Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is arguably one of the greatest players ever to play the game of basketball. Drafted under the name Lou Alcindor in 1969, Kareem is currently the NBA’s all-time scoring leader and holds six championships to his name, the first of which was the lone championship of the Milwaukee Bucks in their only trip to the finals in 1971. Fifty years later, the Bucks are playing for a ring once again as they face the Phoenix Suns in a best of seven series.
Coincidentally, the Suns and the Bucks were in contention for the number one pick and the chance to draft Kareem back in 1969. The dispute was settled by way of a coin toss, awarding Milwaukee with the opportunity to draft the most decorated college player the world had seen at that time. With the two franchises now in contention for another golden opportunity, Kareem decided to have some fun with his prediction for the series.
The Bucks were down 1-0 when this video was published and currently headed back home down 2-0 with the series shifting to Milwaukee. For Kareem’s prediction to be correct, the Bucks now have to win four consecutive games against the streaking Phoenix Suns, a team that has managed to close out all their previous playoff match-ups on the road. It is not impossible, but the last time a team won four games straight in the finals was in 2007 when the San Antonio Spurs swept the Cleveland Cavaliers led by a 22-year-old LeBron James. Even if the Bucks were to be as dominant as those Spurs from ’07, the Suns are certainly a much more seasoned and talented team than those Cavs that surprised everyone by reaching the finals that year. A few weeks ago, Kareem seemed to be confident that the Bucks could not win a title this year, so even he must be a little surprised with his own prediction.
The Bucks are a much better team at home versus on the road, largely due to the big drop-off of all-star Khris Middleton in road games these playoffs. Khris has averaged 22.4 points in the eleven road playoff games the Bucks have played this year; this number goes up to 24 ppg at home, where Milwaukee has only hosted eight games so far. A 1.5 ppg differential is not is what so glaring, but the devil’s in the details – efficiency is the keyword here. At home, Khris shoots 47.5% from the field and 37.5% from three at 17 attempts per contest. His percentages drop to 40.4% and 31.5% while averaging three more shots at 20 per road playoff game on the road. If the Bucks want to win this series, Khris Middleton has to be better.
Middleton finished the game with 11 points, 6 rebounds, and 8 assists on just over 31% shooting from the field. While the 8 assists are well above his playoff average, he shot 1 of 6 from beyond the arc and finished a -15 for Milwaukee. It may seem unfair to pin all of this on Khris, but his role is to score the ball from the perimeter to help free up the paint for guys like Giannis and Brook Lopez to dominate inside, and he just has not been able to do it at consistent enough level for teams to have to make adjustments. As the Bucks look forward to Game 3, Coach Mike Budenholzer will have to find ways to get Middleton going early and hope that groove spills over to the other Milwaukee perimeter guys.
When Kareem won with the Bucks in 1971, he played alongside Oscar Robertson, one of the greatest guards ever to play the game. For the Bucks to be great, Giannis needs to be great. However, for Giannis to be great, Khris Middleton needs to be consistently great as well. With Jrue Holiday taking on as many of the key defensive assignments as possible, Middleton will have to increase his usage and efficiency both at home and on the road to give the Bucks multiple looks on offense. If he can do that, then perhaps it will be Bucks in 6 indeed.
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