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Fan Engagement, Media & Tech, Team Performance

It’s Giannis vs. Kawhi in the NBA Finals – and We Have the Winner

By: Taylor Bechtold, Sacha Pisani

It’s the Greek Freak vs. The Claw, Giannis vs. Kawhi. It’s the Milwaukee Bucks, in the Finals for the first time in 46 years, against the Los Angeles Clippers, who are here for the first time in their 49-year history.

Stats Perform is using its proprietary data to provide a glimpse of what could happen if the league was to resume at the point in which play was suspended on March 11. The goal has been to simulate how the rest of the regular season and postseason might pan out.

As a result, the thrill of the NBA playoffs has come a bit earlier – April instead of May and June. And now, we’re left with the Bucks and Clippers vying for the Larry O’Brien trophy.

How did we get to this matchup? Stats Perform’s model is similar to the one that projected and simulated the NCAA Tournament. Our AI team has taken advanced data and created an offensive and defensive rating for each club. Those ratings were paired with the team’s opponent and adjusted for each team’s pace, and the home team is given a slight boost for home-field advantage. This data is then used to calculate a projected final score.

After some teams went on a run late in the regular season to improve their seeding, we moved on to the postseason. In the conference finals, the Bucks took down the defending champion Toronto Raptors in five games to advance to the NBA Finals for the first time since Kareem Abdul-Jabbar led the team there in 1974. In the West, the Clippers built a 3-1 lead before having to hold off the Dallas Mavericks in an exciting seven-game series.

Now, we’re going to reveal who the model predicts will win the 2020 NBA championship:

Kawhi Leonard drives by Wesley Matthews in Milwaukee.

GAME 1: BUCKS 118, CLIPPERS 114

The Clippers have snapped the third-longest streak without reaching the Finals in league history – behind the Sacramento Kings and Atlanta Hawks – but they stumble in the franchise’s historic Game 1 in Milwaukee.

GAME 2: CLIPPERS 113, BUCKS 107

Los Angeles gets what it came for in Game 2, a split at the Fiserv Forum. The Clippers now hope to grab control of the series with the next two at Staples Center.

Giannis Antetokounmpo is defended by Patrick Beverley in Los Angeles.

GAME 3: BUCKS 109, CLIPPERS 103

Billy Crystal no doubt led the charge in what would have to be a surreal scene with a number of celebrities watching the Clippers – not the Lakers – in the NBA Finals. The Bucks, however, spoil the party in Los Angeles.

GAME 4: BUCKS 122, CLIPPERS 108

Much has been made of the Clippers’ star power with Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, but the Bucks have built a commanding lead with two All-Stars in their own right in Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton.

GAME 5: CLIPPERS 119, BUCKS 105

George Hill and Giannis Antetokounmpo celebrate.

Back in Milwaukee, the Clippers take a step toward accomplishing something only one team has on 35 other occasions – come back from a 3-1 series deficit in the NBA Finals. LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers were the only team to pull this off versus the Golden State Warriors in 2016.

GAME 6: BUCKS 117, CLIPPERS 116

The Bucks close out the series in Los Angeles in thrilling fashion, ending the longest gap between titles in the NBA. Milwaukee hoists the Larry O’Brien trophy for the first time since 1971, ending their 49-year wait. The Warriors had the previous mark, going 40 years between championships.

The Bucks deny Leonard his second straight title after he earned Finals MVP honors with the Raptors in 2019. They also become the fifth champion in the past eight years to have the best regular-season record and win the title in the same year.

Come back next week when we reveal who we believe teams should select in the NBA draft, based on our proprietary data.

Data modeling by Matt Scott, and research support provided by Evan Boyd.