Both teams have held serve at home in these NBA Finals, which turns Saturday night’s Game 5 into a swing game as the Bucks look to break through on the road in Phoenix after winning big games in Miami, Brooklyn and Atlanta deep in the Eastern Conference playoffs in order to advance.
After surrendering 17 offensive rebounds and committing 17 turnovers to fumble away an opportunity to take a commanding 3-1 lead, the Suns will look to get back on track after squandering a 2-0 series lead.
When the NBA Finals began, Giannis Antetokounmpo’s status for the entire series was in doubt due to a hyperextended knee that looked like it would be more of a lingering injury than it has proven to be. As a result, the Suns were a heavy favorite to win the championship. The odds were nearly 2-to-1.
Defeating Milwaukee in consecutive games to open the Finals only made the Phoenix Suns a heavier favorite and had point guard Chris Paul in the driver’s seat to be series MVP. Then the games on Sunday and Wednesday occurred and Antetokounmpo got significantly more help from teammates Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday.
Bucks head coach Mike Budenholzer is still maxing out his rotation at eight players when Jeff Teague sees the floor and is still playing Brook Lopez heavy minutes over Bobby Portis while riding with Pat Connaughton as a stretch-the-floor type with Antetokounmpo playing minutes at the five when the Bucks go small.
The Suns have lost Dario Saric in this series, which has led to Frank Kaminsky seeing more time in the middle than anyone would’ve anticipated. As a result, when Deandre Ayton lands in foul trouble, Phoenix is more compromised than expected.
Paul Looks to Snap Slump in Game 5
Full disclosure, I’ve got Chris Paul as NBA Finals MVP and the Suns to win Game 1 and the series, so I’m sticking with the Suns as my series play and had them winning in six games when the series began. Of course, that prediction was made with Antetokounmpo’s status in doubt, which bolsters the likelihood that this series goes the distance.
The winner of Game 5 has historically flourished in a 2-2 series, going on to win the title 72 percent of the time.
Paul has struggled with turnovers, turning it over 15 times over the last three contests. He had five miscues in Game 4, finishing with just 10 points and seven assists while struggling down the stretch. Holiday’s defense has obviously bothered him, but playing in his first NBA Finals in his 16-year career mandates that he’ll get it together to take advantage of this opportunity.
Ayton has been bothered by foul trouble, Mikal Bridges struggled on the road after flourishing in Game 2 and Devin Booker hasn’t looked like himself since L.A. Clippers guard Patrick Beverley broke his nose in the Western Conference finals. Booker is no longer sporting a cumbersome mask but hasn’t been his usual explosive self. Considering that he’s otherwise healthy, that’s something that can help.
Antetokounmpo has been excellent since the start of the series, scoring over 40 points in consecutive games last week while finishing with 26 points, 14 rebounds and eight assists in Game 4. Middleton, who has been an x-factor in that he’s struggled in losses and shined with a 40-point effort on Wednesday, must find a way to get the job done on the road.
As for the sporting betting odds, Phoenix is back as a 4-point favorite inside the Footprint Center, as the Suns have picked up a naming rights sponsor halfway through the NBA Finals. They rolled in covering the number in Games 1 and 2 but were a 4-point underdog inside Milwaukee’s Fiserv Forum over the past two games.
Sportsbooks like BetMGM has the total for Saturday night’s Game 5 is set at 218, which would make it the lowest number of the series after reaching 220 or more in the first three games prior to Wednesday’s 109-103 result. Will Milwaukee fare better in Phoenix? Can Middleton dominate the way he was able to in front of the Bucks faithful? Will Paul rebound from some truly sloppy, disappointing games?
The swing game in these NBA Finals is going to deliver one of these teams to the brink of a title. My recommendation is on a player prop backing a Paul resurgence. He took over in the Clippers series and figures to try and do the same here in a pivotal contest. Paul connecting on over 2.5 3-pointers pays an excellent +158 at FanDuel at the time of this writing. The number set on his combined points and assists for Game 5 is a very attainable 30.5 with the juice only at -106. As the head of the snake, Paul is likely to snap out of his funk on Saturday night to help his young team maximize its chances of winning.
Holiday is one of the league’s toughest defenders, but Paul has thrived enough throughout his time on the big stage to trust that he’ll go down swinging in what will wind up being one of the most important games of his storied career.