Bucks’ Ongoing Road to Olympus Began with Renewed Rivalry


An intriguing 2011 study found that teams losing in basketball can sometimes be more likely to win (perhaps that fact explains Oral Roberts’ recent success).

The Milwaukee Bucks, then, must have had a golf strategy in mind in a humiliating 95-130 loss to Philadelphia in the 2018 finale. The defeat dropped Milwaukee to the seventh seed, a slot with only five victors in NBA history. Worse, their opponent was the surging Celtics, who seemingly had organizational momentum while waiting for Kyrie Irving‘s return.

While the Deer came up a bit short, the near-miss reinforced Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton‘s talent. Most importantly, it provided the needed motivation for the Freak to reach his current unthinkable success.

Game One: Celtics 113, Bucks 107 (Overtime)

The pre-pandemic TD Garden (sadly named after a brokerage, not Lambeau Field) held echoes of the past, with the raucous shouts of the present. While statisticians claim that athlete motivation is unaffected by crowd noise, that scientist probably never played in an NBA arena. After trading runs, Malcolm Brogdon hit a three (7:40) to tie the game with ten seconds left.

Supposedly brilliant coach Brad Stevens drew up a play for Terry Rozier, who hit a three with 0.5 left.

Half a second? More than enough time for Khris to hit the tying three. A bricked Giannis free throw with Milwaukee down three led to his sixth foul in a precursor of unfortunate misses.

Are there moral victories in the playoffs? While it’s easy to quickly say no, keep in mind Milwaukee hadn’t won a series since 2001. A close call could give the Deer the needed confidence to surge in future games.

Game Two: Celtics 120, Bucks 106

The Celtics, perhaps awakened from their opening scare, steered the Deer away early and pulled away. Giannis shot 13 of 17 for 30 points but still mustered a +/- of -13. Well, with crowd noise not meaning anything, the series was over. Not!

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Game Three: Bucks 116, Celtics 92

Game three started a foolish trend for Boston, one that the franchise still hasn’t recovered from. The C’s thought if they could win every home game, they didn’t need to win on the road. The Bucks more than happily accepted the leprechauns’ indifferent generosity, blasting to a 27-12 lead after one quarter. In the estimation of this reporter, it was one of the most energetic crowds in the Giannis era, even counting Fiserv games.

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Even Jabari Parker, currently unemployed, blitzed Boston. He recorded 17 points at +17, behind only Khris and Giannis. The game was such a blowout that Brandon Jennings recorded five minutes (although his prediction still hasn’t achieved fruition). Unfortunately, basketball isn’t backgammon; the contest only counted for one win.

Game Four: Bucks 104, Celtics 102

In Ben Reiter’s Astroball, an executive gives the scribe important advice. “The future is a lot weirder than we can imagine. If you think you’ve got it figured out, just wait. You will be wrong.”

Midway through the third quarter, the Bucks again led by 20. Something seemed off, though. Can the Bucks beat the two seed this easily twice?

Sure enough, life proceeded weirdly. Boston stormed back, briefly taking an endgame lead. When Brogdon’s shot wouldn’t fall, it appeared overtime was the best-case situation. Thankfully, Giannis didn’t give up on the play (9:00).

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Khris’s stout defense forced a Marcus Morris miss, and the Deer earned their second win. Series on!

Game Five: Celtics 92, Bucks 87

Again, Boston played more competitively with cheers instead of jeers. Milwaukee trailed by five but still had the Cream City’s heart on the road. Horrifically, the officials missed a shot-clock violation, giving Boston enough time to escape.

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With the home team down 2-3, game six is perhaps the most exciting playoff scenario. Will the favorite finally put the underdog away? Or will the underdog righteously declare its intention of fighting, dribbling and passing to the last horn?

No question: the Bucks stampeded to the final breath.

Game Six: Bucks 97, Celtics 86

In the Bradley Center’s last game (gone but never forgotten), the C’s hung around for a while. But in a similar spirit to game four, Giannis would not let his city of dreams down.

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The indefatigable Freak played 41 minutes with 31 points, and Boston listlessly pranced toward the locker room, hoping for a better game seven. The weird came true: the Bucks forced a winner-take-all contest against a team supposedly set for years of success.

Game Seven: Celtics 112, Bucks 96

A step slow. A free-throw short. A foul uncalled.

Hundreds of micro-indignities culminated in a defeating setback at the Garden. Giannis recorded four turnovers and five fouls, and Milwaukee didn’t have the energy to keep up with the better-coached roster.

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Nine Celtics played at least ten minutes compared to six Bucks. It was a mismanagement culmination from interim coach Joe Prunty, who couldn’t optimize now-undeniable roster talent. It seemed Milwaukee’s last, best opportunity to win a playoff series had passed. But here’s an essential fact about Greek Gods: they’re immortal. If not in body, at least in spirit. And while Boston reeled out of the playoff bounds, Giannis boldly stepped towards paradise.

Planting the Green Flag

Finally, with proper leadership under Mike Budenholzer, Milwaukee won 60 games in 2019. Meanwhile, Irving’s presence hindered Boston, who could only win one postseason match against the Deer. Yes, Boston made it a bit farther last season, but Milwaukee’s situation would have improved with proper home-court versus lame fake cheers at Disney.

Last Wednesday, Milwaukee had a seemingly unassailable 25-point lead but only escaped when Daniel Theis missed a three that would have given Boston the win.

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True, Giannis’ inhibition and rest cost Milwaukee the next Boston game and a thrilling Knicks setback. Their current west-coast road trip, as seen Monday, also brings difficulties. However, the Bucks have positive organizational momentum, while Boston can’t discover enough roster chemistry to compete.

Milwaukee will never have Boston’s television contract. It will never have the same city population.

It will, however, always have more heart. More soul. And a more noble MVP, ready to lead his teammates, even if it’s a (rare) game as a cheerleader. This April, Milwaukee will continue to fight for a top-two seed while the Celtics battle to avoid a play-in. Should the teams meet again, the Bucks won’t need a leaster’s strategy to continue its surge to the pinnacle of NBA basketball.

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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