Bucks or Suns? Our writers share their picks

<span>Photograph: Christian Petersen/Getty Images</span>

Photograph: Christian Petersen/Getty Images

What the Suns need to do to win

Limit the Bucks’ second and third options. Giannis Antetokounmpo, who remains day-to-​day with left knee injury, will find a way to hit baskets when he gets on the floor. It might be in transition. It might be in the half-court. But over the course of the series, he will have one or two Giannis Games. Limiting Khris Middleton, Jrue Holiday and Antetokounmpo’s supporting cast will be the key. As the Suns’ rim-protector, much of the defensive responsibilities will fall on Deandre Ayton. The former No 1 overall draft pick has undergone a metamorphosis during this year’s playoffs, and he will need to bring every bit of his defensive savvy to bottle up the Bucks. Oliver Connolly

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Keep doing what they’ve been doing. Offensively and defensively, the Suns have been one of the best teams in the postseason. If they continue to outscore their opponents while continuing to give up the least amount of points of any team in the playoffs, it will be too much for the Bucks to overcome. Tyrell Feaster

This will be easy for the Suns if they can keep rotating lead scorers: in the first game of the Western Conference finals against the Clippers, Devin Booker went off for 40 points with Chris Paul out. In their Game 2 win, Cameron Payne (!) went for 29, and then Paul returned, eventually dropping 41 in the Game 6 finale. Hunter Felt

The Suns’ assist-turnover ratio of 2.13 is second-best in the playoff field behind the long-gone Nuggets and practically in step with their league-high 2.15 rate during the regular season. The Bucks have forced 13.2 turnovers per game in the postseason, third-most in the tournament behind first-round doormats Miami and Memphis. Taking care of the ball against Milwaukee’s opportunistic defense as well as they’ve done all year is every bit as important as more obvious musts like keeping Devin Booker fed. Bryan Armen Graham

What the Bucks need to do to win

Run and run and run. Give Antetokounmpo credit, he has adapted his game from series to series throughout the playoffs, leaning more on his burgeoning post game while serving as a screener and rim-runner. But there are still growing pains, and Antetokounmpo in the half-court – while still a great player – is not the unstoppable force that can carry his team through the finals. It will be difficult, but to overcome the (slight) talent gap, the Bucks need to revert as close to their traditional freewheelin’, up-and-down style as possible. They need to run. OC

Limit the Suns’ backcourt. This may be easier said than done, but if the Bucks can stop Chris Paul (playoff averages: 18.1 points, 8.7 assists, 3.9 rebounds) and Devin Booker (27.0 points, 6.4 rebounds, 4.8 assists) from producing at their normal output, Phoenix will be in danger. TF

Get Antetokounmpo completely healthy somehow, first. If he can’t go or is less than 70%, the Bucks just might not have the firepower. He doesn’t even need to be Milwaukee’s best player; Khris Middleton could do that, but he would have to make an outsized impact. HF

TNT pundit Charles Barkley may have been on to something when he characterized Antetokounmpo’s knee injury as a blessing in disguise for Milwaukee. No one can credibly say the Bucks are better without the two-time NBA Most Valuable Player, but his absence has clearly opened the floor for the supporting cast of Jrue Holiday, Khris Middleton, Brook Lopez and Bobby Portis. To me, Holiday is the key. The veteran point guard averaged 22.0 points and 10.0 assists against the Hawks, shooting 46.4% from the floor and 37.0% from three-point range. Holiday’s maintaining his aggressive tack whether Giannis is on the floor or not will create opportunities for himself and his teammates while keeping 36-year-old Chris Paul’s hands full on both ends of the court. BAG

Your NBA finals MVP will be …

Chris Paul. NBA finals Most Valuable Player awards are as dependent on narrative as merit. Chris Paul has the best story of any player in the finals, and he just so happens to be the player that makes the Suns’ machine tick. It’s his time. OC

Mask on or mask off, it’s Devin Booker. One of only six players in NBA history to score 70 points in a single game, Booker has carried the Suns’ offense through the regular season, the postseason, and all signs point to him continuing to do so in this series. Booker will have to be on his A-game defensively in order to stop Khris Middleton and that will only help his MVP bid. TF

It feels like this is Chris Paul’s award to lose. The voters are dying for a chance to give him his flowers after a career’s worth of playoff futility (an occupational hazard of getting stuck on the Clippers during your peak years). Should the Bucks pull off the upset, however, it will be because Middleton absolutely goes off. If it makes Sheryl Crow happy, how bad an outcome could it be? HF

Related: Chris Paul: after 16 NBA seasons of bad luck has Point God’s time finally come?

Let’s take a flyer on Jrue Holiday. This traditionally narrative-driven plaudit is a fait accompli for Antetokounmpo if he returns for a meaningful chunk of the series and the Bucks prevail. But the recently unleashed Holiday could well become Milwaukee’s most important player on both sides of the ball the longer their leading man is sidelined. BAG

Unheralded player to watch

Mikal Bridges. Bridges is the kind of prototypical team-first, do-everything, three-and-D player that helps elevates a contender into a champion. He doesn’t fill the stat sheet, but he is a relentless defender and enough of an outside shooter to give Chris Paul and Devin Booker the space they need to operate on offense. OC

Jae Crowder on defense. While his teammates get all the attention for their offensive prowess, Crowder will have the tough task of defending Giannis Antetokounmpo. Limiting the Greek Freak will go a long way to determining this series, regardless of if he is slowed down by his hyperextended left knee. TF

