Sweep Recollection: 2021 Bucks Project Tomorrow’s Success


What motivates a champion, like our Milwaukee Bucks from three summers ago?

Is it to chase a ring? To earn another trophy for the cabinet?

As detailed in Jason Lloyd’s The Blueprint, which covered the Cavaliers’ 2016 championship, the answer is the opposite. The best competitors primarily motivate themselves with a fear of failure.

This hypothesis achieves plausibility when one looks back on the Bucks’ sweep of Miami to start their championship run. The Heat embarrassed Milwaukee in the 2020 bubble playoffs. Before the world shut down, Bucks Lead fantasized about a 70-win season.

Instead, the Bucks had to pack their masks back in suitcases as Miami took their seemingly reserved spot in the Finals.

Although fans still may have a bit of PTSD from last season’s upset loss, history parallels the 2021 rebound much more than the burst bubble. By analyzing the Bucks’ remarkable success in starting their championship postseason, a potential rematch this spring quickly loses its preemptive heat haze.

Bucks Play their Dealt Hand

In the WTMJ radio pregame show before the penultimate 2021 regular-season game, then-Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer gave a surprising answer.

Milwaukee could knock Miami down to the seventh seed with a win. Then, the Bucks wouldn’t have to play the Heat in the first round.

When a reporter asked Bud about that possibility, he responded, “We’re just going to go out there and play.”

As WTMJ’s Justin Garcia revealed in subsequent postgame shows, the Bucks held a pregame vote on whether to play to win. The answer?

To face fate rather than flee from it.

The view from hindsight’s window is always prettier than a look through the future’s pane. It won’t do to glaze over the proceeding sweep as inevitable.

After Milwaukee demoralized Miami in the opener, the Heat cooled to quickly-brushed ashes.

As it always seems in the NBA, though, the difference between champion and chump came down to one play.

Following a Jimmy Butler layup that forced overtime, Goran Dragić hit a dagger through Milwaukee’s heart with a rebounded three in overtime. The game, now tied, seemed destined for another disc in a long shelf of Blu-ray defeats.

Khris Middleton, however, brought Milwaukee into success’s streaming age.

One Strand From Defeat

Although it’s now Dame Time in the Cream City, Money Middleton processed the transactions that made today’s successes possible.

As Bucks fans begin placing deposits on the 2024 payoffs, perhaps they smile with recollections of Middleton’s successes.

Maybe it’s his epic performance to extend the season against the Nets.

We may favor his layup to clinch a Finals win.

However, Khash’s clinching bucket in the playoff opener cleared the trail for the following fifteen glorious triumphs.

Although Miami still had a timeout, Erik Spoelstra’s last play belonged in the trash. Was the triumph “just one game?” Remember J.R. Smith‘s clock blunder in the Cavs’ devastating loss in its most-recent Finals. Even if one team is significantly favored (which wasn’t the case for Middleton’s Bucks), one play often changes history.

Bucks Buy Happiness

Should the Bucks play Miami again this postseason, fans would have the right to rub their foreheads, anxiously dreading another defeat.

It’s an understandable response. Paradoxically, as the best hoopers know, it’s also the correct one.

With eight games left in the regular season, Milwaukee still has numerous opportunities to find its rhythm. With Middleton mercifully returned from his ankle injury and Giannis playing his best basketball yet, the Bucks know how to obtain the correct mentality to experience June basketball again.

In last season’s final play, Grayson Allen left the Bucks’ last arrow in their quiver. Allen couldn’t release a would-be tying shot in time, and Milwaukee lost with a whimper.

The Bucks won’t let history repeat.

While Milwaukee did experience baffling losses to the Lakers in March, overall, their defensive attention to detail continues to improve. Damian Lillard, despite personal distractions (how dare players have ordinary people problems!), gives Milwaukee the explosiveness it didn’t have last April.

Imagine, for a moment, a better scene as our Bucks open the first or second round at Fiserv Forum once more.

Yes, the Heat are here.

Yes, there is reason to fear defeat. That’s the right idea!

It will take the heart of a Greek, the cannon of a timekeeper, and the BMO Harris debit card of a moneymaker. But with the new big three learning from success, taking heart from failure, and never running away from their karma, a different ending beckons as the red light brightens again.

The Bucks, again, can leave the court with smiles and high-fives as the Heat dismiss a notification even more quickly than they reach the locker room:

“Milwaukee Leads Series”

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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