PHOENIX – Two long-frustrated franchises, the Phoenix Suns and the Milwaukee Bucks, will meet in the NBA Finals starting Tuesday and one of them will end an epic title drought.
The Bucks captured their only title half a century ago, while the Suns have never claimed the crown since the club began playing in 1968.
With star guard Chris Paul reaching the best-of-seven championship series for the first time in his 16-season career, the Suns have reached the NBA Finals for the first time since 1993.
A Suns team led by Charles Barkley lost to Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls 28 years ago and the Suns also lost the 1976 NBA Finals to the Boston Celtics.
Many thought Paul, an 11-time NBA All-Star and a two-time Olympic champion, was too far from his prime at age 36 to spark a title run.
Instead, the veteran leader averaged 16.4 points, 8.9 assists, 4.5 rebounds and 1.4 steals per game for the Suns after coming in in a trade from Oklahoma City last November.
“I’ve wanted to be a part of this my entire career,” said Paul, who writes “I can’t give up now” on his shoes before every game.
The Bucks hadn’t reached the NBA Finals since 1974 and won their only title in 1971, when legendary center Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, still known then as Lew Alcindor, caused a sweep over the Baltimore Bullets.
Greek superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo, the Bucks’ new dominant big man, has reached the NBA Finals after receiving NBA Most Valuable Player honors the previous two seasons only to suffer a disappointment in the playoffs.
However, whether or not the 26-year-old will be able to play is another question. Antetokounmpo missed the final two games of the Eastern Conference final after hyperextending his left knee in Game 4 against Atlanta.
The Bucks posted a league-best 60-22 in the 2018-19 campaign and won a playoff series for the first time since 2001. They reached the Eastern Conference finals and took a 2-0 lead only to lose the next four games and fall. to eventual NBA champion Toronto.
The following season, Antetokounmpo led the Bucks to a 56-17 mark, the best in the league, but suffered a right ankle injury and missed most of the last two games as the Bucks lost to Miami. in five games in the second round.
While they did not produce the best record in the league this season, the Bucks reached the final despite Antetokounmpo’s injury.
“Certainly every time you lose you have to be honest with yourself,” Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said.
“When this group has not been able to advance, it has hurt, it has been difficult and the offseason the guys have tried hard, but there is still more to do.”
‘Like a storybook’
The Bucks and Suns outlasted the teams with the most victories to reach the finals, but only a fairytale race will have a happy ending.
“This is like a storybook, going to a place I’ve never been,” said Sun star Devin Booker. “It has taken a long time to get to this moment. This is fine here, but we still have work to do. “
Suns coach Monty Williams, who says he likes Booker’s “fearlessness” and killer instinct, is enjoying watching Paul and others revel in the moment.
“I enjoy watching our players enjoy this moment,” Williams said. “I know how much (Paul) wants to win.”
Booker is averaging 27.0 points, 6.4 rebounds and 4.8 assists in playoff competition, while Paul is contributing 18.1 points, 8.7 assists and 3.9 rebounds per game in the postseason to make the Suns shine.
Bahamas big man Deandre Ayton has 16.2 points and 11.8 rebounds per game.
The Suns will enjoy five days off before the opening of the NBA Finals, while the Bucks will only have two.
“We’ve had long, long breaks between each round and I’m a little excited to try without one,” said Budenholzer. “Maybe we can be the team that is in rhythm. It’s a quick turn, but we’ll be ready. “
Antetokounmpo has averaged 28.2 points, 12.7 rebounds and 5.2 assists per game but has had great support from Khris Middleton – with 23.4 points, 8.0 rebounds, 5.1 assists and 1.5 steals per game. game – and Jrue Holiday with 17.6 points, 8.4 assists and 5.6 rebounds to play.
“Getting to the final is incredible,” Holiday said. “It’s a feeling I’ve never felt before.”
“Everybody is ready. They all play together. Everybody stays locked up, ”Middleton said. “That’s all you can ask for.”
Phoenix won both games of the regular season against Milwaukee, but only by one point each time.
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