Likeable teams make for a fun Finals

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When’s the last time two likeable teams competed against each other in the NBA Finals?

It certainly doesn’t happen often.

Usually a basketball fan with no geographical rooting interest can make a decision on who to pull for. They can find a reason to cheer for a team and pinpoint a reason to vilify the other team.

But that feels like an impossible task in these 2021 NBA Finals.

Both the Milwaukee Bucks and Phoenix Suns are easy to like and easy to root for. They’re well-constructed, balanced teams, who play the game the right way.

Sure, they don’t have the flash of LeBron James’ Los Angeles Lakers or a Golden State Warriors team that trotted out Kevin Durant, Steph Curry and Klay Thompson. But that’s also part of the charm of these Finals — franchises from smaller markets that carefully built a roster instead of just luring in a super team.

The Suns have never won a championship and the Bucks haven’t won one since 1971.

It’s very possible that hoops fans around here haven’t been paying close attention as the Suns lead the best-of-seven series, 2-1, heading into Wednesday night’s Game 4 in Milwaukee. After all, the Celtics have been out of the playoffs for six weeks and it is the middle of summer.

The Suns, however, are everything that the Celtics would love to be.

Phoenix has two young cornerstones that were drafted by the franchise in 24-year-old guard Devin Booker (13th overall pick in 2015) and 22-year-old center Deandre Ayton (first overall pick in 2018). Last offseason, the Suns added perennial All-Star point guard and future hall of famer Chris Paul and veteran forward and former Celtic Jae Crowder to provide leadership and toughness — attributes that were lacking for the Celtics during their subpar 2020-21 season.

The Suns share the ball masterfully and have an obvious chemistry that allows them to be competing for a championship, despite having three starters that are 24 or younger. On top of that, they have a head coach in Monty Williams who seemingly pushes all the right buttons for his squad, while holding a calm temperament.

The Bucks, meanwhile, are built around a special superstar in Giannis Antetokounmpo. The 26-year-old two-time MVP has played his entire eight-year career in small-market Milwaukee and has no plans to bolt for an easy path to a title.

The 6-foot-11 Antetokounmpo is averaging 34.3 points, 14.0 rebounds and 4.7 assists in the Finals on 62.5% shooting from the floor. He scored over 40 points in each of the last two games, and is on the verge of compiling one of the greatest individual showings in Finals history.

Around him is also a terrific supporting cast that includes two-time all-star forward Khris Middleton and steady point guard Jrue Holiday, an outstanding two-way player. Arlington native and former St. John’s Prep star Pat Connaughton is averaging 10 points in 30.7 minutes off the bench for the Bucks in the Finals.

There are folks who may want to nitpick about Antetokounmpo taking too long before shooting his free throws, but that’s just about the only negative a basketball fan could muster up about either of these teams.

It’s two likable teams playing for an NBA championship. That’s a true rarity in the age of constant player movement and self-promotion.

One will win a championship, and that’s a good thing for the sport and the NBA.



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