If one stat defines the first two games of the 2021 NBA Finals, it is this:
In the 75 minutes with Giannis Antetokounmpo on the court, the Bucks are +4.
In the 21 minutes without Antetokounmpo on the court, the Bucks are -27.
There are other stats that tell a story, other adjustments Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer can make to help bring his team back, but considering Antetokounmpo’s knee he is going to rest eight-to-10 minutes a game, those minutes have told the story of the series the Suns lead 2-0.
It’s also a stunning turn for Milwaukee, which closed out Atlanta in the Eastern Conference Finals while Antetokounmpo sat the last two games because of his knee.
Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday dominated those two games against the Hawks — they combined for 110 points across the two games — and they have been on the court for the majority of non-Antetokounmpo minutes in the Finals. It hasn’t been the same this time around. The Bucks score less than a point per possession when Antetokounmpo sits (95.2 offensive rating) and shoot under 40% as a team. Middleton has been up and down; Holiday is in a Finals shooting slump.
The bigger problem may be on the other end of the court. No Antetokounmpo also has meant minutes for Bryn Forbes and Jeff Teague, and the Suns’ offense has thrived when either of them is on the court. Phoenix’s shooting in those minutes may not be sustainable. The Suns’ offense has been on fire when Chris Paul and Devin Booker are given a weak link to target, and Budenholzer has leaned on those guards for limited minutes each game.
The Finals are more reminiscent of the Brooklyn series, when Budenholzer essentially went six deep at the end because he couldn’t trust anyone else. He may have to do that here, and with longer breaks between games in the Finals it is easier.
But mostly, it comes down to Middleton and Holiday. If they can’t even out the minutes Antetokounmpo sits, this will be a short series.