Thus far, the first round series of the NBA Playoffs between the Milwaukee Bucks and Toronto Raptors has had surprising results, but the tectonic shift it signals to the rest of the league has been a long time coming.
Since 2001, the Bucks have won zero playoff series. In a week, that streak may very well remain intact...but many Milwaukee fans are coming out of their shells and considering a change on their outlook for the franchise. Instead of hoping for the best while preparing for the worst, we’re simply readying ourselves for the best and leaving the rest out of it.
The Milwaukee Bucks aren’t just a playoff team, but they’re morphing into a contender.
This paradigm realignment comes at a price. Stakes are higher, as are expectations, and failure to meet the new benchmark will bring the same biting disappointment that Bucks fans had grown desensitized to in recent years. In as little as a year, 40+ wins and a playoff seed is going to be a huge failure, rather than a surprising success. For a team with such youth, it’s a scary place to be.
But Bucks fans aren’t afraid; they’re exhilarated. We (well, some of us) aren’t keeping our heads down anymore and wallowing in self-pity. We see the rest of the league, and all of the other challengers in the Eastern Conference, and the question isn’t “How could we ever get there?” anymore.
The question is now “What’s going to stop us?”
Again, the answer to that question still might be the Toronto Raptors, and it might be soon. A 2-1 series lead is nothing, especially against a team that boasts a number of talented players who will revert to the norm (sooner or later). It’s unrealistic to simply expect to win, the way elite teams do. Losing now would be a quick rebuke to some of Milwaukee’s bolder supporters. It would be a shame to be knocked off the perch we just decided was worth climbing up to.
The view from that perch is an attractive one. As we survey the rest of the Eastern Conference, we see an aging behemoth (Cleveland), an untested upstart (Washington), an incomplete prototype (Boston), and a smattering of teams that need everything to fall just right to break into the upper echelon. In ourselves, though, we see a superstar leading a team of young players with the talent to succeed and enough self-awareness to arrange themselves around the star to maximize the team’s success.
For my part, I never expected to be at this point so soon. In two years, maybe...not now. But here we are. Milwaukee is back on the map, regardless of the outcome of the 2017 playoffs.
Like Eric said last week, it’s pretty cool.