2020–21 NBA Champions Milwaukee Bucks: The “Nice Guys” Didn’t Finish Last
Over the years, NBA Finals has been known for its superstars and the level of basketball they bring to the table. It’s always been a star-studded affair with the usual heavyweights going at each other. Even for a neutral fan, there’s no better basketball action on the planet. 2021 postseason has been an eventful one, to say the least. With injuries spoiling the fun for many teams, it was the perfect opportunity for underdogs to step up. And step up they did. Milwaukee Bucks and Phoenix Suns faced each other for the coveted trophy in a historic Finals run. The two teams shocked everyone by knocking out the favourites en route to the Finals. Milwaukee Bucks overcame a 0–2 deficit to win the championship by sweeping Phoenix in 4 straight wins.
Phoenix Suns, first playoffs appearance since 2010, first Finals appearance since 1993, looking for the first championship in franchise history. Milwaukee Bucks, first Finals appearance since 1974 and their first title in over half a century. Much was at stake for both teams heading into these Finals. It was an evenly poised series predicted to go far with Phoenix looking the favourites due to the backcourt of Devin Booker and veteran Chris Paul, his first Finals appearance in his 16 years of professional career. The duo was impressive in the first 2 games helping Phoenix secure the home-court advantage. An important statement by Phoenix in the Finals.
Milwaukee Bucks have been criticized in the past for not making the right adjustment and the lack of support from the role players. The stubbornness to resort to less efficient jumpers instead of physically dominating the paint. It’s difficult to overcome a 2–0 deficit in the Finals but this Milwaukee team showed everyone why they would not go down. Bucks could strengthen themselves in all the departments where they suffered in the last few postseasons. Giannis not able to get past the defensive wall? Not any more. Changing the gameplay strategy to take advantage of your physical superiority over opponents? Absolutely. Khris Middleton not able to close out games? * In Dikembe’s voice* No, No, No. Supporting cast contributing at the right moments? For sure. What followed was the coronation of a team that reached the promised land, the right way. A lot of credit goes to coach Mike Budenholzer for making the right adjustments, especially with his job on the line.
The historic season for the Milwaukee Bucks had been in the making not just throughout the playoffs but a few months before that. Acquiring Jrue Holiday, PJ Tucker and Bobby Portis Jr. made this team tougher, physically and mentally. In addition to it, the long term commitment from the biggest star of the team, Giannis, shut down all the questions surrounding his departure from the team. To think about the fact that all of these players weren’t even the top pick in the drafts and are now collectively a group of winners, is such a feel-good story and a remarkable win for the underdogs.
Milwaukee Bucks was overlooked the entire season as one of the favourites to come out of the East, let alone win the championship. They were called dumb for not resorting to their strengths and losing a few playoff games with an enormous margin. The road to silence the doubters was tough but they never shied away from the path. In a league where the star players look to combine forces to chase the ring, Bucks did it the hard way. Giannis and Khris never ran away from adversities for glory hunting. They stepped up their games to be the leaders of the team instead of being role players in a super team.
The toughness on defence by this team was something that brought them back in this series. An elite defensive guard in Jrue Holiday, Tucker’s commitment to guard the best players on the floor, along with Giannis’ block party proved intimidating for the Suns. Phoenix as a team hardly turns over the ball, yet found a Bucks player stealing the ball or intercepting the pass every now and then. Bucks finally have a championship calibre big 3 that can rival any of the others at their best. A dominant big, efficient mid-range clutch player and an elite defensive guard.
We cannot talk about these Finals without mentioning Giannis and his superlative performance in the Finals. He found a way to finally knock down all the walls built against him. What he did on both ends of the floor is nothing short of the bully ball. He was mocked for his free throws but he proved he could make them when needed, making 17 of his 19 free throws in the closeout game 6 of the Finals.
His chase-down block in Game 1, that massive game-changing block on Ayton in Game 4, alley-oop dunk in Game 5 and 5 blocks in the Game 6 are just a few of the many highlights from his MVP performance in the Finals. Back-to-back 40 points in the Finals for the first time since LeBron in 2016. 50 points in Game 6, joint-highest in NBA history for closeout games. He didn’t use injury as an excuse and carried the team on his back. Giannis’ success proves that perseverance and resilience pay results and when it does, it is much sweeter. His resume at this young age screams Hall of Fame.
These playoffs have changed the dynamic in the league to some extent. Injuries have been a big factor, but smaller market teams have stepped up their game. Hawks, Bucks, Suns, Jazz, can no longer be overlooked and will come back stronger next season. A lot of players have emerged as the next superstars in this league. A small market team winning the NBA championship further puts the league in a great place. Milwaukee Bucks, as currently constructed, have every chance to repeat this feat. The taste of a championship will leave them wanting more. It’s high time we put some respect to their name, address them as Champions and Fear the Deer, for their best is yet to come.