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MVP candidates in the 2021 NBA Finals, ranked

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The Milwaukee Bucks are one win away from an NBA championship. The Bucks enter Game 6 of the 2021 NBA Finals with a 3-2 series lead over the Phoenix Suns. If the Bucks can win one of the next two games, the franchise will claim its first championship since Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Oscar Robertson powered a title run in 1971.

The Bucks shouldn’t get too comfortable as they return to their home court for Game 6. There is typically enormous pressure on the home team when it is one win away from winning the series, and that’s especially the case when it knows it’s facing Game 7 on the road. The Suns nearly stole Game 5 with a fourth quarter comeback, but Jrue Holiday’s clutch steal and alley-oop to Giannis Antetokounmpo sealed the win for the Bucks.

While some called this one of the worst Finals ever coming into the series, there’s no doubt it’s been an awesome matchup to this point with plenty of brilliant individual performances. Here’s how we’d rank Finals MVP candidates so far:

6. Deandre Ayton

Ayton is massively critical to the Suns’ success because he’s the only true big man in the rotation after Dario Saric’s series-ending injury. Ayton played 45 minutes in Phoenix’s close Game 5 loss, and it feels like he’ll need to replicate that effort over the next two games if the Suns want to steal the series.

The former No. 1 overall draft pick was limited by foul trouble in the Suns’ Game 3 loss, but has otherwise been playing great in the Finals. He enters Game 6 averaging 15.2 points, 13.2 rebounds, two assists, 1.4 blocks, and 1.4 steals per game on 56.9 percent shooting from the field.

Ayton is the only Phoenix defender who can deter Antetokounmpo even a little bit at the rim. Offensively, he’s a fearsome roller who has also flashed shot-making ability from mid-range. The Suns need Ayton to step up in the big way over the remainder of the series if they’re going to steal two consecutive wins against the Bucks.

5. Jrue Holiday

Holiday’s offense has been up and down throughout the playoffs. That trend has continued in the Finals. He scored only 27 points on 35 shots through the first two games, which both resulted in Phoenix victories. He was excellent in the Bucks’ Game 3 win, hitting 5-of-10 shots from three-point range to finish with 21 points and nine assists. Holiday then shot 4-of-20 from the field in Game 4, but bounced back in Game 5 with one of the best performances of his career: a 27-point, 13-assist effort punctuated by his clutch steal and lob in the final minute.

Where Holiday has been consistent is on the defensive end. He’s hounded Chris Paul with full court pressure throughout the series, clearly taking the veteran point guard out of his comfort zone. Holiday is a physical defender who uses his length and strength to bother smaller ball handlers, and CP3 has found out first hand how good he is defensively in this series.

Holiday’s offensive performance could be a deciding factor for the remainder of this series. If he has another great offensive game in Game 6, the Bucks will likely be raising a championship banner.

4. Chris Paul

Paul was excellent in carrying Phoenix to a Game 1 win, but he’s worn down a bit throughout the series. The Suns’ chances of coming back in this series rest on CP3 turning back the clock two more times for vintage performances.

Paul finished with 32 points and nine assists in that Game 1 win for Phoenix. That’s when Holiday got switched onto him full-time. CP3 particularly struggled in Game 4 as he appeared bothered by injuries to his wrist and fingers. While he ended Game 5 on a tear to finish with 21 points and 11 assists, it didn’t feel like he was controlling the action the way he normally does at his best.

It’s easy to see Paul as a barometer of the Suns’ success. If the Suns win the next two games and Paul plays well, it’s absolutely possible he can still end the series as Finals MVP.

3. Khris Middleton

Middleton’s performance has swung wildly from good to bad to good again throughout the playoffs. He was at his worst in Game 2 of the NBA Finals, when he finished with only 11 points on 5-of-16 shooting. The Bucks knew they needed Middleton to start cooking if they wanted to crawl out of an 0-2 hole, and he’s responded by doing exactly that.

Middleton was brilliant in Game 4, popping off for 40 points on 15-of-33 shooting. He also made some clutch buckets down the stretch in Game 5. Middleton has so much variance in his performance because he rarely finds his way into easy buckets. The 6’8 forward gets most of his baskets off difficult pull-up jumpers he creates for himself. He looks great when his shot is falling and terrible when it’s not.

