Bucks-Celtics has been epic. Mavs-Suns has been unexpected. Both second-round series are going the distance with a trip to the conference finals on the line. Which teams will prevail? Which stars will step up? Our writers weigh in.
Celtics-Bucks, Game 7: Who ya got?
Howard Beck: The team with the best player usually wins the series, so you gotta go with Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks. Then again, the home team has won 79 percent of all Game 7s, so you gotta go with the Celtics. But keep in mind, the Bucks have already won two of three games in Boston in this series, so obviously you gotta go with the Bucks. And yet, not we forget, the Bucks intentionally surrendered home-court advantage to the Celtics on the last day of the regular season, creating bad karma and angering the basketball gods, so you gotta go with the Celtics. Also, I clearly cannot choose the wine in front of me. What was the question again?
Chris Herring: Give me Milwaukee. The Celtics have certainly looked like the more complete team throughout this series, with Giannis and Jrue Holiday having to do so much of the heavy lifting. But for a chunk of that fourth quarter, as the Bucks trimmed their deficit, I thought they’d put it away. Then Jason Tatum happened. I trust Giannis a bit more to bring it home in a Game 7, even on the road.
Robin Lundberg: Celtics. I picked them going into the series but thought the Bucks would take it after how Game 5 ended. However, the fact that Jayson Tatum and company were able to respond on the road bodes well for them to win it at home. Giannis is impossible to count out and Jrue Holiday is proven, but the Celtics are the better, more well-rounded team with the Bucks down Middleton.
Ashley Nicole Moss: Celtics. I had Celtics in 6 from the start of this series and I’m going to stand in my conviction (even if the number of games has changed). This matchup has been the ultimate roller-coaster and a sensational display of physicality. However, the Bucks’ inability to put this away, AT HOME, works in the favor of the Celtics. A Game 7 environment in Boston is going to be NUTS and, traditionally, your role players play better at home. You definitely can’t ever count out Giannis, but I think Boston has the edge here.
Rohan Nadkarni: Celtics. I don’t know, I feel like the Bucks blew a golden opportunity to clinch the series at home. I know we just saw Giannis win a Game 7 on the road last season, but I’m worried about the Milwaukee offender. Over the course of the series Boston has been able to manufacture better looks. And I’m not sure about some of Mike Budenholzer’s choices. Will he challenge the right fouls? Is he really going to keep playing Grayson Allen? I expect big games from both Giannis and Jayson Tatum. But the Celts’ role players should be more comfortable at home, and I think the contributions from players like Derrick White and Grant Williams could be the difference.
Michael Pina: Celtics. It’s hard to pick against Giannis Antetokounmpo in a one-game, winner-take-all scenario, but the Bucks haven’t been able to generate quality looks—especially in the half-court—all series long. Their offensive rating is 103.1 (worst in the second round; lower than the 30th-ranked Thunder) and they’ve been outscored by a whopping 40 points in the 51 minutes Antetokounmpo has sat. Meanwhile, Boston is at home and has had considerable success when it goes small, playing Derrick White instead of Grant Williams, opening wider driving lanes and creating more favorable matchups for Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. Without Khris Middletonthe Bucks aren’t built to slow those groups down.
Suns-Mavericks, Game 7: Who ya got?
Beck: I’m leaning Sunsjust slightly. Luka Dončić has been the best player in this series, and—with all due respect to Chris Paul and Devin Booker—is in fact the best player on either team, period. But the totality of the Suns is still stronger. They have better depth and lineup balance, the best wing defender (Mikal Bridges) and a unique commodities in Deandre Ayton. They’ve also got the benefit of home court and the experience of playing in the pressure cooker of last year’s Finals run.
Herring: I’ll take Phoenix, but I won’t feel great about it. The home team has taken every game in the series, so there’s reason to believe the best team in basketball will get it done. Plus I can’t imagine Chris Paul looking like an impostor of himself for yet another contest.
Lundberg: Mavs. I may regret this, but it feels like this just may be Luka’s moment. The Suns have had a terrific season but Dončić is the best player in the series. With Chris Paul struggling and the way Jason Kidd has gotten Dallas to defend, I think Luka could deliver the signature win of his career thus far in Game 7.
