I Was Wrong About the Bucks!

Last night’s game seven between the Bucks and the Nets was one of the greatest basketball games I’ve ever watched. It was close all game, dozens of lead changes, big shots left and right, and you had two of the best players in the world going toe-to-toe. Neither team could pull away, and it felt like the momentum shifted every five minutes.

Milwaukee escaped with the 115-111 overtime win in a series that I said felt like it was over after KD’s monster performance in game 5, which gave the Nets a 3-2 lead.

I did not think the Bucks would be able to rally and recover from that, but they showed us what they’re truly made of.

Had the Bucks lost last night and got sent home for the third year in a row, it would have been a massive disappointment. They gave up a ton to get Jrue Holliday, they just signed Giannis to that big contract, and most of all, the Nets were extremely beatable with Kyrie out and Harden clearly not 100%.

If the Bucks couldn’t win that series, we might have had to start wondering if they’ll ever be able to win in the playoffs.

Last night might have been a turning point for the Milwaukee Bucks. It felt like it was the moment they learned how to win in the playoffs and should give them the confidence going forward that they truly are good enough and that they have what it takes.

When teams that haven’t won anything (Milwaukee) go up against teams or players that have won (KD), you always have to give the edge to the teams with more experience. They know how to win in the playoffs, and having won before they have the confident mentality where they expect to win, whereas the team that hasn’t won anything is just hoping to win.

That’s how I’ve always viewed the Bucks: as the team that has the talent to win, but not the confidence to win, because they haven’t won anything yet.

Gaining that confidence is the hump that all aspiring great teams have to overcome. They have to learn how to win. Last night, I think the Bucks officially have learned how to win.

After last night’s game, Milwaukee can look at any team in the NBA and think, “We’re not scared of you.”

They just went into KD’s house in a game seven and won. That was the biggest game for the Milwaukee Bucks franchise since they had Kareem in the early ’70s.

Now the Bucks have no reason to play scared and uptight. I think Jrue Holliday and Khris Middleton had some Game Seven Jitters in that game, given that they combined to shoot 14-49 from the floor (5-23 for Holliday, 9-26 for Middleton). That’s to be expected for a team that hasn’t won anything playing in a huge game: they’re overthinking it and they’re terrified of losing, so they’re not fully locked-in. I will however give Holliday credit for hitting some huge shots down the stretch–he may not have had a great game but he did come up big when it mattered the most.

But now, the Bucks players should have the confidence that their superstar, Giannis, has got them. Giannis was phenomenal last night: 15-24 from the field, 40 points, 13 rebounds. The box score will show that he was just 8-14 from the line, but he stepped up and hit some big free throws while the Brooklyn crowd was trolling him with the countdowns and heckling. He did airball a couple of free throws, but overall I was impressed with his poise at the line.

Before the game, I did not think Giannis was mentally tough enough to go into KD’s house and outduel him. I am so impressed with Giannis after that game. He came up huge. He showed us who he really is, and I’m so happy that he was able to step up and carry his team. That’s a defining moment in his career–most likely, it’s THE defining moment of his career thus far.

Last night, Giannis took the next step in his career: he went from a guy who was good in the regular season but shrinks in the playoffs to a guy who can get it done in the playoffs.

There are plenty of really good players in the NBA who put up big stats in the regular season. But not all of them show up in the playoffs. The difference between a good player and a great player is that great players get it done in the playoffs.

I don’t want to speak too soon because it was only a second-round series, but I think Giannis transitioned from a really good player to a great player last night.

I really did feel like that was a make-or-break game for Milwaukee. If they didn’t step up and win that game, a lot of people would have probably written them off and concluded they just don’t have the stones to win in this league. Hell, I said that about them after they lost game 5. I said “these boys are not ready for prime time.”

But they proved me wrong, and I’m happy about it.

I feel like now that they know they have what it takes to win big games in the playoffs, they can start playing more loose and confidently. I saw some videos of the scene in the Bucks’ locker room after the game, and it looked like they were so relieved. They finally got the playoff monkey off their backs.

I honestly feel like this was a franchise-changing win for Milwaukee. They’re now ready to win, for real.

Tonight we’ll find out who the Bucks are playing in the conference finals, either the Sixers or the Hawks. No matter what, I think Milwaukee should be favored in that series. Embiid is clearly not 100% and Ben Simmons has basically regressed into a role player in these playoffs. The Hawks are good, but they’re taking advantage of those two things.

The Bucks should win this next series and advance to the Finals.

As for the Nets, yeah, it’s a disappointment, but I don’t think anyone should blame them for losing that series with Kyrie out and Harden not 100%.

KD did everything he could. He scored the most points ever in a game seven last night with 48, hit all the big shots down the stretch and was about two inches away from winning the game at the end:

Had his feet been two inches back, that’s a three that gives Brooklyn a one-point lead with one second left on the clock. It would’ve been one of the greatest shots in NBA history.

Instead it tied the game up and forced overtime, where obviously the Bucks came out on top.

I’m impressed that KD made that game so close. He played all 53 minutes after playing 40 in game six and all 48 in game 5. He must have been exhausted even before the game started. But he still went out and made plays. The fact that he airballed that shot at the end of overtime made it clear: the dude was just gassed. He had nothing left in the tank by that point.

I honestly gained more respect for KD from this series than I did from his entire three-year stint in Golden State.

He didn’t have much help. Joe Harris was 3-10 from the floor last night. James Harden, although he did manage to get 22 points and 9 assists, was just 5-17 from the floor. Blake Griffin had a good game, 7-12 from the floor for 17 points. And Bruce Brown was great, 7-9 from the floor for 14 points.

And still KD was two inches away from winning it. Hats off to him for that. Brooklyn had no business being in that game–or even really being in this series after Kyrie went down–and KD carried them all the way to overtime in game seven.

Obviously Brooklyn is going to run it back for next season. They should be title favorites when everyone is back healthy and 100%.

But you have to wonder: if KD’s feet were two inches back and he hit that shot to win the game, and Kyrie comes back after his ankle heals, and Harden continues to get healthier–could the Nets have won the title this year? We’ll obviously never know, but I think they absolutely could’ve.

Huge win for Milwaukee, though. Franchise-altering.

Octavian

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