By Mackenzie Rivers
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Heading into last Wednesday’s Game 6 vs. the Clippers, future HOF point guard and current Phoenix Suns star Chris Paul in his 16-year career had nailed six three-pointers in a game on six different occasions.
For this specific Game 6 occasion, and with a trip to his first career NBA Finals game on the line, Paul had saved something special. As the Suns closed out the season of his former Los Angeles Clippers team, Paul knocked down seven bombs from three, the first time he had done that in over 1200 career NBA games.
CP3 now enters these 2021 NBA Finals as the favorite to win the MVP award (+180), and I personally believe that we will take on the challenge head on while simultaneously taking advantage of a Milwaukee Bucks team that's notorious for allowing one of Paul favorite shots: the above the break three-pointer.
The best part about the Bucks defense – from a gambling perspective at least – is how consistent it has been over the years. With or without Giannis, I don’t expect Mike Budenholzer staff to make any changes to a defense ranked #1 in the NBA throughout the playoffs, boasting a stellar 105 Defensive Rating.
And for third season in a row – all since Coach Budenholzer took the helm in Milwaukee - the Bucks ranked in the bottom three teams in terms of Opponents Three Pointers Allowed Per Game, allowing about 15 per game vs. the league average of 12.5. By design, the Bucks prioritize an air-tight paint defense, bolstered by Brook Lopez and usually Giannis Antetokounmpo. By choice, the Bucks also allow their opponents to fire away from range. The theory here is that if the Bucks, aided by their elite defensive rebounding, can eliminate corner threes and paint shots from their opponent’s shot profile, then they can afford to give up the longer and more difficult variety of three-balls: the above-the-break type of threes.
And that is a Chris Paul specialty. Administering the offense and dictating play, the above-the-break three-ball is something Paul always has in his back pocket to keep opposing defenses honest. If the defense sags off, trying to gain advantage on the pass – boom, that is when you see him pull it out its holster.
Paul's 3PT Made prop for Game 1 tonight is O/U 1.5 with slight juice to the over (-134 at FanDuel).
And I like the over
Granted, Paul had fewer than two made three-pointers in most of his games this year (41 out of 70 regular season games this year, to be exact); so the fact that we see the line juiced to the over illustrates the fact that the market is indeed aware of the Bucks give up a ton of three-point shots. Another factor helping the over is that Paul should play extended minutes compared to his regular season average.
However, I believe there is a subtler and just as important reason why I like Paul to go OVER 1.5 threes.
In 9 career Western Conference Finals games, Paul has averaged almost seven three-point attempted per game (6.9), making more than 2.5 per game. That number, my friends, is almost DOUBLE the number of three point attempts that Paul has averaged per game in his other 114 career playoff games (3.7).
Coincidence? Product of a small sample of only 9 games? Actually it's neither, and here's why:
Paul has always been praised for being a player that brings young guys along, imbuing professionalism and discipline through example and leadership. More importantly, however, I believe Paul feels a different set of skills is required in these late spring/early summer affairs to separate the best teams late.
Throughout his career, the lament on Paul is that despite his possession-per-possession excellence, there was a question mark to whether CP3 had that extra gear we see from other superstars in the playoffs, clawing their team towards success when things get messy, and when the offensive side gets hard.
Paul’s amazing ability to not turn the ball over does not settle a close contest, tied with 90-seconds to go, unfortunately. But nailing a 35-foot bomb with 90-seconds to go? That one actually does decide games.
Look no further than the aforementioned three-point bombs Paul hit in Game 4 and 5 of the 2018 Western Conference Finals, as the Rockets took an unlikely lead on the Durant-Steph Warriors at their apex. Paul has learned through those wars he fought with the Clippers and the Rockets that he cannot rely on lesser, younger players to excel in these novel, high-pressure environments. And no stage is as high-pressured or unique for a professional basketball player as the NBA Finals. Despite that fact it is his first time up here – I expect Suns PG Paul to come out the gates blazing and making it a point to be aggressive.
Best Bet: Over 1.5 Made Threes (-134 @ FanDuel/DraftKings)