• Gerald Malunga

Elimination compounds Bucks' bubble misery

If regular season form was anything to go by, the Milwaukee Bucks would have been most people's favourites to win the NBA title or at the very least reach the Conference Finals.

Their pre-lockdown form gave them all the reasons to be regarded as a potential formidable team in the Playoffs as they had already racked up 53 wins by the time the season was halted due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Led by reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo, a deep roster with battle-hardened players and a reputable coach in Mike Budenholzer, the Bucks had the right ingredients to launch an expected title push.

However, it is often said that the intensity reaches fever pitch in the postseason and regular season standings carry little meaning as all teams start from scratch in the hunt for the Larry O'Brien trophy. Judging by their near sweep elimination at the hands of the Miami Heat, the Bucks failed to live up to regular season expectations as they have looked a shadow of the team which dominated the East for two straight campaigns. The swagger, grit and flamboyance associated with the Bucks has disappeared as they have looked rusty at the worst time to develop rust. A 4-1 Second Round elimination inflicted by the Heat is a damning reality of how the Bucks crumbled in the bio bubble in Orlando, Florida.

The Bucks' change in fortune started way before their match up with the Heat. They recorded a 3-5 record in their first eight games since the league restarted in August. Although their indifferent form was worrying, they were expected to dust themselves off and approach the Playoffs with the right mentality.

A shock defeat in Game 1 of the First Round against the Orlando Magic was a wake-up call and they replied with four straight victories as they sent their opponents packing. Their four-game winning streak against the Magic was their best winning sequence since the league restarted. That proved to be as good as it got for them as their disappointing defeat against the Heat proved that they had just papered over the cracks with their win against Orlando. In total the Bucks recorded an 8-10 record in the bubble, their struggles against the Heat highlighted how much they needed to adjust to the intensity of the pace and aggressive defence. They couldn’t avoid being amongst the recent memorable regular season greats who’ve found it hard to replicate that form in the Playoffs.

The big question is whether they peaked too soon during the season. Another possible explanation for their change in form could be the fact that their momentum might have been halted due to the lockdown, affecting their rhythm, confidence and all-round feel-good factor. Head coach Budenholzer is now in danger of creating another 2010s Atlanta Hawks team with no NBA Finals appearance or a title to show for his good work. The inevitable fallout from the Bucks' elimination is the constant discussion about the long-term future of franchise cornerstone Giannis who has pretty much committed to staying, the Bucks' front office will now have to make necessary roster tweaks to help the team get over the postseason hurdle next season. Surrounding Giannis with more complementary pieces such as veteran Playoff specialists will be vital for the Bucks to recover from the Orlando bubble nightmare. Heads will likely roll, as for the question of whose? only time will tell.

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