|Dates:||July 6–20, 2021|
|Eastern Finals:||Bucks defeated Hawks, 4-2|
|Western Finals:||Suns defeated Clippers, 4–2|
The Eastern Conference champion Milwaukee Bucks defeated the Western Conference champion Phoenix Suns in six games to win their first championship in 50 years. Giannis Antetokounmpo was named the NBA Finals MVP, being the first Greek player, third European player, and fourth international player (after Hakeem Olajuwon in 1994 and 1995, Tony Parker in 2007, and Dirk Nowitzki in 2011) to win the MVP award.
This was the first NBA Finals since 2012, and only the second since 1998, to not feature a Western Conference team from either the states of California or Texas. However, it was the seventh straight NBA Finals to feature that season's winner of the Pacific Division. Milwaukee was the first team since the Miami Heat in 2006 to win the series after coming down 2-0. This Finals was the first since 2014 to not include Andre Iguodala, who played in the past six finals with the Golden State Warriors and Miami Heat. It was also the first Finals since 1990 not to feature either the Houston Rockets, Chicago Bulls, Cleveland Cavaliers, Golden State Warriors, Los Angeles Lakers, Miami Heat, or San Antonio Spurs as well as the first Finals since 2018 that neither the two top-seed NBA teams from two different conferences appear and face each other.
This NBA Finals featured an unprecedented and historical matchup as both Phoenix and Milwaukee are two of the NBA's smallest markets, and both teams seeked to end long championship droughts that when combined at the time, tallied up to 103 seasons without a championship, the most ever for any Finals matchup between two teams with long title droughts. Milwaukee and Phoenix were two of five teams in the league with an active championship drought of 50 years or more. Prior to 2021, the Bucks won their first title in 1971, while the Suns have yet to win a title since joining the league in 1968. Both teams were both making their third Finals appearance. By coincidence, the Bucks and Suns were the two expansion teams which began NBA play in the 1968–69 season. Both teams were involved in a coin toss for the right to select first in the 1969 NBA Draft, which the Bucks won and used to select Lew Alcindor from UCLA. Alcindor, later known as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, won three NBA Most Valuable Player Awards in his first five seasons and led the Bucks to their only two NBA Finals appearances to date, in 1971 and 1974.
Impact by COVID-19
The COVID-19 pandemic impacted the NBA for the second straight year. The regular season was reduced to 72 games for each team, and was held from December 22, 2020 to May 16, 2021. As a result of this condensed schedule, many key players on championships suffered injuries and were not available for parts of the playoffs. These players include Kyrie Irving, James Harden, and Anthony Davis.
The playoffs started on May 22. then held. In the first round, the Los Angeles Lakers, the defending champions, were eliminated in six games by the Phoenix Suns; and the 2020 NBA Finals runner-up Miami Heat were swept by the Milwaukee Bucks.
The Suns had struggled during much of the 2010s last making the playoffs during the 2009–10 season. The Suns had just a .302 winning percentage in the previous five seasons entering the 2020–21 Season, which is the worst winning percentage in the previous five years for any team making the championship in any of the major professional American sports leagues. During the 2020 offseason, the Suns acquired All-Star Chris Paul from the Oklahoma City Thunder by trading away Kelly Oubre Jr. and a future first-round draft pick. The Suns, led by Paul, Devin Booker, and Deandre Ayton along with second year head coach Monty Williams, finished the season with a 51–21 record as the no. 2 seed achieving their first winning season since the 2013–14 season and making the playoffs for the first time since 2010. They also clinched the Pacific Division for the first time since the 2006–07 season.
The Suns began their playoff run by defeating the seventh-seeded and defending NBA champion Los Angeles Lakers in the opening round in six games. Then the Suns swept the third-seeded Denver Nuggets in the Conference Semifinals. The Suns then defeated the fourth-seeded Los Angeles Clippers in the Conference Finals in six games advancing to the NBA Finals for the first time since 1993.
The Milwaukee Bucks, led by Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton, and new addition Jrue Holiday, finished the season with a 46–26 record clinching the Eastern Conference 3rd seed. In the first round, the Bucks got their revenge against the sixth seeded Miami Heat, who they lost to in the last season in the Conference Semifinals, by defeating them in a four-game sweep. The Bucks then would go on to defeat the second seeded Brooklyn Nets in seven games. Then they would defeat the fifth seeded Atlanta Hawks in six games despite Antetokounmpo's injury in Game 4, to reach the NBA Finals for the first time since 1974.
