2001. The last year the Milwaukee Bucks made it this deep into the playoffs. That year, HOF guard Allen Iverson ended their season in the conference finals. Now, the Bucks have their next chance at getting to the NBA Finals, something they haven’t done since the 70s. A whole new generation of fans have entered the picture since then and haven’t had much to cheer for, until now.
Before this season began, we knew the Bucks’ ceiling didn’t really exist. A new coach, new players, and a new system meant no one knew what to expect other than to build off of last season’s first round exit in game seven. As the season progressed, fans and media members began to realize the potential Milwaukee had and many considered the season to be a success if and only if the Bucks made it to the Eastern Conference Finals. Well, here they are, and with much bigger aspirations.
Milwaukee has proven that they deserved to be one of the final four teams remaining and they earned it by playing the least amount of games of any team still standing. They swept Detroit in the most boring series of the playoffs this year and handled the Boston Celtics in five, a team that many considered the favorite to represent the East before this season began. They will now face their toughest test thus far in the two seed Toronto Raptors, who sent Philadelphia home crying on one of the greatest shots of all time by Kawhi Leonard.
The two teams played each other on four occasions this season, with Milwaukee taking three wins from the series. In those four games, the Bucks outscored the Raptors by an average of 6.5 points per game and shot 39% from deep compared to Toronto at 30%. Milwaukee’s ultimate offensive goal all season has been to hit threes, so an advantage similar to this in the series would end the conference finals very quickly. Combine that with Giannis averaging 27 points a game compared to Kawhi’s 22 in the head-to-head matchups and the Bucks seem poised to take care of business.
Of course, playoff basketball tends to be much more complicated than that. In one of the Bucks’ wins in the regular season against Toronto, neither Giannis nor Kawhi played. In addition, playing a team at four different points in the season is much different than a seven game series played every other day. Adjustments will be made and will need to be made quickly. Rest will be a factor, and Milwaukee should have the advantage in that considering they have played three less games and haven’t had a game in a week.
Kawhi Leonard has been probably the best/most important player in this postseason thus far. Kevin Durant has an argument, Giannis is in the discussion, but it’s pretty clear that Toronto doesn’t see the conference finals if Kawhi didn’t play out of his mind in the semifinals. However, outside of Kawhi, a once well-known and qualified second unit has recently turned into dust. This year, it’s pretty clear that Milwaukee has the superior “bench mob.” If they play like they have the past nine games, Toronto is going to need Siakam, Lowry, Green, Ibaka, Gasol, etc. to fill the stat sheets. It seems unlikely, but again it’s the playoffs and Raptors’ coach Nick Nurse is clearly ready for battle.
The trip to The Finals ultimately falls into the hands of Giannis and Kawhi. Two top tier players who care about nothing more than getting buckets will play for the chance at history. If you’re not excited for this series, the NBA isn’t for you. No matter how the series plays out, story lines will arise. But I expect much more. Toronto will be Milwaukee’s toughest match so far, but ultimately my prediction stands at Bucks in five.
Game one will tip Wednesday night at 7:30 p.m. After that, a game will be played every other day until one team has four. Let’s get underway with the professional final four.