PHOENIX — While the 3-point shot has unquestionably changed the NBA game, during these finals the star of the show might be the mid-range jumper.
Yes, the regular old 2-point shot will get some love in this series.
Milwaukee’s Khris Middleton and Phoenix’s Devin Booker and Chris Paul all excel at 12-to 18-foot pullups, which is a lost art for many players who focus on 3-pointers or dunks.
“A lot of coaches’ and teams’ schemes, they want you to shoot threes and layups,” Middleton said. “That’s what a lot of teams expect you to do. But when you stop sometimes, they just don’t expect it. It gives you a clean look.
“So if you work on it, it almost seems like a layup or a three-point shot for myself.”
Sounds simple enough and there are players in the NBA Finals who make it look easy. It might be one reason Booker and Middleton are two of the more overlooked All-Stars in the league. Perfecting the 15-foot baseline jumper isn’t exactly every kid’s dream lately when they’re shooting hoops in the driveway.
But Booker and Middleton have it down to a science — along with a healthy respect for one another.
“He’s just a guy that hits tough shots, a guy that can score from the three, the mid-range and the paint, a guy that can get to the free throw line,” Middleton said of Booker. “He’s a guy that really can score in every single way, which is tough to guard because you don’t know when he’s going to stop and shoot, when he’s going to keep going, when he’s going to look to create for others.”
LONG ROAD BACK
The NBA Finals are special anytime, but this year one reason is just because they’re happening.
Multiple teams had their schedules altered because of coronavirus guidelines and protocols. Arenas were eerily empty for much of the season. LeBron James and other players were irritated about the condensed scheduled, which led to questions about the unusual high number of start players going down with injuries across the league. James also wasn’t a fan of a hastily arranged All-Star Game.
But the NBA Finals are set to tipoff in front of near-capacity crowds.
And through it all, Paul’s fingerprints can be found everywhere.
As president of the NBA players’ union, he balances the concerns of around 450 players.
“Everything that’s good for this guy and that guy might not be the same for that guy, but everything has always been a conversation and it’s going to continue to be that way,” Paul said. “So if people don’t like it, then you know everybody has the same opportunity to be a part of all these conversations.”
The Suns were without key reserve Cameron Johnson in their closeout Game 6 win over the Los Angeles Clippers because of a poorly-timed bout with food poisoning.
Johnson said the worst part — other than not being on the court — was that his tummy trouble was so widely discussed.
“It’s like everyone in the world knows, so can’t even take my ‘L’ in peace and silence,” Johnson said.
Johnson said he should be ready for Game 1 on Tuesday. He said even after he got sick, he had no doubt the Suns were going to close out the Clippers in Los Angeles.
“I felt really, really comfortable with what our guys are capable of, and I definitely watched the game with kind of an aura of peace knowing that we’re going to take care of it,” Johnson said.
ON THE WHISTLE
Veterans Scott Foster, Tony Brothers, James Capers and Marc Davis are among the 14 who have been selected as officials in the NBA Finals.
Foster will be making 14th Finals appearance. Brothers, Capers and Davis are in their 10th.
Finals officials are selected by the NBA’s Referee Operations management team based on how they performed during the first three rounds of the playoffs.
Games involving Foster could be must-see TV. Paul and Foster have clashed in the past and the point guard has made it no secret that he’s not a fan of the referee. Paul has lost 11 straight playoff games that Foster has officiated.
Bucks point guard Jrue Holiday and former Bucks teammate Torrey Craig talked earlier this season about their shared goal of making the NBA Finals.
They did it.
With different teams.
Craig was traded to Phoenix midway through the season and he’s become a key rotation player off the bench. He has the unique perspective of being very familiar with both rosters. Holiday said he’s happy for Craig.
“He’s fighting for the same thing we’re fighting for,” Holiday said. “But we’d love to beat him.”
BY THE NUMBERS
1 — Player on either team who has played in the NBA Finals. That would be Phoenix forward Jae Crowder, who made it last year with the Heat. No player on either team has won a title.
5 — Seasons that Bucks forward P.J. Tucker played from 2012-17 with the Suns early in his career.
70.6%. — Suns forward Deandre Ayton’s shooting percentage in these playoffs. Ayton is just 22 years old and won’t celebrate his 23rd birthday until July 23, which is the day after a potential Game 7.
1968 — The year the Bucks and Suns both joined the NBA as expansion teams.