ESPN’s Mark Jackson and Jeff Van Gundy had excellent Finals. The two analysts are like an old-couple. They quibble and they kid. They’re a fun listen and they don’t take themselves seriously. The two ex-coaches don’t present their analysis in any complicated way which could often go over the heads of most fans, other than students of the game. Along with play-by-player, Mike Breen, the trio sound like they’re enjoying themselves.
Here are some takeaways of their commentaries.
- One of the biggest storylines of the finals was the Suns’ approach to guarding Giannis Antetokounmpo. When the series tipped off, Mark Jackson said it was intriguing that the Suns big man Deandre Ayton would be the primary defender against the two-time MVP. All series long, especially in game six, Jackson implored Ayton to put his body in front of Giannis. Ayton wouldn’t square up to Giannis, allowing him instead to drive to the rim. Jackson says Giannis is too long and strong for that. You need to square your shoulders to him and guess where the Greek is headed. Put your body in front of the Greek and take a charge . During the whole series Ayton played off Giannis’s hip and would try to challenge Giannis on his way to the rim. It resulted in an abundance of free throw attempts for the newly crowned Finals MVP.
- Another game strategy that posed a major problem for the Suns was Milwaukee’s high pick-n-roll with Giannis and Khris Middleton. For the Suns, it was pick your poison. Jeff credited Giannis’ effort in setting screens and rolling to the rim aggressively. It forced the Phoenix defense to to retreat to the basket. Not doing so would result in a wide-open ally-oop for the Greek. Doing so, gives Khris Middleton a midrange sniper, shots that are his “bread and butter.” JVG believed that the only thing the Suns could do to stop this play is to trap Middleton at the point of attack. The Suns did so in games 5 and 6 but the combo of Giannis and Middleton was unstoppable, which is why both JVG and Jackson implored the Bucks to keep playing this pick-n-roll.
- Chris Paul and Devin Booker helped carry the Suns to the Finals but were meet by one of the best wing defenders in the game, guard Jrue Holiday. The Suns backcourt started the series off strong, but Jackson and Van Gundy credited the mid-series adjustments by Bucks’ head coach Mike Budenholzer for coming up with a great defensive game plan. He had Holiday pick up Chris Paul full court and make him run up the entire floor pressured. Jackson underscored the fact that Paul is 36 and working on tired legs. The full court pressure led by a stronger Holiday, had a big hand in throwing Paul off his game. Holiday defended guard Devin Booker as well, including getting the critical game winning strip of Booker in game 5.
- In game five, Chris Paul became aggressive again against the full court pressure led by Holiday. It reminded Jackson of when he was with the Indiana Pacers going up against the Bulls and the defense of Scottie Pippen. Jackson realized that when Pippen pressured him full court, he was too worried about running the offense instead of punishing the aggressive defense. Paul punished Holiday early in game five drawing two fouls on Holiday, but after that the Bucks moved Holiday over to guard Booker.
- As the Finals began, there was much discussion about the health of Giannis. He had just suffered a scary knee injury in game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals, causing him to miss games 5 and 6. Giannis was a game time decision for game 1 of the Finals. He looked gassed at times through the entire series, including in games 3 and 4 particularly early in the first quarter. Jackson said he has seen other big men get gassed early in games, but not hybrid players like Giannis. Van Gundy guessed that Giannis might get too amped up for games and needs an early rest. This factor and the constant all-out effort that Giannis gives is most likely the reason that he can’t play long consecutive minutes.