The Milwaukee Bucks are in the NBA Finals for the first time since 1974. The entire roster stepped up in Giannis Antetokounmpo’s absence over the last few games, showing the world their roster is deep with talent. They’re taking on a tough Phoenix Suns team that has looked like the best squad in the 2021 NBA Playoffs.
This will be a tough matchup, and the Bucks will need Giannis back in the lineup to win it all. Additionally, Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday will need to be on top of their game, as the Suns have a fantastic backcourt that is difficult to stop. However, the area the Bucks have to maintain is the paint, as that is where their strengths lie.
To do that, Milwaukee will need some stellar play from the rotational guys. Deandre Ayton is a force down low, so the Bucks have to be solid on both ends of the court. Milwaukee can’t rely on Giannis for now, as he may not participate in Game 1. In fact, no one knows exactly when he’ll return, so the Bucks need help in the paint if they hope to win the championship.
So, here is the Bucks’ X-factor for the 2021 NBA Finals.
Bucks X-factor: Brook Lopez
Brook Lopez stepped up when his team needed him the most in the series against the Atlanta Hawks. With uncertainty surrounding Giannis, the Bucks will want to rely on their starting center again. He proved to be a deciding factor, going for a playoff career-high 33 points to along with seven boards and four blocks in a Game 5 victory. Lopez has the ability to score inside and out while acting as a defensive anchor in the paint. After playing well against Capela, there is reason to believe he can continue that level of play against Ayton and the Suns.
Middleton and Holiday can handle themselves. Aside from the Bucks’ Big Three, the rest of the roster doesn’t provide much scoring. If Lopez can step up and be consistent throughout this series, he’ll give Milwaukee the boost needed to overcome the Suns. We haven’t seen Ayton struggle much this postseason, but Lopez has the experience and size to give him fits down low, and how the Bucks center defends will be something to watch against the backcourt duo of Chris Paul and Devin Booker as well.
The Bucks will benefit if Lopez comes out aggressive in Game 1. He’s a solid free-throw shooter, so a smart strategy to get him going would be to get him to the foul line. There’s a chance he can put Ayton into foul trouble early, taking away the Suns’ star center. If that happens, the Bucks essentially have the freedom to score in the paint without the worry of a dominant defensive presence. That would take Phoenix out of its comfort zone and force them to play a style the Bucks prefer.
This is a great strategy the Bucks could utilize with or without Giannis. Their scoring primarily stems from him, Middleton, and Holiday. So having a fourth consistent scorer might be enough to give them the edge in the NBA Finals. There is some pressure on Lopez’s shoulders to perform well, but it’s nothing the Bucks center can’t handle.