The 2021 NBA Finals
For years we have become accustomed to being serenaded with finals matchups between the likes of Stephen Curry, LeBron James, and Kevin Durant. This year we have witnessed a changing of the guard. At the beginning of the season, many had predicted that we would be looking at a Nets vs Lakers star-studded jaw-dropping matchup.
NBA Finals: The Torch Is Being Passed On
The torch is being passed on to a younger generation now. Have we seen the last of LeBron James, Kevin Durant, and Stephen Curry? Likely not. But younger hungrier players outdueled them this past year and for the first time in years, we will be crowning a new champion.
NBA Finals: Bucking the Trend and Transcending to Greatness
In the last eight years, the Milwaukee Bucks began transcending their team from a cellar-dweller to a championship contender. It all began when they selected Giannis Antetokounmpo with the 15th overall pick back in 2013. Giannis had all the potential in the world. Although at 6’11″ and a mere 242 lbs, he had his work cut out for him.
Ironically, the Bucks’ other major acquisition also came in 2013. Khris Middleton, who came over in a trade with the Detroit Pistons was not exactly a highly-touted prospect after being taken 39th overall in the 2012 draft. Little did the Bucks know, they had a diamond in the rough.
The final piece to the puzzle came last offseason when the Bucks were able to deal away veteran Eric Bledsoe to the Pelicans in exchange for veteran guard Jrue Holiday. Holiday turned out to be the perfect addition to the Bucks’ thriving backcourt. Adding another strong perimeter boded well for them.
NBA Finals: The Road to Greatness: Fear the Deer
The road to greatness is never easy. After being drafted by the Bucks, the automatic perception was that if Giannis grew to become the star he was perceived to be, he would leave town for a ring. Otherwise, he would end up just another star player who never got to the big dance. Giannis stayed committed to the Bucks. He signed a four-year, $100 million extension in 2017 showing loyalty to the team that drafted him.
With the emphasis on superstars teaming up this day in age this came as a shock. Most sportswriters were convinced he would be on his way to Miami to smoke championship cigars with Pat Riley. Not the case in the scenario, Giannis stayed loyal and proved to be a rarity in today’s NBA.
NBA Finals: The Phoenix Suns Are Fired Up
The Phoenix Suns are the new juggernauts of the West and boy are they fired up. The Suns were automatically eliminated from contention by almost every NBA bracket, sports analyst, and fan once it was determined they would be facing the Lakers in the Play-In Tournament. LeBron James would put on his playoff cape and save the day again most thought. Not this time, not this year, and perhaps never again? Only time will tell.
The Phoenix Suns’ story does not begin long after the Bucks did. In 2015, the Suns drafted Devin Booker with the 13th overall pick which set them on the path to evolve into contenders. Booker faced similar criticism much like Giannis that he should just leave town if he ever plans to win a title.
Booker did not leave and because of his patience, the Suns built a contender around him. In 2018 the Suns added Deandre Ayton with the first overall pick. Ayton has transformed his games this year in the playoffs. He has brought incredible energy and desire on the boards and makes me reminisce about centers from the 1990s.
The final component came this past offseason when the Suns acquired Chris Paul from the Thunder. Paul, known for his creativity as a point guard brought everything together for this young Suns squad and changed the entire outlook. Ayton credits his transformation to Chris Paul.
These two teams have put together one of the best matchups I have watched in years. The Nielsen ratings for this year are up from the pandemic laden “bubble” NBA Finals. An integral part of this matchup to me has been the intangibles. The stars for the most part have produced as expected. We have seen some incredible games from both Giannis and Booker. Chris Paul has been up and down this entire series, he has looked very turnover-prone, and one must wonder if fatigue has set in for the 36-year-old star.
The biggest intangibles in this series to me have been unsung heroes Bobby Portis and Pat Connaughton. Portis and Connaughton are the reason the Bucks came back from a two-to-nothing deficit. Portis reminds me of a Charles Oakley type of player who will get down and grind it out no matter what. He is also remarkably versatile and shoots the three with proficiency.
Connaughton brings the clutch factor and forces teams to play honest defense against the likes of Holiday, Middleton, and Antetokounmpo. The way Connaughton has shot the ball these last couple of games has been crucial to the Bucks’ success.
Whether this series ends tomorrow night or ends up going to seven games, the true champion of this series will be the fans of basketball. This year gives all the smaller market teams hope that they can draft a star, build around them and win it all. This NBA Finals was the first time in ages we had a champion decided by two teams composed of players who never won a title before. Congratulations to the fans of the game, you are truly witnessing the passing of the torch to a new generation of contenders.
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