On April 26, the Miami Heat did the impossible. After overcoming a 16-point deficit in the fourth quarter of Game 5 against the top-seeded Milwaukee Bucks, the Heat finished the job in overtime to conclude their 4-1 series victory.
The Heat were just the fifth 8-seeded team to advance to the second round in NBA history. They were also the first team to pull off the feat in only five games. Calling this outcome unexpected would be a massive understatement.
In the days following the upset, the tension in Milwaukee was palpable. A fanbase that was less than two years removed from a championship had just been hit with an unexpected reality check. Giannis Antetokounmpo’s injury trouble was a sufficient excuse for some, but there still seemed to be a lingering feeling of “they were three games above .500; how on Earth did we lose to those guys?”
In the 44 days since Game 5, it’s safe to assume that the narrative around the Heat has shifted. “Those guys” went on to defeat the Knicks and the Celtics en route to an NBA Finals appearance. A team that was viewed as an easy out in most playoff previews is now holding its own against a Nuggets squad that hardly broke a sweat trudging through the Western Conference.
So this begs the question: should this change the way Bucks’ fans remember the 2022–23 campaign?
When I first considered this, the fan in me was quick to answer with no. Regardless of how Miami’s season plays out, the fact of the matter is that the Bucks had championship aspirations, and any outcome short of that—especially losing in the opening round—is an objective letdown.
Even with Giannis’ injury, the Bucks had a roster that was capable of winning a seven-game series against Miami. The fact that the Heat won that series (especially with back-to-back double-digit comebacks in Games 4 and 5) is an embarrassment to the Bucks. The front office clearly felt that sentiment to some extent, as the outcome led to the dismissal of head coach Mike Budenholzer.
On the other hand, Miami’s run through the East added considerable context to an otherwise inexplicable outcome. Seeing other teams fall victim to the unassuming group of misfits in South Beach had to be gratifying on some level for the Bucks’ faithful. After all, it’s easier to justify losing to an inevitable buzzsaw that pillaged the Eastern Conference than a play-in participant who got squashed right after they beat your team.
Like most things, I think the right perspective lies somewhere in the middle.
When you build a team with the talent to compete in the postseason, I think it’s reasonable to have expectations that reflect that. It’s also alright to be disappointed when those predictions fall short. However, I think this mindset runs amok when it becomes “championship-or-bust”.
Upsets are present in the postseason of every organized sport, and the NBA Playoffs are no exception. No one team or player is immune to an unexpected defeat, so you are setting yourself up for certain disappointment if you only view wins and losses in a hyper-competitive binary. This reminds me of Giannis’ post-game speech after the Miami series, where he shot down the idea of “failure” in sports, emphasizing that the journey is more valuable than the destination.
All that is to say, losing sucks. But it happens.