The Bucks have gotten three great games out of Middleton so far in the Finals. They need one more to be champions.

2. Devin Booker

Booker has been incredible scoring the ball throughout this series save for one rough shooting night in Game 3. The 24-year-old guard went off for 42 points in Game 4 and 40 points in Game 5, but the Suns lost both games.

As Booker has taken control of the offense, the Suns’ ball movement has stagnated. Phoenix’s corner three attempts are way down in this series. That’s a credit to Milwaukee’s terrific defense, but it’s also on Booker and Paul to create easy looks for their teammates. The most concerning stat so far for Phoenix is that Booker still doesn’t have an assist during the fourth quarter of any game in this series.

It feels like the Suns’ offense has been helpless without Booker’s scoring over the last two games. He needs to continue putting the ball in the basket at a high clip for the remainder of the series, but it would help if he could set up his teammates for some open shots, too.

1. Giannis Antetokounmpo

If the Bucks win one more game to win the series, Antetokounmpo is going to be named Finals MVP. He’s the only choice for the honor.

We didn’t even know if Giannis was going to be play in the NBA Finals after suffering a scary leg injury that kept him out of the end of the Eastern Conference Finals. Instead, Antetokounmpo was in the lineup for Game 1 against Phoenix, and has been at the center of the Bucks’ success ever since. Giannis enters Game 6 averaging 32.2 points, 13 rebounds, and 5.6 assists per game on 60.5 percent shooting from the field. Yes, his free throw shooting has been rough — 56.2 percent on more than 13 attempts per game — but he’s still dominating this series on both ends.

Antetokounmpo is the best defensive player in the world, and his weak side paint protection has been critical in deterring Phoenix’s scorers away from the rim all series. Offensively, Antetokounmpo is settling for fewer jump shots and is attacking the basket hard as a roll man and in transition.

Giannis has also been in the middle of the two biggest plays in this series. He had the remarkable block on Ayton’s alley-oop at the end of Game 4, and then threw down the lob from Holiday after his steal in Game 5.

Antetokounmpo’s resume at 26 years old puts him on pace to be an all-time great. All that’s missing is a championship and a Finals MVP. He’s one win away from both honors.

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India can pick two more teams and still win any competition in the world, states Hardik Pandya

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Hardik Pandya has spoken highly of India’s remarkable bench strength across formats and believes that the team can end up winning any competition in the world even if they pick ‘C’ or ‘D’ string sides. India, on Tuesday, sealed a series win over Sri Lanka despite fielding a second-string team.

Building a world talent pool has been integral to team India’s sustained success over the past decade, and nothing served as a testament to the same more than the tour of Australia last winter. Without their skipper Virat Kohli, and without a handful of senior players, the Indian side ended up winning 2-1 Down Under, in the process breaching Gabba for the first time this century.

But while the side that triumphed in Australia had a fair mix of first-teamers and newcomers, the contingent currently in Sri Lanka is dominated by debutants and newcomers, with only a handful of seniors present in the entire squad. And the inexperienced squad, on Tuesday, sealed a 2-0 series win to project the scary strength in depth the country possesses.

Hardik Pandya is one of the few seniors in the white-ball tour of Sri Lanka, but the all-rounder believes the team could do without him and other seniors. Speaking ahead of the third ODI, Pandya insisted that India ‘can pick two more teams and still win any competition in the world’, singing praises about the country’s talent pool.

“Our roles are very clear, even in the main team. The kind of talent which the Indian team posses right now, I think we can pick two more teams and win any competition in the world,” Pandya told the host broadcaster, reported Cricbuzz.

On a personal note, however, 2021 has been a tough year for Pandya, who has struggled to build on the promise he showed in the tour of Australia last year. So far this year, across formats, Pandya has struck a solitary fifty in Indian colours, averaging 25.62, while he also had a rough IPL, averaging 8.66 from 7 outings. Now a more mature cricketer, Pandya, however, insisted that failures a part of a cricketer’s journey, and revealed that he has learned to celebrate bad days.

