Wisconsins Morning News

Gene's Blog: The Bucks stopped here - a season like no other ends too soon

Gene Mueller's blog

No NBA Finals for Fiserv Forum's first year, re-purposed for mid-spring moving forward as a place for tunes, not dunks. No more hoop-centric parties for the Deer District, at least not until next fall when the Bucks play again. 

What will they look like when they return? Who knows. Sure, there'll be Giannis, most likely with the past season's MVP trophy in tow. His surrounding cast? That's gonna be a summer-long drama. But first, we need to address the elephant in the room, that being an Eastern Conference championship that was half-way to being in Milwaukee's grasp a week and change ago.

We heard way too many sports hot-takers predicting a quick and decisive dismantling of the Raptors, a team they deemed too thin and far less talented even though Toronto came withing a whisker of 60 wins, too. Kawhi Leonard is good, they conceded, but not enough when facing Giannis and the Milwaukee Bench Mob that destroyed Detroit and bopped Boston. They appeared to be right as the Bucks cruised in the first two games of the set.

Then, Toronto happened. 

Raptors coach Nick Nurse will get rightful praise for his adjustments that rendered the Milwaukee offense inert, the wall of bodies between Giannis and the hoop that caused him to force shots that didn't get whistles, try passes that too often they landed in the hands of teammates who missed (Eric Bledsoe) or appeared at times as if they didnt' want the rock in hand at a key moment (Khris Middleton).

In the end, though, the talking heads were right: this was a set decided by the benches. The one we all thought was best, wasn't. The one no one thought had the firepower to compete did.

Raptor Fred VanVleet joins baseballer David Freese in the pantheon of Milwaukee sports antagonists endowed with an unprintable middle name that starts with "F" and ends with "K".  The birth of his child during the series seemed to cloak him in him marksman-like shooting skills, that as the Bench Mob clanged, bricked and flat-out failed. 

The buttons and levers that Coach Bud pressed and flipped so adroitly during the regular season failed him in the conference finals. The same moves that made him look like a genius en route to home court advantage thr​​​​​​​ough the post-season betrayed the team after those first two wins over the Raptors. Credit Toronto for adapting.

Some of the obits will say Milwaukee's season is a bust as the Bucks failed to make the NBA Finals. Not so. Remember last October when most of us were hoping merely for home-court for an opening playoff series, vowing that a seven or eight spot in the tournament grid wouldn't suffice? This is a team that shattered expectations, a year that saw the Bucks become a SportsCenter fixture and Milwaukee an NBA destination.

History likes to remind us that it took a while for Michael Jordan and the Bulls to make the Finals--didn't the Pistons burst that bubble not once or twice but three times before Chicago finally prevailed? And success in sports isn't always stacked in consecutive increments. Teams sometimes spike and then decline before recalibrating to find their previous groove. The certain shuffle of bodies this off-season makes it even harder to say Milwaukee is a mortal lock to make it this far again next season.  A back-slide certainly isn't desirable, but could happen. You can bet the rest of the circuit will use these last four games as How To Contain Giannis 101. The greats find new ways to stay that way. How he and the team adjust will go a long way in shaping the next campaign.

What fun it would've been to bring the NBA Finals to Fiserv, pro hoop's biggest bash to the Deer District. The party instead returns to familiar San Francisco confines and to the unfamiliar turf of Toronto. Poor David Bahktiari will have to do his beer chugging in the relative obscurity of Ned Kelly's or some other Green Bay area tap of his choosing. I doubt any of them have arena-sized TV screens to display his amber antics.

A great season, a nice playoff run, a disappointing end. The Bucks' best player could no longer carry Milwaukee on his freshly buffed shoulders. Four other starters and a previously unassailable bench failed to fill the void. It hurts being halfway to the championship round, only to get swept four straight. Drake was hardly the Bucks' biggest issue, even after he apparently ate his meds and stayed in his seat for the closer.

The off-season abruptly and unwantedly arrives. Remember 2018-19 for the thrill ride that it was. Anticipate change and lots of it before the gaggle reassembles both inside Fiserve and around it. 



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