Bucks

Familiar Foes Trending in Opposite Directions?

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The frustrating fact about matter is that humans can’t destroy it. That’s why mountain roads wind dangerously through snow, and landfills never diminish.

Unfortunately for Giannis Antetokounmpo and his Bucks, Jimmy Butler‘s Heat may represent another permanent obstacle. His Bulls thwarted a promising Milwaukee season in 2015, and last year’s disappointment broke Buck hearts everywhere. Milwaukee must improve its 2021 form to defeat talented opponents like Miami and claim a trophy lost in the mail for 50 years. However, recent Milwaukee improvement and Miami regression could offer a more successful playoff push this time (hopefully with fans!).

October 26th, 2019: Miami 131, Milwaukee 126

Coming off a win in Houston, Milwaukee battled a Miami team in another spectacular Forum home opener. Without Butler, celebrating his new fatherhood, Miami couldn’t keep up early. The Deer hit 14 first-half threes, and certain Bucks fans thought the large lead enabled a snack break.

While both fanbases wished newborn Rylee sweet sleep, Fiserv fans watched, horrified, as the Heat struggled back. Milwaukee lost focus while missing shots, and Miami took a four-point lead with seconds left.

Giannis powered for an and-one, and the Heat (not helped by an extra foul) hit one-of-four free throws. Despite an accidental alley-oop to tie the game, Giannis fouled out in overtime. Many missed free throws kept Milwaukee in the game, but Khris Middleton‘s boinked three sealed the loss. Bucks fans filed out, agitated: did their heroes have a new rival?

March 2nd, 2020: Miami 105, Milwaukee 89

In Stephen King’s The Stand, one survivor recalls his angst over difficulties in a calculator factory. “We didn’t know what hard times really were,” he says bitterly.

Similarly, Bucks fans watched in mild frustration as their idols dropped a game in Miami. Radio guru Ted Davis describes some games as schedule losses, and this road back-to-back qualified. As the Heat announcer declared, however, the Bucks could defend home court in the playoffs. The coronavirus had other ideas (if the blasted bug has thought capacity, that is). Soon there would be no fans or games at all. Thankfully, Adam Silver brilliantly schemed an Orlando bubble, ensuring the Bucks would get at least one more ice cube against Miami.

August 6th, 2020: Milwaukee 130, Miami 116

After the Bucks blew a chance to clinch the top East seed, they faced an Erik Spoelstra-led team that refused to show its hand. Butler sat out with a sore ankle, but the Heat still burst to a 23-point lead.

The Bucks climbed back, cutting the deficit to “only” 17 at halftime. However, basketball can be rather one-sided when one team plays 100% and the other 70%. A burst of energy pushed the Bucks back to within one and a 20-0 run to seal the W. Spol and Butler cruelly responded to the clinch, “here’s a Euro; go call someone who cares.” The Heat laughed off their five-seed relegation and soon troubled the wandering Bucks.

#1 Bucks vs. #5 Heat: Heat in Five

Bucks Lead will quickly clear up misconceptions about the bubble Bucks. Almost all Bucks fans expected a trip to the Finals or a tight East Finals loss to Toronto.

National fans, however, had more skepticism. Anyone who’s been in a tweet war knows how super-annoying a skeptic can be. Now and then, however, a heat-blinded scribe finds a berry. Miami stomped the Bucks in game one with a stronger effort after the first quarter. The ending of game two devastated the Deer. If the game had been in Milwaukee, homer referees probably wouldn’t have called the walk-off ticky-tack on Giannis. (Maybe Monty Python needs to write Sir Flops-A-Lot into their next movie.)

Milwaukee couldn’t close out game three, effectively ending the series. Still, after a mega-trade for Jrue Holiday, maybe the Deer would stampede more rapidly outside the bubble. Two vital Miami games, with no fans, tested this notion.

December 29th, 2020 (Milwaukee 144, Miami 97) and December 30th (Miami 119, Milwaukee 108)

Again, a 30% effort difference can turn a battle into a decimation. Milwaukee hit 29 threes, with every player except Giannis shooting at least one. With more than half the fourth left, Donte DiVincenzo passed to D.J. Wilson, who proved to be more than a good bench guy.

Bang! Record tied. (At this point, Davis wished away every meaningless Heat possession.) Sam Merrill, a new fan favorite, broke the record. While the mark won’t last forever, fans watching from afar made delightful memories. All the more disappointing, then, that the Bucks couldn’t back up the effort.

Although some may not remember the 2020 finale, the Bucks fought valiantly without Giannis. Miami, however, used run-energy wisely, saving their effort for a second-quarter explosion.

In last month’s rematch, the Bucks similarly led by three entering the fourth. Perhaps Spol remembered Vince Lombardi’s short tenure as a basketball coach. In one game where the other team held the ball indefinitely, Saint Vince said at the right moment, “go get ’em.”

Tragically, the Heat blasted past the Deer, to our hated commander’s inner smug satisfaction. Thankfully, with fans potentially returning, Milwaukee may reclaim home-court in May. Considering Miami’s recent struggles, the clearing may be closer than previously thought.

Rebound

The heart of an MVP and his supporters, like matter, can’t be destroyed. The Deer struggled somewhat out of the gate this season, starting 11-8 (tell the Larry Drew Bucks 11-8 is a crummy record!).

Against the Blazers and Pacers, Milwaukee rediscovered a fundamental 2020s’ NBA truth: hitting more threes is the path to glory. The Bucks hit six more threes against Portland (+18 points in a 28-point game) and ten more than Indiana (+30 points in a 20-point contest).

Note: Bucks Lead hates to criticize Giannis; we really really hate it. Fact is, though, Giannis isn’t the best outside shooter. Smartly, the Freak attempted a combined zero treys in the two wins. Giannis, instead, played facilitator, recording a triple-double Wednesday in 31 minutes. Last season, Milwaukee started 2-2 before three straight double-digit triumphs started the momentum train.

The Deer may be starting to run away again from the East hunters.

Bad Ricochet

Miami, meanwhile, hasn’t had the same success. Butler missed ten games with the COVID virus, and the Heat uncharacteristically have a losing home record. The Heat play in the same state as the Magic, and both teams know how fleeting enchantments can be.

The Bubble offered an ideal environment for the 2020 Miami squad. The Pacers hopelessly underwhelmed as a first-round opponent. Then, the Bucks lost the first two games with the lack of Forum fanatics. Now blazing, Miami burnt the modestly talented Celtics. The Heat ran out of fuel against LA, but how many teams could have beaten last season’s Lakers? Not one who had to fight so ardently to get to the Finals.

This season, the juju disappeared. What is momentum? It’s not necessarily an unthinkable extension of success. Instead, it’s a team focused by gradually increasing challenges. A loss can distract, but a close and focused win boosts confidence. With numerous injuries, Miami had no opportunity to find its chemistry. Wednesday, the team hit a frightening low.

With unlucky #13’s backside facing the camera, the Heat fell to the 5-12 Wizards. Still, the Bucks can’t get overconfident. If the Heat recover (more like when with Spol’s thoughtful intensity), they could win a play-in and face Milwaukee in the first round.

Not the first round! In any basketball tournament, however, a contender must face the best teams eventually anyway. Coach Mike Budenholzer and Giannis must learn that 30 minutes of effort won’t do. It takes 2,880 seconds of determination to win a playoff game, and nothing less will enable the Deer to rename the Bill Russell trophy after the basketball Zeus.

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

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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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