Bucks and Clippers Sail Toward Finals Shores


“I love the adversity; I love the losing streaks.”

Wait, wait, Ms. Burke: you like that the Bucks have had losing streaks this season? After the Milwaukee Bucks’ monumental win against the Los Angeles Clippers, “just win, baby,” fans turned the TV off confused. Doris, however, is correct.

Only through heartbreak and adversity can a contender become a champion. And there has been quite a bit of heartbreak for the Clippers and Bucks! Milwaukee hasn’t made the Finals since 1974, and LA has never made the West Finals. Two shortcomings in the 2000’s especially devastated the now-surging franchises. How have the squads recovered to become front-line challengers to win the title?

2001 Eastern Conference Finals: Sixers 4, Bucks 3

Twitter was still five years away from debuting when the Bucks last arrived within a game of the Finals. How ever did fans share dunk memes? The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, still popular in the early millennium, instead told of glorious success. With a big three of Ray Allen, Sam Cassell and Glenn Robinson, the Deer finished second in the East. After dispatching Orlando 3-1, Milwaukee stunned Charlotte on the road in game six before eliminating the Hornets at home.

Various conspiracy theories allege the NBA wanted the 6ers to win the East Finals; Bucks Lead will leave that verdict to reader discretion. One can’t deny, however, the devastation of the loss. The East titans traded wins through four games, setting up a vital game five. As NBC noted, game five winners prevailed 82.7% of the time in 2-2 series.

(Skip to 2:04 for the last two minutes.)

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A questionable (to say the least) offensive foul call on Jason Caffey gave the ball back to Philadelphia, who led by one. Thankfully the 6ers didn’t score. However, Robinson missed a difficult shot, and a sloppy-and-rushed Tim Thomas pass gave the ball back to Philly. Eric Snow and Caffey traded buckets, and the Bucks still trailed by a single tally. After a necessary Bucks foul, Aaron McKie blew both free throws, giving Milwaukee one more chance.

Tragically, a short Robinson jumper and Allen tip-in wouldn’t fall. Although the Deer won game six, the Sixers blew out Milwaukee 108-91 in the finale. The “oh well, get ’em next year” rationalizations didn’t work this time, as the Bucks wouldn’t win a series again until 2019.

2015 Western Conference Semifinals: Rockets 4, Clippers 3

Whatever Steve Ballmer’s track record at Microsoft, Clippers fans should acknowledge his rescue of the long-struggling franchise. After a near-boycott following Donald Sterling’s racist comments, LA fell in 2014 after the infamous Doc Rivers “that’s our ball!” miscue. In 2015, though, Chris Paul‘s epic shot with a second left helped the Clippers escape San Antonio in game seven of the first round.

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LA blew out Houston three times in four tries, building a seemingly secure lead. The Rockets easily won at home 124-103, but all the Clippers had to do to finally reach the West Finals was win at the Staples Center.

This reporter has never appreciated baseball analogies in basketball, but Kevin McHale was correct that to overcome a 19-point deficit, Houston couldn’t use 20-point home-run plays. The Rockets steadily cut into the lead, while LA lazily tried to win by default. In the fourth, the Clippers missed 14 shots in a row as the tortoise Rockets inched to a win.

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Houston expertly closed out game seven at home 113-100, and the dejected Clippers returned to the crowded West basement.

2019 Eastern Conference Finals: Raptors 4, Bucks 2

Mike Budenholzer adjusted the Bucks to the modern-NBA pace, and the Deer raced to 60 wins and the best record in the association. After quickly dispatching Detroit and Boston, Milwaukee won the first two games at home against Toronto. After a near-miss in game three, Nick Nurse wisely built a wall around Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Yes, every team tries that tactic now.

However, the Raptors had the size that most teams don’t, frustrating a playoff-inexperienced Freak.

After slumping in game four, Milwaukee couldn’t quite win game five. However, the Raptors considered the next contest their game seven because surely the Deer would dominate the finale at the Forum. After trading long runs, Lady Luck blessed Kawhi Leonard again with a favorable bounce. The Raptors’ defense closed out the game from there.

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A quick rant on “defense wins championships.” Bud intelligently preaches defense first to today’s Bucks, and the strategy works tremendously. True, stats indicate offense and defense are equally important to top teams. However, those figures leave out that players need more effort to learn defense. Any player gets excited over making a bucket, but the praise is often too disbursed on defense. Notice in the above video how quickly the Raptors closed out on passes and how rapidly players clung to the Bucks.

Milwaukee was a split-second slow in 2019, but in NBA playoff basketball, that’s all it takes to lose. The Deer faced coronavirus devastation last year, but after a thrilling win over Memphis, they enter the second half with renewed optimism.

2020 Western Conference Semifinals: Nuggets 4, Clippers 3

Fans fretted that stadium staff would overwork should the Lakers and Clippers advance to the 2020 West Finals. Horrifically, those workers had to seek other jobs as the coronavirus pandemic suspended the season. Humankind, however, is resilient. We survived two world wars and 50 million deaths from the Spanish flu, and God dang it, the virus would not stop the US! And not the proud NBA, either.

Despite Luka Dončić‘s heroics in the bubble’s first round, Leonard and Paul George pushed LA into the West Semifinals against middling Denver. With no home-court, the Nuggets could do nothing as the Clippers took a 3-1 lead. The outcome seemed secure: LA would finally advance to the West Finals after 50 years of slips.

Shockingly, Denver fought back from 15 down in the second half to salvage game five. In game six, the Nuggets recovered from being 19 down with 22 minutes left. Going into the series, only 12 NBA teams had come back from 1-3 down in a series. However, who was team 11? The 2020 Nuggets against the Utah Jazz. To Michael Malone’s credit, he refused to let his team quit, even against an avalanche deficit.

The Nuggets again faced a double-digit hole early. For the fourth time in six years, the Clippers lost focus in a monumental moment.

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Although LA replaced Doc with another excellent coach, Ty Lue, LA slipped to fourth in 2021’s first half. However, as the Heat and Cavs recently proved, any reasonably talented team has a playoff shot.

New Shores

The Bucks and Clippers haven’t had the same amount of success this year. The Deer must make it past Philadelphia and Brooklyn to make the Finals, and the Clippers may have to sail into Utah’s terrifying three-point waves. However, even if both teams fall again, there’s a nobility in honest failure. The climb up the mountain by itself gives humankind our dignity.

Yes, we need goals and should never dismiss the importance of reaching them. The process of success comes first, though, before we reach the object we yearn for. Is the process a foolish cliché? The first-place Sixers disagree. The Bucks and Clippers perfected the attention details needed to compete for the NBA championship. While not guaranteed, past disappointments further fuel the soul of two basketball-proud cities, who enter the second half with more than enough heart to arrive at the shores of the long-sought NBA Finals.

Follow us on Twitter @BucksLead for the latest Bucks news and insight. 

About Jeffrey Newholm

"Jammin Jeff" Newholm had been a basketball fanatic since his high school days, and remained a casual fan as a student in Whitewater. Wishing to check in as an active participant, he also completed a writing certificate program at UWM. He loves seeing Bucks games more than any other activity in hometown Milwaukee and especially screaming really really loudly to get someone to miss a free throw. Twitter: @JeffreyNewholm

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