2021 NBA Playoffs
|Phoenix Suns (Western Conference Champion)||Milwaukee Bucks (Eastern Conference Champion)|
1st Pacific, 2nd West, 2nd Overall
|Regular season||46-26 (.639)
1st Central, 3rd East, 3rd Overall
|Defeated the (7) Los Angeles Lakers, 4–2||First Round||Defeated the (6) Miami Heat, 4-0|
|Defeated the (3) Denver Nuggets, 4–0||Conference Semifinals||Defeated the (2) Brooklyn Nets, 4-3|
|Defeated the (4) Los Angeles Clippers, 4–2||Conference Finals||Defeated the (5) Atlanta Hawks, 4-2|
|Game||Date||Away Team||Result||Home Team|
|Game 1||Tuesday, July 6||Milwaukee||105–118 (0–1)||Phoenix|
|Game 2||Thursday, July 8||Milwaukee||108–118 (0–2)||Phoenix|
|Game 3||Sunday, July 11||Phoenix||100-120 (2-1)||Milwaukee|
|Game 4||Wednesday, July 14||Phoenix||103-109 (2-2)||Milwaukee|
|Game 5||Saturday, July 17||Milwaukee||123-119 (3-2)||Phoenix|
|Game 6||Tuesday, July 20||Phoenix||98-106 (2-4)||Milwaukee|
|Milwaukee Bucks 105, Phoenix Suns 118||Phoenix Suns Arena, Phoenix, AZ
Referees: Marc Davis, Josh Tiven, Pat Fraher
|Scoring by quarter: 26-30, 23-27, 27-35, 29-26|
|Pts: Khris Middleton 29
Rebs: Giannis Antetokounmpo 16
Asts: Jrue Holiday 9
|Pts: Chris Paul 32|
Rebs: Deandre Ayton 19
Asts: Chris Paul 8
|Phoenix leads series, 1-0|
Chris Paul scored 32 points and had nine assists and Devin Booker added 27 points to lead Phoenix to a 118–105 win over Milwaukee. After he opened the third quarter with a jump shot for the first double-digit lead of the game, Paul later scored eight straight points for the Suns and scored 16 overall in the quarter. Phoenix led 88–68 with 2:20 remaining in the quarter after Paul passed to Deandre Ayton, who was fouled and made two free throws. Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo returned and had 20 points and 17 rebounds after missing the last two games of the Eastern Conference finals with a hyperextended knee. His availability was not confirmed until almost an hour before tip-off, and he played without significant signs of limited mobility.
Milwaukee pulled to within seven points midway through the fourth quarter, but Paul passed to Booker for a three-point field goal and then stole the ball from the Bucks' Khris Middleton and hit a jumper to extend the lead to 106–94. Ayton finished the game with 22 points and 19 rebounds for Phoenix. Middleton scored 29 on 26 shots for the Bucks, but did not attempt a free throw. Teammate Jrue Holiday shot just 4 for 14. Milwaukee center Brook Lopez was targeted on switches by the Suns, and he was on the bench for most of the second half while Antetokounmpo played center.
The Suns set a Finals record by making their first 25 free throw attempts while finishing 25-of-26 at the free throw line for the game.
|Recap||Milwaukee Bucks 108, Phoenix Suns 118||Phoenix Suns Arena, Phoenix, AZ
Referees: Zach Zarba, Tony Brothers, Sean Wright
|Scoring by quarter: 29–26, 16–30, 33–32, 30–30|
|Pts: Giannis Antetokounmpo 42
Rebs: Giannis Antetokounmpo 12
Asts: Khris Middleton 8
|Pts: Devin Booker 31|
Rebs: Deandre Ayton 11
Asts: Chris Paul 8
|Phoenix leads series, 2–0|
Booker scored 31 points and Paul had 23 as the Suns won 118–108 to take a 2–0 series lead. Phoenix made 20 of its 40 three-pointers, including seven makes from Booker. Bridges added 27 points and seven rebounds for the Suns, and Paul also had eight assists. Antetokounmpo had 42 points and 12 rebounds for Milwaukee. Phoenix was up 65–50 towards the starts of the third period, but Antetokounmpo scored 20 points in the quarter, including a stretch of 13 consecutive points for the Bucks, to keep his team in the game.
The Bucks outscored the Suns 20–0 in the key in the opening period, but Phoenix made eight 3-pointers and trailed just 29–26. With less than five minutes remaining in the first half, the game was tied at 41 before Phoenix ended with a 15–4 run. On their last possession, the Suns made 10 passes, with every team member touching the ball, culminating in Bridges passing the ball to Ayton, who laid it in while being fouled. Phoenix weathered Antetokounmpo's 20-point quarter in the third, when he joined Michael Jordan, Isiah Thomas, and Joe Dumars as the other players to score at least 20 in a quarter during a finals game. Milwaukee cut the lead to six in the fourth quarter, but a 3-pointer by Paul and a basket by Bridges expanded the lead back to double figures, and Booker made three of his 3-point shots to fend off the Bucks.
