paul and himself, they have been third and fourth highest scoring averages from mid-range in the postseason. Milwaukee allowed its opposition to throw up more three-pointers than any other team but one during the regular season. So if you don’t have to make your living shooting long-range jumpers, you can neutralize one of their stratagems.
Giannis will need some support out there So the Bucks need Middleton to continue scoring, Lopez to be active, and point guard Jrue Holiday to take either Paul (32 points on Tuesday) or Booker off their game. But we think they can make the necessary adjustments, and should get more of a break from the officials, so we will be grabbing the points.
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