Betting preview for Game 2 of the NBA Finals


The Game 1 NBA Finals moment everyone will remember is Giannis Antetokounmpo’s chase-down block of Mikal Bridges near the end of the first half. It was an explosive, athletic play that showed Antetokounmpo’s comfort on a knee that was hyperextended just a week prior. However, the moment that sticks out to me is a simple one in the first quarter.

With 1:32 left to go in the first quarter, Antetokounmpo is fed the ball in the high post with DeAndre Ayton on him. The two-time MVP pivots to face Ayton and takes a couple dribbles to slowly work his way toward the low post. In a flash he puts the ball on the ground and attacks the hoop from the baseline side, with Ayton guarding him on his right shoulder. Ayton and Antetokounmpo make contact in the restricted area and with one bump of the shoulder Ayton finds himself pushed back foot away and the Greek Freak uses the space to throw it down for what would be one of his six field goals that night.

Antetokounmpo driving and finishing on someone is not incredibly shocking news, as it happens all the time, but in this moment matters because this is a matchup that Milwaukee has an opportunity to exploit in the Finals. However, as the game went on it was apparent that was not going to happen. The Bucks finished the game just 13-of-21 at the rim -- an extremely low shooting percentage for any team, but especially for a team with Antetokounmpo on the floor. In two regular season games against Phoenix, Milwaukee attempted 63 shots within four feet of the basket and shot 74.6% from that area of the floor. The path to a victory in this series goes through the restricted area for the Bucks, and course correction tonight means a more aggressive Antetokounmpo from that area of the floor.

Having said that, the Bucks have some real questions to answer on the defensive end of the floor. The Suns dropped 1.187 points per possession in Game 1 and Chris Paul absolutely cooked every defense Mike Budenholzer threw out there. The odds-on favorite to win Finals MVP went off for 32 points on 12-of-19 shooting from the floor and had nine assists. When the Bucks switched everything, he hunted mismatches, finding Ayton on Jrue Holiday in the low post, or Mikal Bridges in the corner for open 3-point attempts. When the Bucks went to their usual drop coverage in the third quarter, Paul went to work, hitting 6-of-7 attempts for 15 points with a technical free throw and an assist mixed in. 

The series is obviously not over yet, but Milwaukee will need to make some real adjustments as we head into Thursday night.

Milwaukee Bucks at Phoenix Suns (-5.5, 224.5)

Any analysis of Game 2 begins and ends with the number. Phoenix opened up laying six points in Game 1 of the series due to the unknown status of Giannis. Once it was announced he would start, the market reacted accordingly and closed Suns -4.5 on Tuesday night. Phoenix would go on to win Game 1 by 13 points and then opened yet again as 5.5-point favorites for Thursday night.

To me, and many NBA handicappers, the line of Suns -5.5 is one that indicates Giannis is not playing, yet we know he is. The market has since adjusted to that fact, and as of Thursday morning we see the Suns as low as -4.5 at Circa Sports. One would likely argue that Phoenix winning by double-digits is an indication that it should be favored by as much as it was in Game 1, but that ignores many factors that could lead to a better showing from Milwaukee today.

The Bucks were held to just 1.05 points per possession on Tuesday in large part because of their struggles within four feet of the basket. Antetokounmpo showed some hesitancy in his game in the second half of Game 1 by taking just five attempts (one of which was in the restricted area). It led to Milwaukee shooting just 61.5% at the rim, something which should correct itself in this game. A more aggressive Giannis should lead to more opportunities against a Phoenix team that has allowed the second-most attempts at the rim in the postseason and finished 24th in rim defense in the regular season.

Should the Bucks correct those issues, there were quite a few things to like about their showing in Game 1. They began 18% of their possessions with a transition play and averaged 1.5 points per play in the fastbreak, something that is replicable against the 30th-ranked transition defense in the regular season. Milwaukee also shot the ball very well, hitting 16-of-36 3-point attempts. The rate of 44.4% is high and not expected to be repeated, but this is the sixth-best shooting team in the league and Phoenix was allowing 18.0% of opponent 3-point attempts in the postseason to be classified as wide-open. It is not a stretch to expect the Bucks to shoot the ball well tonight, and in this series going forward.

As I mentioned in the series preview, both of these teams can do things on offense that will bother the opposing defense. We saw that from Phoenix in Game 1 and there is no reason to believe we see a different offensive performance from the Suns. Paul thrives when getting bigs switched on him or when opponents give him the mid-range area of the floor, and there is not much the Bucks can do on defense to get away from those problems. In fact, there is an argument to be made that the offense for the Suns can improve from what it did on Tuesday night. The best mid-range shooting team in the league shot just 42.4% on mid-range shots, and its shooters hit just 33.3% of their attempts (not counting heaves) at the end of quarters. If those two things correct themselves, we again could find ourselves watching a shoot-out similar to the regular season series between these two clubs.

Taking in all of these factors led me to taking 5.5 points with Milwaukee on Wednesday. The Bucks have many things they can correct on offense, which puts them right back into this series. I am still looking to bet these games over the total as well and my buy price will be 219.5 or better. These offenses still do things that the other has trouble defending, and it would not surprise me at all to see a competitive game similar to the two regular-season contests, which averaged 250 total points scored.

Player Props

Mikal Bridges OV 1.5 3-Pointers (-130)

There has been a small 5-cent adjustment on the price by Circa, but that is still in my range. Bridges hit the Game 1 over on 1.5 3s with a 2-of-4 performance and I expect him to do the same again tonight -- and throughout the series. Bridges also had a few attempts taken away from him on Tuesday as well. In the first half he was open in the corner but a desperate dive by Khris Middleton disrupted the pass and forced Bridges to drive the baseline, and another was taken away by an offensive foul called on Devin Booker. Bridges is a great shooter will get the attempts in this series. This prop continues to be a play for me as the series moves along until the market adjusts.

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