By: Jeffrey Newholm
One of the things Milwaukee is famous for (for some reason) is a statue of the Fonz, a character from Happy Days. With new ownership, a new star in Giannis Antetokounmpo, and soon a new arena, happier days may soon be coming to the Cream City. But first the Bucks must make it out of the first round, something they haven’t done since Ray Allen led the team to the east finals in 2001. Dribbling in their path are the Celtics, a scary name almost toothless now with Kyrie Irving out for the season. The Bucks could not have looked worse in closing the season with a 130-95 loss to the Sixers. However, the Celtics have also limped to the finish. Boston finished 2-4, losing by 18 to a Raptors team they still had a chance to catch. Which team will shoot straight enough to advance a third of the way through a very winnable east?
As many shredders in March can attest, the future never works out as we expect. The Celtics found this out the hard way when they traded away the house for Irving. For months people argued who “won” the trade. But with Irving’s injury, it seems that it was a lose-lose. Boston is certainly one of the three most talented top-to-bottom teams in the conference. But as the Hawks and Pacers have discovered, that’s not enough when playing against a man who’s won the league seven years in a row. Yet all hope is not lost.
Brad Stevens has established a reputation as the brightest young mind in the NBA. If Irving can muster up the courage to make a comeback, something curiously impossible for Kawhi Leonard and Derrick Rose, this team can build a foundation with playoff success. With the Sixers lacking postseason experience, Toronto a paper tiger, and Cleveland a muddled mess, the C’s can give Irving a compelling reason to come back just as strong.
Bucks marketing tries to market the squad’s core as KEG-Khris Middleton, Eric Bledsoe, and Giannis-but let’s face it, one needs to look no further than “The Alphabet” for a glossary of Milwaukee studs. Antetokounmpo leads the team in usage percentage at 31% and a player impact estimate of 18.6, which is six higher than Bledsoe, who’s second. But the Greek Freak has been stymied by bad Bucks management. The Buck’s new hedge-fund ownership group made a mess of hiring now GM Jon Horst. Horst did well with the trade for Bledsoe, but the ballyhooed firing of Jason Kidd made zero meaningful positive impact.
The team won seven of is first eight under Kidd assistant Joe Prunty but finished just 21-16. Worse, Giannis reportedly felt uncomfortable with Kidd’s dismissal. His play of late tragically reflects this. Giannis shockingly has a net rating of -12 in April. The Bucks finished 17th in defensive rating (the Celtics were first) and 25th in defensive three point percentage, critical in today’s game (the Celtics were first). Wednesday the Sixers effectively crowded Giannis out of the lane in the rout. That’s bad news for a team just 22nd in three point percentage.
Phil Jackson emphasized that success is a process, not a destination. Bucks fans are focused too much on winning a playoff series and not enough on the work needed to make a franchise successful. The regular season, contrary to popular belief, means a lot in the NBA. The 7 seed has only beaten a 2 5 times and it’s hard to see the Bucks as the sixth. Despite the team telling patrons that playoff tickets are “extremely limited”, Milwaukeeans are by now habituated to quick playoff exits and I’ve found few fellow fans willing to make a final trek to the Bradley Center. During the Bucks’ final lurch down to seven, announcer NBA Ted advised teams shooting for the well-coached Celtics to “be careful what they wish for”. Bucks fans should wish for a third trip to Boston, because that’s what it’ll take to finally win.
Celtics in Six