Antetokounmpo had more than twice as many field goals as any other teammate, shooting 15 for 22 from the field, and 11 for 18 from the free-throw line. Holiday scored 17 for Milwaukee on just 7-for-21 shooting, and Middleton had 11 points, but was 5 for 16. Crowder bounced back from an 0-for-8 shooting performance in Game 1 with 11 points and 10 rebounds for Phoenix.
|Recap||Phoenix Suns 100, Milwaukee Bucks 120||Fiserv Forum, Milwaukee, WI
Referees: Scott Foster, Eric Lewis, James Williams
|Scoring by quarter: 28–25, 17–35, 31–38, 24–22|
|Pts: Chris Paul 19
Rebs: Deandre Ayton 8
Asts: Chris Paul 9
|Pts: Giannis Antetokounmpo 41|
Rebs: Giannis Antetokounmpo 13
Asts: Jrue Holiday 10
|Phoenix leads series, 2–1|
Antetokounmpo had 41 points, 13 rebounds and six assists, and Milwaukee won 120–100 at home to cut Phoenix's lead to 2–1. He received more support from his teammates in Game 3. Holiday scored 21 points and was 5 of 10 on 3-pointers, and Middleton scored 18. The Suns got 19 points and nine assists from Paul, but his fellow guard Booker was limited to 10 points on 3-of-14 shooting, as the Bucks sent multiple defenders at him. Crowder added 18 points on 6-of-7 attempts from three-point range, but Phoenix as a team made nine 3-pointers and was outscored 54–40 in the paint.
The Suns started the game strongly with Ayton scoring 12 points in the first quarter. However, he was limited by foul trouble the rest of the game. Milwaukee took control of the contest with a 30–9 run to end the first half and a 16–0 finish to the third quarter. The Suns pulled to within 74–70 in the third after outscoring the Bucks 14–5, but Milwaukee closed out the quarter with a 24–6 scoring run to lead 98–76. The Bucks were 14 of 36 from three-point range for the game after making just 5 of 18 in the first half. All 14 of Antetokounmpo's field goals were within 5 feet (1.5 m) of the basket.
Antetokounmpo became the second player to have consecutive Finals games with at least 40 points and 10 rebounds, joining Shaquille O'Neal in 2000. He also posted his 11th game in the playoffs with at least 30 points and 10 rebounds, passing Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's team mark set in 1974 for most in one postseason. Antetokounmpo was an improved 13 of 17 on his free throws, as Bucks fans chanted "M-V-P", compared to fans on the road mocking him with a sped-up timer count, as his deliberate free throw routine sometimes takes longer than the league's 10-second rule to shoot.
|Recap||Phoenix Suns 103, Milwaukee Bucks 109||Fiserv Forum, Milwaukee, WI
Referees: James Capers, David Guthrie, Courtney Kirkland
|Scoring by quarter: 23-20, 29-32, 30-24, 21-33|
|Pts: Devin Booker 42
Rebs: Deandre Ayton 17
Asts: Chris Paul 7
|Pts: Khris Middleton 40|
Rebs: Giannis Antetokounmpo 14
Asts: Giannis Antetokounmpo 8
|Series tied, 2-2|
Middleton scored 40 points, including 10 straight for Milwaukee in the closing moments, and the Bucks won 109–103 to tie the series 2–2. Booker rebounded from his Game 3 struggles to score a game-high 42 points, but his playing time was restricted late by foul trouble. The Suns were up two with 2+1⁄2 minutes remaining when Middleton scored the next eight points in the contest. He made consecutive midrange jump shots to place Milwaukee up for good at 101–99 with 1:28 in the game. Jumping off the left leg that he hyperextended two week earlier, Antetokounmpo blocked a potential game-tying alley-oop dunk by Ayton with 1:14 left. After a steal by Holiday, Middleton made a fast-break layup and with 27.2 seconds left for a four-point lead. He capped off his run with four free throws to bring the score to 107–101. Antetokounmpo scored 26 points along with 14 rebounds and eight assists.
Crowder scored 15 points for Phoenix, while Paul was held to 10 points on 5–13 shooting and committed five turnovers. Holiday scored 13 on just 4 for 20 shooting, but he added seven rebounds and seven assists, while his defense disrupted Paul. The Bucks also got 14 points from Lopez and 11 points and nine rebounds from Pat Connaughton. Middleton and Antetokounmpo became the third set of teammates to score 40 or more points in games in the same Finals series, joining Abdul-Jabbar and Magic Johnson with the Los Angeles Lakers and LeBron James and Kyrie Irving while with the Cleveland Cavaliers.
