As soon as it was official the Milwaukee Bucks would be facing the Miami Heat in the first-round of this year’s NBA Playoffs, I started watching their semifinals matchup from last season.
Re-watching that series was difficult. The Bucks were so far removed from the dominance they’d displayed over the last two seasons at that point. The Heat were the hottest team in the league, who’d shown they’d be the nightmare matchup Milwaukee couldn’t wake up from.
A stinging 4-1 series loss, put a roster overhaul in motion for the Bucks. It cast serious doubt in the minds of Milwaukee Bucks fans and NBA pundits everywhere, on if Giannis would re-sign and remain in Milwaukee. He did and the Bucks got to work on getting better.
Fast forward through a challenging, yet encouraging, 46-26 regular season, that saw the Bucks grab the 3-seed in the East and let’s get to what I saw in Saturday afternoon’s tilt between these two squads.
The first quarter of Game 1, was brutal. Missed calls, missed shots and low IQ passes, had given me more gray hairs. (Yes, folks, I have some. So what?) Some credit to the Heat for causing a bit of this, but it was mostly Milwaukee’s own doing. Despite all this, the Bucks found themselves down only 2 points to close that quarter.
One thing was evident throughout this game and it’s something I called out on last week’s episode of TO:SS: Miami has the personnel to run an effective wall against Giannis and force tough shots from distance on rotations. Giannis going 10-for-27 from the field and the Bucks shooting 5-for-31 from three, clearly proved this fact.
Despite the physical defense from Miami and the shooting woes caused as a result, the Bucks put themselves in position to win this game in overtime. Enter: Khris Middleton.
With just over nine second remaining, and tied in overtime, Middleton brings the ball up the floor. The Heat were dead set on not allowing any shot to come from the paint. If Milwaukee was going to win this game, it was going to be on a tough perimeter shot. That just so happens to be Middleton’s speciality. Khris dribbles away from a double-team, rises above the outstretched arm of Duncan Robinson (who had a hell of a game himself.) and drains the game-winning jumper with 0.5 seconds remaining.
The Bucks force the Heat into a tough shot on the other end, that wouldn’t have counted anyway, and do something they couldn’t in last season’s matchup: take a series lead.
The bubble was a nightmare for the Bucks, especially against Miami. Milwaukee continuously found ways to defeat themselves and succumbed to the physicality of the Heat. The first quarter was reminiscent of that, but the Bucks found their fight.
They wouldn’t allow themselves to be bullied. They didn’t allow shooting difficulties, questionable officiating, and the hint of nightmares from season’s past, force them to quit. Milwaukee showed a grit they’d not shown in two previous seasons under Mike Budenholzer.
Game 2 will be more of the same. This series is going to be physically punishing. But if the grit I witnessed from the Bucks on Saturday, is indicative of what they’ll display moving forward, I’m highly intrigued and optimistic.
Fear the Deer season is truly upon us.