The Milwaukee Bucks NBA season is over, ending in a brutal loss against 8th-seeded Miami Heat in the first round of the Playoffs after a hard-hitting OT loss in game 5, marking the first time in 11 years that an 8th-seed has taken out a 1st-seed in the first round.
Less Than Predicted
The top-seeded Bucks had been impressive to say the least in the regular season. They finished with a 58-24 record, the best in the NBA, and were favored to win the whole thing. Fox Sports Analyst Ric Bucher described this team as “particularly locked in and focused this year” which made for an even harder fall for them and their fanbase when they didn’t even make it out of the first round of play.
The Bucks traded wins against The Heat through the first two games, but gave up leads late in the following two games, putting them at a 3-1 deficit. Playing for their season at home in Milwaukee in game 5, the favorites to take the series seemed ill-prepared for what Jimmy Butler had up his sleeve. The Heat star averaged 37.6 points through this series, the highest average points scored in the first round of playoffs. But this article is not about how Butler has gone off in the Playoffs, it is about grading the Bucks’ performance throughout the season – including the playoffs.
Offense – A-
The beginning of the season started rough for the Bucks in November and December, as they struggled with injuries with both Khris Middleton and Giannis Antetokounmpo missing significant time through the season. Guard Jrue Holiday was a key piece to this offense each game he played, averaging 19.3 points and 7.4 assists per game, scoring over 30 in seven different games, as well as shooting 48% in three-pointers during must-score situations.
The true star of the show, however, was none other than the “Greek Freak” Antetokounmpo. In typical fashion for the Bucks star and MVP candidate, he put up an average of 31 points, 12 rebounds, and six assists, leading the NBA in points per minute and topping the list of best two-way players for the season.
Despite their struggles in the first months of the season, come January the team came back seemingly stronger than ever, dominating the remaining schedule and finishing with the best record of any teams.
Their lackluster performance in round one does come into play and knocks them down a grade or two, but overall their offense was top-notch when it mattered.
Defense – B+
As stated above, Antetokounmpo not only came to play offensively but was a force defensively as well. When being defended by the All-Star, players shot on average 6.8% worse. Another key member showing up defensively was Holiday, who is one of the top defenders in the league. When Holiday was on the court the Bucks outscored their opponents and secured the win by 9.2 points per 100 possessions, compared to being outscored by 4.7 points when he was not in play.
The surprising star for the Bucks’ defense was hands down Brook Lopez. After missing the majority of last season due to back surgery, skeptics were prepared for the player to perform worse than he had in previous seasons, or at least see a slight decline. These comments fell on deaf ears as Lopez had his best season to date with the Bucks. He was dominant in protecting the rim, averaging 2.5 blocks per game, while also shooting his career-best on threes and two-pointers.
Overall – B+
The Bucks seemed to have all their pieces come together and have what it takes to bring them to the big stage for the NBA Finals, and were favorites to bring home the ultimate win once again. Suffice to say, they got outplayed by The Heat, and in particular, Butler. Only one team can hoist the Larry O’Brien Championship Trophy, and falling short does not constitute a true failure of a season.
The Bucks hammered it home during the regular season and finished on top, and faced a daunting team in the first round. Yes, they should have somewhat easily been able to bypass The Heat and continue onto the East Conference Semifinals at the least, but their defense was unable to hold onto the leads they built, and underestimating what Butler and his team were going to bring to the table ended their season abruptly.
What The Game Is All About
This article would not be complete without discussing an extraordinary press conference comment from Antetokounmpo after being asked if he viewed the season as a failure. His response resonated with not just Bucks fans or NBA fans, but sports fans throughout the world, saying “It’s not a failure, it’s steps to success… There’s no failure in sports.” He talked about the great Michael Jordan who won an impressive six championships in his 15-year career, asking if that meant the other nine years were a failure. “There’s good days, bad days,” he continued. “Some days you’re able to be successful, some days you’re not. Some days it’s your turn, some days it’s not your turn. And that’s what sports is about. You don’t always win. Sometimes other people win. And this year somebody else is going to win, simple as that.”
I think this is a beautiful outlook on the game. Falling short does not constitute failure. They were not the team this year, but they will come together as a team, regroup, and return next season more experienced, stronger, and better.
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Stacey Cumming is a contributor on Back Sports Page. A Graduate from the University of Oregon in Journalism, she has four years of sports reporting experience, including covering the Oregon Ducks, working with NFL Films, and various interview opportunities with Tyler Lockett, Kalenna Azibuike, Jordan Kent, and more. Cumming takes part in various podcasts such as OnSide Take, and Sofa Sports with her father, Roger Cumming. For more on Stacey, follow her on Twitter @StaceyKean.