It shouldn’t feel weird that the Phoenix Suns and Milwaukee Bucks are in the NBA Finals. For one thing, each is an official NBA franchise, meaning they are eligible to play in this series. They are also excellent basketball teams that won a good number of games during a truncated regular season. But Bucks-Suns is an uncanny and surprising matchup, like if a herd of deer actually tried to pick a fight with a binary star system. You can’t help but wonder: How did we get here?
This is the first NBA Finals since 2010 to not feature LeBron James and/or the Golden State Warriors. Had one of the recently engineered superteams made it this far, then it would have been surprising in a superficial sense—the sight of Kevin Durant or Kawhi Leonard hoisting the Larry O’Brien trophy while wearing the vaguely unfamiliar jerseys of historically uninspiring teams—but Suns-Bucks marks a genuinely novel turn for the league.
In order for this refreshingly strange NBA Finals to exist, each team had to take an equally bizarre route through the playoffs. This is not to say that Phoenix or Milwaukee is undeserving. Every squad that has ever made it this far managed to catch some breaks along the way, but the Suns’ and Bucks’ paths look like Lewis Carroll stories in comparison. We have fallen through the looking glass, so don’t be surprised if you see “DNP—smoked hookah with caterpillar” on an upcoming injury report.
Has some unknown cosmic force been exercising influence to ensure the Suns and Bucks made the finals? It may seem like a stretch, but the very existence of Cameron Payne as a clutch playoff shot-maker suggests something is up. Let’s break it down, series by series.
Suns-Lakers. LeBron had never lost in the first round of the playoffs, so Phoenix’s toppling of King James was an impressive bit of regicide. However, Los Angeles lost superstar Anthony Davis to injury early in the series, and his absence helped clear the way for the Suns to win in six games.
Was this the result of some unknown cosmic force exercising influence in favor of the Suns? Probably not. An Anthony Davis injury isn’t too uncommon. At the very least, it’s not rare enough to make you question your entire belief system.
Bucks-Heat. While Miami bullied and embarrassed Milwaukee during the bubble playoffs, this rematch represented a complete reversal of that script, and the Bucks dominated the Heat, sweeping them with relative ease.
Was this the result of some unknown cosmic force exercising influence in favor of the Bucks? No. Tyler Herro’s regression can be explained by earthly concepts such as statistics and Miami’s nightlife.
Suns-Nuggets. Star Denver guard Jamal Murray missed the playoffs with a torn ACL, meaning the Suns again benefited from an opponent’s injury misfortune for the second series in a row.
Was this the result of some unknown cosmic force exercising influence in favor of the Suns? Doubt it. Everyone knows that any and all Denver-related misfortune is a result of that haunted horse sculpture by the airport.
Bucks-Nets. Brooklyn was constructed like a Death Star, but its vulnerable exhaust ports were exposed almost immediately. Two-thirds of the Big Three—James Harden and Kyrie Irving—suffered injuries against the Bucks, though Milwaukee nearly failed to take advantage. The series went to seven games, and Brooklyn would have been the victors had Kevin Durant’s toe not been on the 3-point line for his jumper that sent the deciding contest to overtime.
Was this the result of some unknown cosmic force exercising influence in favor of the Bucks? Durant and his big-ass feet certainly think so.
Suns-Clippers. This was yet another series defined by injury. The Clippers’ Kawhi Leonard sat out with a mysterious knee ailment, but the Suns weren’t immune to bad luck of their own. Chris Paul missed the first two games due to the league’s COVID-related health and safety protocols, and Devin Booker broke his nose in Game 2. But while Leonard never featured, Booker played in a mask and Paul returned to action and led Phoenix to victory.
Was this the result of some unknown cosmic force exercising influence in favor of the Suns? The fact that the Suns experienced injuries of their own could be seen as evidence to the contrary, but Paul’s absence did pave the way for Cameron Payne’s aforementioned transformation into Isiah Thomas. If that weren’t obvious enough as far as miracles go, consider Deandre Ayton’s “Valley-Oop” buzzer-beater that clinched Game 2.
Bucks-Hawks. Trae Young and the fearless Atlanta Hawks were the surprise story of the playoffs … until Young stepped on referee Sean Wright’s foot and rolled his ankle in Game 3 against the Bucks.
Whose idea was it to give referees feet?
Was this the result of some unknown cosmic force exercising influence in favor of the Bucks? Between Durant’s toe and the referee’s unfortunately placed sneaker, fate seems to have a foot fetish when it comes to the Bucks. Suns players should exercise caution when scheduling any pedicures over the next two weeks.
What does this all mean? Is Bucks-Suns really the result of cosmic collusion, or have there simply been more injuries because the league insisted on playing as many games as possible over a shortened period of time in order to salvage profits? (Full disclosure: I lack expertise in cosmology, medicine, and economics—I’m a triple threat!) The universe works in mysterious ways …
If the universe really did engineer this Suns-Bucks finals, then we really should commend the universe for its taste. These teams complement each other well, and they already played in one of the year’s most entertaining games, an overtime thriller in April that the Suns won, 128–127.
Both squads were at full strength then, something that is very much in doubt after Giannis Antetokounmpo hyperextended his knee during the Eastern Conference finals. The two-time MVP is a question mark for Game 1, and, given how serious the injury appeared at the time, it would be a welcome shock if he were to feature at all in the finals. If the universe really wanted to intervene, now would be the time.