Of course, Paul will be missing an indefinite amount of time due to NBA health and safety protocols. The Clippers are missing a star of their own as Kawhi Leonard is sidelined with a knee injury. They also don’t know when he’ll be back, making it one of the most unpredictable playoffs in the playoffs.
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In the Eastern Conference, Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks overtook the Brooklyn Nets for their second conference final appearance in three years. They get Trae Young and the surprising Atlanta Hawks, who knocked out the Philadelphia 76ers in seven games.
Now all four teams will see their depth tested against final caliber conference opponents as we see two strong clashes between the Clippers-Suns and Hawks-Bucks. Who will win and play the 2021 NBA Finals? Here’s what our experts have to say.
(2) Phoenix Suns vs. (4) Los Angeles Clippers in the West Final
Reiter’s point of view: Chris Paul has found in this young Phoenix team the opus of his potential masterpiece, and the Clippers without Kawhi, despite returning to Utah, will not pose enough of a challenge once CP3 returns. Devin Booker is a star, Deandre Ayton has made 10 giant steps forward this season, and Phoenix will be harnessing the same energy and security under the pressure that brought them here to continue. Choice: Suns in six
Quinn’s point of view: It was a brave effort for the Clippers to get here without Kawhi Leonard, but for now it looks like he’ll be out longer than Chris Paul. Even if he’s not, the Suns are slightly better equipped to play without their top player. Devin Booker can take on the charge of creating shots, and the Suns will do a better job of denying dribbling penetration than the Jazz (although Ayton faces the same danger as Rudy Gobert against those little Clipper lineups). Injuries make this the least predictable conference finals streak in a while, but I’d lean Phoenix slightly. Choice: Suns in six
Botkin’s point of view: The absence of Kawhi Leonard makes the difference. Chris Paul will likely be back at some point in the series, and I’m struggling to find a single hole in the Phoenix attack. We’ll see how Ayton fares against the smaller Clippers’ units. but he can also beat them on glass and Phoenix has plenty of lineup alternatives. The Clippers can win this even without Leonard. They are in charge of shooting and Paul George is in star mode. It will be tight. But I’m giving the Suns the edge. Choice: Suns in seven
Wimbish’s point of view: Even without Kawhi, I think LA still manages to win this series. The Clippers are going to have several guys to pitch on Devin Booker, Mikal Bridges and Chris Paul (when he returns). It won’t be an easy series, and both teams are going to be successful, but I think the Clippers are sneaking past the Suns in what should be an exciting series. Choice: Seven-way mowers
Ward-Henninger’s point of view: The Clippers’ small ball approach is expected to have the same effect on Deandre Ayton as it does on Rudy Gobert, which should help LA stay in a series in which they are outmatched – at least on paper. Chris Paul’s absence is obviously the key factor here, but assuming he’s back for Game 3 at the latest, the Suns should be able to avoid the pesky Clippers without Kawhi Leonard. As tall as Reggie Jackson, Terance Mann and Marcus Morris are, they are asked a lot against a team as good as the Suns. Choice: Suns in seven
Maloney’s point of view: It was amazing the Clippers finished Jazz without Kawhi Leonard, but asking them to win an entire shorthanded streak is too much. The absence of Chris Paul for at least the first game gives the Clippers some hope, but the Suns are just a very good team so we will ride with them. Choice: Suns in seven
Herbert’s point of view: Without knowing what’s going on with Kawhi Leonard or Chris Paul, it gives me a big shrug. But I guess I’ll take the team that can play 5 on offense and any kind of defense they want. Versatility is (almost) everything. Choice: Six-way mowers
Kaskey-Blomain’s point of view: The depth is huge in the playoffs, and the Clippers appear to be the deepest team in this game. Additionally, the Clippers are the most experienced team when it comes to playoff play. Other than Chris Paul and Jae Crowder, the Suns don’t have a lot of playoff experience. Kawhi Leonard’s unknown status makes this series somewhat difficult to choose, but Paul George played excellent basketball in Leonard’s absence to close the Jazz in the semi-finals, and if he can continue playing at a level as well. high, the Clippers could make their very first appearance in the NBA Finals. Choice: Seven-way mowers
(2) Milwaukee Bucks vs. (5) Atlanta Hawks in the Eastern Final
Reiter’s point of view: The Hawks continue their courageous and surprising run and make the series favorite difficult. But the Bucks, freed from fear of losing to the Nets, are comfortably returning to a more consistent game. Kris Middleton hits shots, Jrue Holiday shakes up some horrific performances, the Bucks play D lockdown and Giannis looks as aggressive and capable as he did towards the end of this series. Milwaukee hasn’t played, consistently, to the level he can, but that changes in the Eastern Conference Finals. Choix : Bucks in six
Botkin’s point of view: Jrue Holiday has a rebound streak. Atlanta will be missed more by De’Andre Hunter in this series than by Philadelphia. Milwaukee’s defense was impressive against the Nets, and Trae Young will find life difficult, although I expect him to have a good, albeit hard-won, streak. I want to choose Atlanta. Believe me. It’s one of the funniest NBA stories I can remember, probably since Stephen Curry and the Warriors burst onto the scene in the 2013 playoffs. But my head tells me the race ends here. The Bucks are just a little too good, despite their own issues with creating shots. Choice: dollars out of five
Quinn’s point of view: If the Hawks were at full power, I’d give them a chance to puncher. But De’Andre Hunter being out and Bogdan Bogdanovic looking shackled drains too much talent for me to really consider the Hawks here. Jrue Holiday is slightly better suited to Trae Young’s defense than Ben Simmons, and unlike Joel Embiid, Giannis Antetokounmpo doesn’t appear to be playing on one leg. It was a brave effort, and if the Hawks are full next season, we might have a different conversation, but for now, it’s Milwaukee’s streak to lose. Choice: dollars out of five
of Wimbish take: It will be the most complete and difficult team the Hawks have faced in the playoffs so far, and after getting over the injury-riddled Nets, Milwaukee looks set to advance to the NBA Finals. Jrue Holiday offers a capable defenseman to try and control Trae Young, and the Hawks won’t have anyone to contain Giannis Antetokounmpo, who is set to have a big streak against Atlanta. Choix : Bucks in six
Maloney’s point of view: It’s been a really cool run by the Hawks, but the fact that they’re still around says more about the Sixers than it does them. The Bucks are the better team and should win this series without too much trouble. Choice: dollars out of five
Kaskey-Blomain take: The Hawks have been the surprise of the playoffs so far, but their run ends here. The Bucks are the deepest and most experienced team in this series. On vacation, the Bucks have a great option to defend Young, who is the engine behind Atlanta’s offense. On the other hand, the Hawks are likely to struggle with Milwaukee’s size, as Khris Middleton, Brook Lopez and Giannis Antetokounmpo could all pose problems in Atlanta. The Hawks’ ability to score points could allow them to steal a game or two, but ultimately Milwaukee will prove too much for the young Atlanta team to handle. Choix : Bucks in six