Champs Finding New Challenge


During the 2016 Olympics, the U.S. men’s basketball team struggled in group play, facing a determined field. While the Americans entered the knockout stage undefeated, their last win, against France, didn’t inspire. Klay Thompson‘s response to a reporter?

“Hey, a win’s a win!”

Who are we to argue against one of the best non-Bucks in the league? Milwaukee won’t send any game balls to the Hall of Fame from their too-close wins on Friday and Saturday.

But Giannis Antetokounmpo, record-setting Khris Middleton, and an inspired Bobby Portis take the momentum anyway, thank you. So while the Bucks continue their scaling of the much-improved Eastern Conference mount, satisfied fans can take home three things to contemplate while multitasking with the title-hopeful Green Bay Packers.

1. Money Middleton Breaks Bank

Khash wasn’t at his best to begin this season, and an unfortunate COVID case cost him eight games. Wednesday against the Lakers, however, Middleton dismissed a slow start, beginning to regain his form. At the game’s end, he tied Ray Allen for 1,051 Bucks threes.

As Packer fans saw last week with our detested Lion rivals, ties are just no good. The Cream City wants our idol to have the record all on his own! Bucks Radio’s Ben Brust opined that Khris’s three would put the Bucks up 3-0 Friday against the inspired Thunder.

Ah, no such luck, as Holiday scored a layup.

But, after a Thunder miss, Giannis wouldn’t waste another moment.

He backed down two OKC defenders, leaving Middleton open. Bang!

Still think Money’s contract is too much? Considering how much he gives to our city, $177 million (necessary to protect every league player’s value) seems hardly more than that $6 water at Fiserv. But while the Bucks held off the Thunder, they almost paid greatly for a needed focus lesson.

2. Be the Best, Don’t Beat the Best

Free will is tricky. Many scientists don’t believe in it, as they’re too wrapped up in neurons and BF Skinner’s pigeon experiments. But basketball with robots would lose all romanticism. Thankfully, those psychologists are wrong: freedom is the ability to choose to concentrate at any given moment.

However, this fact may be working against the Bucks in their repeat season.

Being the defending champions, the Deer knows that every game is their opponent’s Finals game seven. Especially for underwhelming teams like the Thunder and Magic, beating the Bucks could inspire a turnaround.

Friday and Saturday, Milwaukee built massive leads, only to let minds wander.

Friday, the Bucks seemed to put OKC away immediately, like they’ve done so many times in the Mike Budenholzer era. However, the scrappy Thunder wouldn’t give up, cutting a 20-point lead to two when Giannis lost his man.

The Freak snapped to attention just in time.

Saturday’s outcome also brought concern. The dreadful, 4-12 Magic couldn’t keep up with the Freak in the third. Bucks Radio’s Dave Koehn (who does a tremendous job) said it best as Giannis blitzed helpless Orlando in the third: “Giannis to the rescue again.”

With a 29-point third-quarter lead, it seemed even more ridiculous that the Magic would get back in the game. Frighteningly, though, after Budenholzer emptied the bench, Orlando fought back, cutting the lead to six with the shot clock still on. Check the Freak’s last play, though, at 3:00 below. Mychal Mulder thought he could get a garbage-time bucket?

Get that trash outta here!

While all’s well as long as one gets the W, hopefully, the Bucks realized their challenging predicament. No one quits while playing the champs, so the winners can’t stop either.

True, with their too-late run, the Magic covered the spread. But here’s an important reason not to make a living betting against the Bucks.

3. Basketball Family

Ever heard about that schtick about “Heat culture?” Jiminy Crickets, how tiring! American basketball fans throw the word “culture” around so much that it’s lost all meaning.

So, Bucks Lead won’t try to argue that Milwaukee has a strong culture, whatever that’s supposed to mean.

The Giannis/Budenholzer Milwaukee Bucks are so much more than can be defined by one word. (Remember that to define is to place a limit.)

First, consider the ordinary, hardworking Milwaukeean fan’s favorite: Portis. True, Bobby doesn’t quite have the speed as some of his competitors. Make no mistake, though: he’s not here to “build culture.” The wide-eyed energizer can play!

Portis dismissed the Magic with 24 points on 8/11 shooting, including 6/7 from three. The drawback of previous “good locker-room guys,” like D.J. Wilson and Thon Maker, is that while they brought positive attitudes, they couldn’t contribute much on the court.

Bobby, by contrast, leads with a determined example.

Also, there’s little need to make lengthy mention of Giannis’s skills; media outlets everywhere cover that storyline numerous times. Consider, though, the ease of the Freak’s recent domination.

Wednesday against the Lakers, his 47 points were not from a ball-hog mentality; instead, they arrived in the game’s natural flow. Saturday, Antetokounmpo shot 15-23 from the line, while the entire Orlando roster made 11 charity tosses. While some of that success is from (long overdue!) favorable whistles, mostly it’s because he’s developed enough self-control and finesse, combined with unbelievable athletic talents, to overwhelm smaller rosters.

Yes, Giannis and Bobby still have numerous teams to climb over to reach the top of the East. Still, like free will, there’s something about this year’s Bucks that we can’t observe, only intuitively grasp.

Now, nothing against our beloved Brewers. But it’s finally safe to say: Milwaukee is a basketball town after all, and our Greek state treasure is never sated in his thirst to become the best person, player and teammate he can be.

And fans who look up to him and his inspired basketball family shouldn’t relinquish their success hunger either.

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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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