No team has endured playoff hardships quite the same way the Milwaukee Bucks have in the past three years. They were within arms reach of going up 3-0 on the Toronto Raptors in the Eastern Conference Finals in 2019, only to drop Game 3 and lose four straight. Last year, they were unceremoniously dispatched in the second round in five games by the Miami Heat on their way to the NBA Finals. No team has endured more criticism and speculation about their ability to win a championship in recent memory, (save for maybe the Los Angeles Clippers) and no player has been doubted more than Giannis Antetokounmpo despite winning back-to-back MVPs in both those years.
The past three postseasons have been rough for Milwaukee, and that almost feels like an understatement.
After getting their revenge by sweeping the Miami Heat in the first round this postseason, they have been presented with their greatest challenge yet in the Brooklyn Nets. And to be honest, they did not look up for the challenge the first two games. Game 2 in particular gave the indication that perhaps the series was already over, as the Bucks lost by 39 points and looked completely lost offensively. They responded in games three and four and tied the series on the backs of strong performances from Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton, and went back to Brooklyn with a chance to take control of the series. Additionally, Kyrie Irving sprained his ankle and it looked as though Durant would be the lone healthy star available for Brooklyn in game five. Unfortunately for the Bucks, the pressure to deliver lit a fire under Durant that nobody could have foreseen. Despite leading almost the entire game, Brooklyn was able to come away with the win on the strength of Durant going absolutely nuclear, tally 49 points, 17 rebounds and 10 assists in 48 minutes of action. That’s right, he did not come out of the game once.
It was a metaphorical gut punch for Milwaukee after scraping and clawing to get back into this series, one that many speculated they would not be able to come back from. But on Thursday night, the Bucks shocked the world. They took an early lead and never relinquished it, and handled business on their home court in their 104-89 win over Brooklyn. Middleton had what was easily his best playoff performance to date, dropping 38 points on 11-16 shooting as well as 5-8 shooting on 3-pointers. He also added 10 rebounds for good measure. Antetokounmpo had an efficient 30 points on 12-20 shooting and tacked on 17 rebounds. It was just the kind of game they needed to inspire confidence as they return to Brooklyn for game seven, and it demonstrated that they are not the same team that crumbled under the weight of the moment last summer against Miami.
There is an old adage that says that a man’s true character was revealed in defeat.’ Milwaukee showed what kind of team they are on Thursday night after getting smacked in game five, and it is clear they are not going to take it lying down. While they have not won in Brooklyn yet this series, the closeness of game five showed they are capable of it. Do not be surprised if they go into New York and win game seven. That is the kind of championship mettle this team possesses.
All stats courtesy of Pro Basketball-Reference and ESPN
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