“I understand that in life you have to keep growing. As a cricketer and a person you need to keep growing. My process is just growing as a human being. You tend to make mistakes, you fail, but I like to celebrate my failures. I like to celebrate my bad days, it is a part of the sport and it teaches you a lot of things. I like to remember it.”

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Byron Buxton trade: Ideal fits for Buxton before 2021 MLB Trade Deadline

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Byron Buxton would be a man in demand if the Twins make him available. Photo from Puckett’s Pond.

Just when he was starting to become one of the best outfielders in 2021, it looks like the Minnesota Twins might be trading Byron Buxton. While he’s spent a lot of time on the IL during his breakout season, a Byron Buxton trade could be in the works if he’s unwilling to sign an extension with the Twins. At least those are what the latest Buxton trade rumors would indicate.

The Twins, after all, are in a rather precarious position. They began the season expecting to compete but fell flat on their face. It’s possible that Minnesota could hit the reset button in 2022 and try again. But as a small-market team, they could trade away some of their best chips and enter a rebuilding phase. The latter possibility has brought about the Buxton trade rumors.

Buxton trade rumors

The 27-year-old Buxton could be an interesting addition to the trade market this summer. A fractured hand sent him to the IL in June, but it won’t keep him sidelined for the rest of the season. In just 27 games this season, he’s batting .369 with an OPS of 1.176, performing like one of the best outfielders in 2021. If Buxton comes anywhere close to producing those numbers when he returns, he’ll be an impact player.

But if the Twins decide to trade him, where will he go?

Yankees

The Yankees are the obvious fit for Buxton. They need at least one outfielder, although trading for two before the deadline isn’t a bad idea either.

More than anything, they need a bonafide center fielder, which is what they’ll get in Buxton. The likes of Brett Gardner, Clint Frazier, and other fill-ins aren’t getting the job done and a Byron Buxton trade would be a huge upgrade for the Bronx Bombers.

Astros

Houston isn’t in dire need of a center fielder given the rest of the team’s lineup. But Buxton would represent an immediate upgrade over youngster Myles Straw.

It would be the type of move that would prove that the Astros are serious about contending for another World Series.

Braves

Even though Atlanta just traded for Joc Pederson, the Braves could still make a play for Buxton. Keep in mind they’ve lost both Marcell Ozuna and Ronald Acuna, this year, so Pederson alone isn’t going to fill those holes.

Even with Pederson on board, the likes of Guillermo Heredia and Abraham Almonte are playing regularly in the Atlanta outfield. Trading for Buxton would solve some of their problems, giving them a viable bat and an elite defender in the same package.

Phillies

Much like the Braves, the Phillies have to think the Mets are vulnerable in the NL East, so a big trade for a player like Buxton could make a big difference. Outside of Bryce Harper, there’s not much to like about the Philadelphia outfield.

Andrew McCutchen is showing his age and who knows how long Travis Jankowski can keep being a viable place-holder in center field. That makes Philadelphia the ideal landing spot for Buxton.

Brewers

The Brew Crew is looking better and better but they still need a little more offensively. Jackie Bradley Jr. and Lorenzo Cain aren’t getting the job done in center field. Buxton would be the perfect solution for Milwaukee, especially since Bradley and Cain are there to provide depth if Buxton gets hurt again.

While the Brewers look good to win the NL Central, they’ll need to make a meaningful improvement at the deadline if they want to make noise in October, which is why Buxton should be on their radar.

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Podcast: Enter York Hall – Boxing News

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In this audio documentary relive York Hall’s great nights, fights and events that are the pillars of British boxing history

YORK HALL – the spiritual home of british boxing. Join us on an atmospheric deep-dive into the magic of the old venue that’s provided fight fans of all ages with so many special memories. From its 1929 opening as public baths in which Londoners would wash, right through to the present day – via visits from the likes of Tapia and Lomachenko – this audio documentary relives the great nights, fights and events that are pillars of British boxing history.

Boxers, promoters, referees, trainers, commentators and journalists relive their own personal highs and lows as the past, present and future of York Hall are explored in detail.

Written and produced by Darren Rees. Engineered at: Untapped talent recording studios (Southampton).

Please get in contact with your York Hall memories via Twitter: @ReesBoxing89 or [email protected]

Listen below:

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