It hit about the midway point of the third quarter of Milwaukee Bucks Chicago Bulls Game One when that oh so familiar playoff pit wedgied itself into my stomach. Ah, the queasy comforts of Milwaukee Playoff basketball. In the middle of Sunday night, I pictured myself writing a very different column centered around, “Game One Bucks? Or 2021-22 Bucks?” That question is still intriguing, although I’d say the evidence points more to the former than the latter given that problem #1 on Sunday wasn’t this year’s lackluster defensive effort. But as dawn came, I started thinking back to the ups, downs and all-arounds of the title run. Was it torturous? Sure. But the satisfaction, the sweet, sweet satisfaction that came from that rollercoaster ride. Maybe I should just embrace the range of emotions rather than rage against it...
All year long, this Milwaukee Bucks team has been a lot of people’s pick to come out of the East. Despite many a “meh” regular season performance, that belief held true and it seemed most NBA talking heads still defaulted to Milwaukee heading to the Finals. We’re homers, but our predictions mirrored that too.
The thing about this Bucks team (that we all know) that gets lost in the afterglow of the Larry O’Brien’s Louis Vitton case, Giannis’s 50-piece shenanigans and a nondescript regular season that featured no drama and little chum for the national chatterboxes...this team is plenty flawed!
Their superstar has minute warts that are overblown by most. Still, he has free throw playoff woes (3-8 on Sunday...) and occasionally defaults to “pummel through opponent” as his offensive setting.
Coach Bud ain’t beyond reproach. Going offense-defense with Giannis is one of those all-time “huh?” moments. Plus for a coach of his caliber, his Game One performances remain an utter mystery.
Bucks-Bulls: like a repeat of Bucks-Heat Game 1 from last year. We saw how that series turned out.— Mike Prada. (PRAY-duh) (@MikePradaNBA) April 18, 2022
Bud improves to 8-9 in Game 1s in his career, and is a Khris Middleton game winner and a couple Bulls missed gimmies from a 7-game Game 1 losing streak.
And how about the three-point shooting, I think we all remember well the deluge of sub-30% performances we all enjoyed in last year’s Playoffs. “The mean reversion’s coming! The mean reversion’s coming,” we all cried out. Alas, the mean reversion didn’t really come, and the Bucks still won the title with one of the worst postseason offenses in modern history. The 10-38, 26.3% performance from deep on Sunday would’ve fit right in with last year’s team.
Even the other members of the “Big Three” gave us a blast from the past with clanks aplenty through three quarters of the Bulls game. Khris Middleton ended 4-13 for 11 points and seven turnovers (only two free throw attempts). He disappeared in the way Middleton can for one to two games a series. Jrue Holiday was 6-16 for 15 points, conjuring up memories of last season’s postseason shooting rut.
And then the fourth quarter came, and the Bucks, as they’ve been wont to do all year, and we’ve been wont to expect, just, won. Brook Lopez bullied his way on cuts and rolls to clutch and-ones. Jrue finally started making a few shots. Giannis didn’t even score in the fourth and Milwaukee clamped down defensively for a 1-0 series lead even through a Bud brain fart.
Game One was an ideal microcosm of what we’ve come to expect from the Milwaukee Bucks experience. Spots of brilliance, mind-numbing moments of ineptitude, infuriating turnovers, wasted possessions, all interspersed and punctuated by a vise-grip defense and timely offensive buckets.
It was a helpful reminder. This isn’t a superteam. This isn’t a team of lottery picks. This isn’t a team peppered with year-in, year-out All-Star locks. This isn’t a team chock full of All-NBA selections. This isn’t a team with multiple top-ten players. This isn’t a team led by a consensus top-three coach.
This is a team led by the world’s best player, surrounded by complementary talent that fits extraordinary well, carrying a chemistry hardened by defeat and bolstered by a championship run. This is a team with warts, and that’s what makes them so lovable through all the maddening gaffes. If it’s a narrative we want to remember, where’s the fun in steamrolling opponents in just 16-20 postseason games? Sure, I’d take those W’s, but would you remember it as fondly as the multiple series recoveries from down 0-2 and the countless down-but-not-out moments of the 2021 title?
Probably not. And that’s why I’ve chosen to ignore that pit in my stomach this postseason and simply embrace the chaos of this team. After all, they never seem rattled, why should I?