It seems inevitable that we will have a Jae Crowder Game. Every so often, the Suns forward will go on stretches where his string of absurd three-pointers stop bouncing off the rim and start falling in every single time. When that happens, opposing defenses basically run out of workable tactics. HF

Mikal Bridges, the 6ft 6in swingman who is Phoenix’s fourth scoring option after Booker, Paul and Ayton, was something of a barometer for the Western Conference champions during the regular season: making 48.8% of his three-point attempts in the Suns’ wins and 30.6% in their losses. No stranger to high-pressure moments after winning a pair of NCAA titles with Villanova in 2016 and 2018, Bridges will be called upon to keep Milwaukee’s defense honest in the finals and create space where Paul and Booker can thrive. Even during a somewhat quiet postseason so far, Bridges’ 14 corner threes are second in the playoffs only to team-mate Cameron Johnson (15). BAG

One bold prediction

Every player makes it through the series without injury. Given the spate of injuries throughout the playoffs, the Basketball Gods owe the viewing public a healthy series. The CP3-v-Giannis-for-their-first-title storyline is too tantalizing. OC

Someone will thank Kobe after they win. At some point over the last year or so every NBA star has had some story about Kobe Bryant inspired them and there is no doubt someone will share one of these stories in the aftermath of the clincher. And that’s not a prediction; it’s a spoiler. TF

No more injuries. OK, this might be more of a prayer than a prediction. I think it was after Game 4 of the Eastern Conference finals where it became a cruel joke: the Hawks came in missing Trae Young and then, during the course of the game, the Bucks lost Antetokounmpo to that hyperextended knee. We simply must beseech the Basketball Gods to lay off for the extent of these finals. HF

Well, a Twitter user named Jarrett Plahmer is the clubhouse leader in this category, but I’ll play anyway: Holiday wins NBA finals MVP after spiriting the Bucks until Giannis can return. BAG

Who deserves a title more: Chris Paul or Giannis Antetokounmpo?

Chris Paul. Deserves is a loaded word, but after a lifetime of being a maybe-nearly-almost player, if anyone deserves a NBA finals appearance, it’s Chris Paul, the Point God. The only thing lacking from Paul’s Greatest Point Guard of his Generation résumé is a title. In the present-day culture where ringz are all that seem to matter, winning a title will formalize a historic greatness that needs no validation. Giannis will have plenty more shots to win a title; this is it for Paul. OC

Chris Paul and it’s not even close. Paul has long been viewed as one basketball’s greatest point guards and an NBA title remains the only thing missing from his Hall of Fame résumé. Paul’s influence both on and off the court has taken a young Phoenix team that went off as 40-1 underdogs in the preseason to the oddsmakers’ favorites in the NBA finals. A championship ring would be the perfect way to cement his legacy. TF

I mean, obviously, this is Paul’s category. He’s a Hall of Famer, one of the greatest point guards of all time and he’s never even been to the NBA finals until this year. He’s 36 years old, on his fifth team, and it’s a fair bet that he will never get a better shot at a championship. Antetokounmpo will get another chance, it feels like. HF

I’m more from the Will Munny than Little Bill school when it comes to deserves. Paul is the sentimental favorite on circumstance, but Antetokounmpo’s preposterous stat-sheet stuffing over the past half-decade is a body of work no less worthy of a ring. Interestingly, the Greek Freak is one of only two players in history to have earned back-to-back MVP awards without having won an NBA title … along with longtime Suns talisman Steve Nash. BAG

The winner will be …

Phoenix in six. Typically, finals matchups are dictated by whichever team can get buckets late in the shot clock: cheap buckets, dirty buckets, tough buckets. As the level cranks up in the playoffs, the ability to play within a set, free-flowing offense rolls out the window. Things get stodgy. Winning comes down to whichever team has the most shot-makers who can hit shots off-the-dribble, in isolation. The Suns have more reliable shot-makers from three to 16 feet out than the Bucks. For Milwaukee to win, it’s going to take an extraordinary defensive effort. OC

Phoenix in six. The Suns’ storybook season will get its happy ending and Phoenix will win their first NBA title. Paul’s leadership and ability to elevate the already talented Booker and Ayton will create too many problems for Milwaukee to stop. Giannis and co will pull off two games, but Phoenix will win a close hard-fought series on the road in Game 6. TF

Phoenix in five. Even without Antetokounmpo, the Bucks are good enough to steal a win away from the Suns. But even if he returns, it doesn’t strike me as realistic to hope that he’ll be in the MVP form the Bucks would require to make this a serious contest. The third time will prove the charm for the Suns, after their 1976 and 1993 heartbreaks, as they finally lift the trophy in their 53rd season. HF

Milwaukee in six. Yes, it was against a middleweight Hawks team only in the East finals because of Philadelphia’s stunning collapse in the semis, but you can’t help but marvel at how the Bucks circled the wagons after Antetokounmpo went down. The Holiday-Middleton-Lopez triumvirate was never better than in Milwaukee’s two closeout games, including a combined 72 points, 19 rebounds, 16 assists, seven steals and five blocks in the Game 6 clincher. All Things Must Pass was top of the US charts last time Milwaukee won the NBA championship in 1971; if the title track can also apply to the fourth-quarter fizzles that have routinely undone the Bucks as favorites in the past two postseasons, a long-awaited second title is theirs for the taking. BAG