A few of Milwaukee’s wins defined how good the team was prior to the COVID-19 pandemic
We should be watching the top-seeded Milwaukee Bucks battling the Orlando Magic in the first round of the playoffs right now.
If things were normal, that would be the case. But the COVID-19 pandemic froze every bit of progress the Bucks were making when the NBA put the season on hold March 11.
Milwaukee has the best record in the league at 53-12, and is ahead by 6.5 games over the Toronto Raptors in the Eastern Conference. The team was on a three-game losing streak and its point differential had dipped a little bit before Adam Silver temporarily shut the league down, but its point differential remains at a league-high +11.2, which is 3.8 points higher than the Lakers, who has the second-highest point differential.
Some games were easy, and some were difficult for the Bucks to earn their NBA-best season record, but three victories in particular demonstrated just how impressive their campaign was before coronavirus concerns stopped everything.
#1: Dec. 6, 2019 vs. Clippers
The Bucks were on a 13-game winning streak and Giannis, the reigning MVP, turned 25 before they took the court against a Clippers team with both a healthy Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. Giannis and co. did not even give the Clippers time to fully settle in because they ran them out of the building by a 119-91 final score.
Los Angeles could not figure out a way to stop Giannis. The Greek Freak scored 27 points in 26 minutes on 11-20 shooting and corralled 11 rebounds for his 21st double-double at the time. It was Milwaukee’s 23rd game.
The biggest highlight of the night was when Giannis leapt over with full-arms length over Ivica Zubac for an emphatic, posterizing dunk early in the third quarter. Leonard and George had no other choice but to stare, perhaps in shock. A thunderous roar from the crowd followed.
The Bucks at one point had a 41-point lead before winning by a 28-point margin. Milwaukee shot 14-36 (38.9 percent) on 3-pointers, and held the Clippers to 8-32 shooting from deep (25 percent). Leonard and George posted a combined 30 points.
The win gave Milwaukee its 20th in 23 tries and its 14th consecutive at the time. Quite the birthday present for the MVP.
#2: Dec. 19, 2019 vs. Lakers
In the game prior to taking on LeBron James and co. at Fiserv Forum, the Bucks’ historic 18-game winning streak ended courtesy of the Dallas Mavericks. It was their second-longest winning streak in franchise history. The 1970-71 championship team still holds that record with 20 straight victories.
Eating that loss and then having to take on a stacked team with LeBron James and Anthony Davis was no easy task, but Milwaukee pulled through 111-104.
The MVP had another beautiful performance, scoring 34 points in 32 minutes on 11-19 shooting, including a career-best five made 3-pointers. Giannis also racked in 11 boards for his 25th double-double with an additional seven assists. Let’s not forget the moment when he put on the imaginary crown after making his fifth shot from downtown, signifying his desire to be the next king of the NBA. James was asked after the game his thoughts on Giannis’ performance. His response was an imaginary tip of the cap. Respect? Absolutely. Changing of the guard? We’ll see.
Eric Bledsoe did not play in this game, so George Hill took the honors and scored 21 points of his own — second most on the team that night — on a solid 7-12 shooting overall and 3-5 from downtown.
The Bucks led 65-46 at halftime, but since the Lakers are a title-contending team, they didn’t back away too easily. Davis played for 43 minutes and was the main reason why the Lakers stayed in the game. He led all scorers with 36 on 11-25 shooting.
But Milwaukee’s shooting from deep catapulted the team to victory, going 16-39 overall (41 percent). The Bucks improved to 25-4 on TNT’s most watched NBA game since January 2018.
#3: Feb. 25, 2020 @ Raptors
The Bucks witnessed their championship dreams get taken away the last time they travelled to Toronto in the Eastern Conference Finals prior to their February meeting this year.
This contest was one of the Bucks’ toughest on the entire schedule regardless whether or not COVID-19 forced the league to temporarily suspend the season. What made it even tougher is that Milwaukee battled a very game Washington Wizards squad the night before, winning in an overtime thriller, 137-134. The team was tired.
But showing truly how good they were, the Bucks put all of the bad memories and fatigue aside, showed some grit, and came out of Scotiabank Arena victorious, 108-97.
Defense was the key factor why Milwaukee earned its 50th win at the time. The Bucks did not shoot well (38 percent overall), but they held the Raptors to just 35 percent shooting (32-91), despite making 18 three-pointers.
The Bucks at one point were down by 12 late in the second quarter, but went on an 11-1 swing to be down just two at the break.
Both teams struggled to hit shots in the second half, but the Bucks, specifically Khris Middleton and Marvin Williams, took the momentum from Toronto with their big-time shooting from deep late in the third and early in the fourth. The MVP then delivered the final blow with a 3-pointer from the left corner with about two minutes left.
Middleton led all Bucks scorers with 22 points on 7-14 shooting overall and 2-4 from downtown. Giannis just missed earning a triple-double, recording 19 points and 19 boards along with eight dimes.
We’re unsure how the NBA will unfold the rest of the year. The hope for everybody is to salvage it in some way. Perhaps that’s playing out the rest of the regular season, shortening the regular season, or heading straight into the playoffs. There is, however, the possibility the season could have been all for nothing.
Whatever the outcome is, the number of wins and the types of wins the Bucks had up to this point are hard to forget. But one thing should happen if the season is saved: the Bucks will keep winning, and winning in the playoffs.