The Phoenix Suns recently overcame the Los Angeles Clippers in a 4-2 series victory in the Western Conference Finals to finally advance to the championship stage for the first time in 28 years. They will be facing another tough opponent in the Milwaukee Bucks, who also emerged victorious with a 4-2 series win against the Atlanta Hawks in the Eastern Conference Finals on Saturday night.
For the Suns, they will be primarily leaning on the leadership of Chris Paul. Though he has yet to step foot in the NBA Finals, he has already encountered countless pressure situations throughout his illustrious career, which will be vital for their matchup against the Bucks. Paul’s backcourt running mate in Devin Booker will also be relied on heavily, especially in the scoring department for the upcoming series.
Apart from those two playmakers, the Suns will definitely have to bank on the production of their X-factor in Jae Crowder, who has always been known as an impact player on both ends of the floor. Like Paul, the 30-year-old has already been through a lot of battles in the playoffs, and his contributions have been evident for the Suns’ ongoing postseason run.
Suns’ X-factor vs. Bucks in 2021 NBA Finals: Jae Crowder
Looking back, Crowder was able to match up well against the Bucks in last season’s Eastern Conference Semifinals as a player for the Miami Heat. He averaged 15.2 points in five games against the Bucks while also serving as the spark plug for his former team, which helped propel them to the 2020 NBA Finals.
Not only did Crowder impress with his offensive production, but he also performed effectively on defense. He was the designated defender for Giannis Antetokounmpo in that particular series and successfully held his own against the two-time MVP. His tight defense definitely worked, holding The Greek Freak to only 9-of-22 shooting through 73 partial possessions, per NBA Stats.
Despite his impressive showing last year, this season’s playoff series against the Bucks may be a bit different for Crowder due to Antetokounmpo’s left knee hyperextension. It’s unclear when Giannis will return, if he does at all, and he might not be totally effective if he does come back.
Needless to say, if Crowder can limit Milwaukee’s best player, then he can virtually hold his own against everyone else on the Bucks. Be it against a crafty scorer like Khris Middleton or a capable backup like Bobby Portis, fans can expect Crowder to exert his best effort in limiting their production against him.
Much like how he fared against Antetokounmpo, Crowder also did a great job defending Middleton in last year’s playoff matchup. According to NBA Stats, the two-time All-Star only made 15-of-38 shots on 66.4 partial possessions through five appearances when being defended by Crowder.
Seeing the veteran swingman’s previous success against the Bucks’ one-two punch is certainly a positive sight for the Suns, who are aiming to win their first title in franchise history. Luckily for them, Crowder is still playing his role effectively and will be a huge factor against Milwaukee.
In the NBA Finals, Jae Crowder will be tasked to handle similar duties. He won’t need to score a lot, especially with the presence of Paul, Booker, and even Deandre Ayton. However, his timely contributions on both offense and defense will still be key for the team if they want to give themselves a good chance of gaining the upper hand against the Bucks in this year’s NBA Finals.