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Moss: sunshine However, the conspiracy theorist in me says with Scott Foster officiating—it might be the Mavs. In all seriousness, the tenacity of this Dallas team and the greatness of Luka Dončić cannot be ignored. (GET THAT MAN ANOTHER STAR.) They’ve made this more of a series than any of us could’ve imagined. However, The Valley isn’t an easy place to play and my gut tells me Devin Booker or Chris Paul or both are going to have themselves a game.
Nadkarni: sunshine What a weird series, and what a wake-up call for Phoenix. It’s clear Luka is a matchup problem no matter the opponent. Still, home court matters here, and as dominant as the Mavericks looked in Dallas, Phoenix has been taking care of business in The Valley. Devin Booker is going to empty the clip, and I’m holding out hope Chris Paul can return to form on two days’ rest after a few clunkers in a row this series. Both teams know the other’s bread and butter at this point. It’s going to come down to execution. And I believe, though that belief has been wavering, that Phoenix has the combination of talent and experience to overcome a very dangerous opponent.
Pina: Mavs. There have not been any road wins in this series, and as a 64-win home team, the Suns deserve the benefit of the doubt. But Chris Paul has had four straight outings that can fairly be labeled “bad” by his standards. Phoenix’s offense has been inconsistent and its starting five has allowed 119.7 points per 100 possessions since the series’s opening two games. If the 37-year-old Paul can’t return to the excellent form we saw just a couple weeks ago, the Suns will be in trouble. Dallas’s defense is good enough to win it all.
If you had to pick one player still in the playoffs for a Game 7: Who ya got?
Beck: If my season is coming down to one player and one clutch performance? Give me Steph Curry every time. Sure, Giannis put together some masterful games to win the title last year. Luka Dončić is already weaving an impressive clutch resume. And Jimmy Butler just gets things done in crunch time—with scoring, passing and defensive stops – over and over again, even without the repertoire of some others on this list. But no one in today’s NBA has hit as many big shots in as many big moments as Curry.
Herring: If it was a Game 6, I’d probably take Clay Thompson. But in a Game 7, I’ll rely on the best player in the sport, which I think Giannis has proven himself to be.
Lundberg: It’s still gotta be Giannis. Antetokounmpo is fresh off a dominant Finals MVP performance and has been awesome in this run as well; a loss wouldn’t change that. However, I’d like to extend an honorable mention to Jimmy Butler, who is one of the first five or so players I’d take if I had to win a series. Luka and Tatum are in the midst of proving they belong on that list as well.
Moss: Jimmy Butler. The man is simply on a different level these playoffs. You love him if he’s on your side, you hate him if he’s not, but either way—you have to respect him as a competitor and what he’s been doing so far. I want Jimmy Buckets.
Nadkarni: It has to be Giannis. If it’s not him, you are trying too hard. Giannis is clearly the best player in the world and a destroyer of game plans on both ends of the floor. He puts pressure on your defense like no other player left is capable of, and his athleticism is simply overwhelming. The guy is currently averaging 35/14/7 in the second round against the best defense from the regular season, and that’s without the benefit of playing with his best offensive teammate. Imagine if you had to pay less attention to this guy! Giannis is both relentless and fearless, and absolutely no moment or deficit feels too big for him. Whether he’s down double digits on the road or down 0–2 in the Finals, he’s shown he’s capable of fighting back. I won’t entertain another answer to this question.
Pina: Luka Dončić, who is the actual reason I’m picking Dallas. He’s the best offensive player in the postseason, meticulous and physically imposing in the pick-and-roll, with a post game that no individual Suns defender can competently handle by himself (Monty Williams dusted off Torrey Craig in Game 6; don’t be Surprised if he gets more minutes over Cam Payne and Landry Shamet in Game 7.) Dončić is averaging 32.2 points per game in the series without shooting the three ball particularly well. If he gets a few stepbacks to fall early, it could be a long night for the Suns—or any defense that has to deal with him when their season is on the line.
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