|Recap||Milwaukee Bucks 123, Phoenix Suns 119||Phoenix Suns Arena, Phoenix, AZ
Referees: Marc Davis, Josh Tiven, James Williams
|Scoring by quarter: 21-37, 43-24, 36-29, 23-29|
|Pts: Giannis Antetokounmpo 32
Rebs: Giannis Antetokounmpo 8
Asts: Jrue Holiday 13
|Pts: Devin Booker 40|
Rebs: Deandre Ayton 10
Asts: Chris Paul 10
|Milwaukee leads series, 3–2|
With Milwaukee leading by one with about 16 seconds remaining in the game, Holiday stole the ball from Phoenix's Booker and passed to Antetokounmpo for an alley-oop to secure the game in a 123–119 Bucks' win. Milwaukee recovered from an early 16-point deficit to outscore Phoenix 79–53 in the second and third quarters. The Suns were down 10 with 3+1⁄2 minutes left in the game before a basket by Paul cut it to 120–119 with 56 seconds to play. Holiday had 27 points and 13 assists. Antetokounmpo had 32 points, nine rebounds and six assists, and Middleton finished with 29 points. Booker had a game-high 40 points, his second-straight contest with a least 40.
Phoenix made 14 of 19 shots in the first quarter, including a stretch of 11 straight makes, and led 37–21 after the first period. However, Milwaukee outscored them 21–5 to open the second quarter, tying the game at 42 on a 3-pointer by Connaughton with 7:48 left in the half. Holiday scored 14 in the quarter, when the Bucks scored a record 43 points in a quarter by a road team in the Finals, and they led 64–61 at halftime. After three quarters, the Bucks had made 62.1% of their shots, rivaling the Orlando Magic's single-game Finals record of 62.5% in Game 3 of the 2009 Finals against the Los Angeles Lakers. Milwaukee led 108–94 after a basket by Holiday with nine minutes remaining in the game, but the Suns mounted their comeback to pull within one in the final minute. After a Holiday miss, Booker rebounded the ball and dribbled it upcourt himself. He stopped and pivoted in the paint, when Holiday forcefully pulled the ball from his hands for the steal. Instead of running down the clock, Holiday passed it for the dunk by Antetokounmpo, who was begging for the ball. Fouled on the play by Paul, Antetokounmpo missed the free throw, but the Bucks got the rebound, and Middleton made one free throw for the final score of the game.
Milwaukee became the first team in the series to win on the road. Antetokounmpo, Holiday and Middleton combined for 88 points, becoming the fifth trio to each score 25 points on 50% shooting in a single Finals game, and the first to accomplish the feat since since the Los Angeles Lakers' Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (36 points), James Worthy (33), and Magic Johnson (26) in 1985. Paul ended the game with 21 points and 11 assists, and Ayton finished with 20 points and 10 rebounds. Booker became the first player in the Finals to score at least 40 in consecutive games and lose both. Antetokounmpo and him were the first pair of players to score 40+ twice in the same Finals. Bucks' role player Thanasis Antetokounmpo, the older brother of Giannis, and assistant coach Josh Oppenheimer were away from the team due to COVID-19 health and safety protocols. The NBA also replaced referee Sean Wright after he entered health and safety protocols.
|Recap||Phoenix Suns 98, Milwaukee Bucks 105||Fiserv Forum, Milwaukee, WI
Referees: Scott Foster, Eric Lewis, Tony Brothers
|Scoring by quarter: 16-29, 31-13, 30-35, 21-28|
|Pts: Chris Paul 26
Rebs: Jae Crowder 13
Asts: Booker, Paul 5 each
|Pts: Giannis Antetokounmpo 50|
Rebs: Giannis Antetokounmpo 14
Asts: Jrue Holiday 11
|Milwaukee wins series, 4–2|
Giannis Antetokounmpo scored 50 points and added 14 rebounds and five blocks to lead the Bucks to a 105–98 victory to win the series 4–2. He was named the Finals MVP after his dominant performance in the series, including his third game with at least 40 points and 10 rebounds. He made 16 of his 25 shots, and was a surprising 17 for 19 on his free throws after hitting just 55.6% in the playoffs. The game was tied at 77 after three quarters before Antetokounmpo scored 13 in the final period to lead Milwaukee to its first championship since 1971, when they were led by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Oscar Robertson. Paul led the Suns with 26 points. Antetokounmpo's 50 points tied a Finals record for most points scored by a player in a Finals-clinching game, set by Bob Pettit in 1958.
Khris Middleton scored 17 and reserve Bobby Portis added 16 for the Bucks. Jrue Holiday had 12 points, 11 assists, and nine rebounds. His defense helped limit Devin Booker to 19 points on just 8-for-22 shooting, missing all seven of his 3-point attempts. Milwaukee became the fifth team to comeback from a 2–0 deficit in the Finals, and the first to do so by winning the next four games since the Miami Heat defeated the Dallas Mavericks in 2006. The Suns have never won more than two games in their three Finals appearances.