No. 2 Phoenix Suns vs. No. 3 Milwaukee Bucks
Line: Phoenix -5.5
Where: Phoenix Suns Arena
When: Thursday, 7/8 at 9:00 p.m. ET
The betting market heading into Game 2 of the NBA Finals will not be as volatile as it was going into Game 1.
Giannis Antetokounmpo went from ‘questionable’ to ‘doubtful’ before it was announced that he would be playing. The betting market moved from Phoenix -5 to -6 after it sounded like Milwaukee’s star would not be playing. Tuesday’s line closed with the Suns favored by five points.
Oddsmakers opened Game 2 with Phoenix installed as a 5.5-point favorite and it has remained at that number as of Wednesday night. The total opened at 221.5 points and has dipped to 219.5.
Milwaukee’s goal is going to be slowing down Phoenix veteran Chris Paul, who is playing in the Finals for the first time in his career. He was not intimidated by the big stage, pouring in 32 points and dishing out nine assists in his team’s series-opening win. Paul had 16 points during a third quarter where the Suns pulled away.
He got some help from running mate Devin Booker, who scored 27 points in the 118-105 victory. Paul went 6 for 7 and hit all three of his attempts from beyond the arc during the monster third quarter.
Phoenix center Deandre Ayton provided another challenge for the Bucks. He scored 22 points and grabbed 19 rebounds to record yet another double-double.
The good news for Milwaukee is that it has been in this position before — it dropped the opener in the previous two series as well. Antetokounmpo scored 20 points and grabbed 17 rebounds after missing a pair of games with a hyperextended left knee. He did not appear to be hampered by the injury.
“I’m just happy that I’m out there and I’m able to help my team in any way possible and participate in my first NBA Finals,” Antetokounmpo said.
Khris Middleton led the Bucks with 29 points. They were able to trim the deficit to seven points midway through the fourth quarter, but Phoenix went on another run to put the game away and cash tickets for its backers.
Jrue Holiday, who was excellent while Antetokounmpo was out against Atlanta, scored just 10 points on 4 of 14 shooting. Bryn Forbes and Pat Connaughton hit a combined 4 of 7 from the perimeter as part of a small-ball lineup. Mike Budenholzer had Brook Lopez on the bench during the final stretch of the game.
The Suns went 25 of 26 from the free throw line and limited their turnovers. Milwaukee’s bright spot was 3-point shooting, where it hit 16 of 36 attempts. The Suns did not have a defender within four feet of the shooter on 31 of those shots, according to NBA Advanced Stats.
Phoenix continues to be a solid wager, going 11-3 ATS in its last 14 games. Milwaukee is 6-3 ATS over its last nine games, but it is now 1-7 ATS in its last eight games against the Suns. The total has gone ‘over’ in the last five head-to-head meetings.
The pick: Milwaukee +5.5
Milwaukee struggled for most of the series opener, including a serious deficit at the charity stripe, but it was still able to hang around. There has not been much of an adjustment to the betting line, even though Antetokounmpo looked healthy. Budenholzer found a nice lineup in the fourth quarter with several outside shooters on the court. Phoenix struggled to play perimeter defense, which might be just what the Bucks need offensively. I expect a much stronger defensive performance from Milwaukee on Thursday night. The Bucks should get to the free throw line more in Game 2 and they have been bouncing back from series-opening losses throughout this postseason—I am expecting more of the same.