By Anthony Clark Jr.
Without any shortage of injuries, intensity, and resilient comebacks, the 2020-21 NBA Finals will consist of the West No. 2 seed Phoenix Suns and East No. 3 seed Milwaukee Bucks in a seven-game series.
The final two teams of the original 16 have found themselves with a chance to hoist the Larry O’Brien Trophy. On one side, for the first time since 1971, and on the other, for the first time in franchise history.
Since their last appearance in the NBA Finals (1992-93 season), the Phoenix Suns have endured heartbreak and disappointment. Whether it’d be coming up short in the Western Conference Finals, being dismantled in the first round in multiple postseasons, or finishing as the ninth seed or above in the conference for 10 consecutive seasons (2010-2020), the organization would likely not have maintained their relevance without the versatility of their star-studded guard, Devin Booker. However, with the signing of future Hall of Famer Chris Paul in the previous offseason, the intense basketball IQ, athleticism and passion of Paul, better known as the “CP3 effect,” hope was revived in “The Valley.”
Complimented by Mikal Bridges, Deandre Ayton, Jae Crowder and company, the Suns finished second in the conference (51-21) for the first time since the 2006-07 season – just two games shy of first place overall. The Suns stormed their way past the favored Los Angeles Lakers in the first round (4-2), sweeping the Denver Nuggets (4-0) and the 2020-21 NBA Most Valuable Player, Nikola Jokic, and crowned themselves as conference champions in a 4-2 series win against the Los Angeles Clippers. With only four more wins needed to bring home the franchise’s first ever trophy, the team stormed their way through the postseason and into the finals with only four losses under their belt (12-4).
When Milwaukee Bucks franchise player Giannis Antetokounmpo suffered a game-ending knee injury in game four of the conference finals, the question of who would be Eastern Conference champions became more of a debate than ever. However, the Bucks heard, acknowledged, and diminished any doubt of their ability of being title contenders with their first conference championship since the 1973-74 season.
Dismissed by many as “not having enough” to make it out of the Eastern Conference prior to the postseason commencing, the Bucks swept the Miami Heat (4-0), clinched a nail-biting series by literally half a foot against the favored Brooklyn Nets (4-3), and secured their ticket to the NBA Finals after an Eastern Conference Finals victory against the Hawks (4-2). With this win, the Bucks erased their third-place record of the longest active drought of being in the championship (46 years).
One would be remiss without noting the amount of injuries that occured during both the regular season and postseason thus far. Focusing solely on the postseason, there was a fair number of teams who had their star player(s) absent due to injury:
- Atlanta Hawks: Trae Young (bruised bone), De’Andre Hunter (torn meniscus)
- Boston Celtics: Jaylen Brown (torn wrist ligament), Kemba Walker (back, knee)
- Brooklyn Nets: Kyrie Irving (sprained ankle), James Harden (strained hamstring)
- Denver Nuggets: Jamal Murray (torn ACL)
- Los Angeles Clippers: Kawhi Leonard (undisclosed knee injury)
- Los Angeles Lakers: Anthony Davis (hyperextended knee, strained groin)
- Philadelphia 76ers: Joel Embiid (torn meniscus)
- Utah Jazz: Donovan Mitchell (ankle), Michael Conley Jr. (strained hamstring)
The NBA Finals will commence on Tuesday, July 6, at 9 p.m. in Phoenix. The full schedule for the finals, a recap of the first three rounds, and other information regarding the playoffs can be found here.