Home Sports Giannis-led Bucks win first playoff series since ’01

Giannis-led Bucks win first playoff series since ’01

27
0
SHARE
Giannis-led Bucks win first playoff series since ’01
1:17 AM ET

  • Malika AndrewsESPN

DETROIT — The last time the Milwaukee Bucks danced out of the first round of the playoffs, Giannis Antetokounmpo had yet to pick up a basketball.

It was 2001, Ray Allen was lighting up the court against the Philadelphia 76ers. Antetokounmpo was 7 years old and half a world away.

Fast forward 18 years.

The Bucks, led by playoff career-high 41 points from Antetokounmpo, defeated the Detroit Pistons 127-104. With the win, the Bucks completed a first-round sweep of Detroit. Milwaukee won the first game of the series 121-86, the second 120-99 and the third 119-103. Before Monday night, the Bucks had lost eight straight first-round playoff series.

“It’s a good night for Milwaukee,” coach Mike Budenholzer said. “It’s a good night for the Bucks.”

The celebrations were not overwhelming. A crowd of Bucks fans — some holding up a Greek flag — lollygagged, screaming “MVP” in Antetokounmpo’s direction. As he exited the court, Antetokounmpo high-fived Milwaukee’s general manager, Jon Horst, and the team owners.

In their postgame interviews, Antetokounmpo and Eric Bledsoe vowed to celebrate over cards on the plane back to Milwaukee.

“Hopefully I’ll win a poker game and take some of Giannis’ money,” Bledsoe said, giggling. “We know Bud will come with a great game plan, so we will leave it up to Bud to stress over.”

The Pistons didn’t relent easily. Coach Dwane Casey swapped Luke Kennard out of the starting line up in place of Bruce Brown, giving Detroit’s second unit a shooting boost. The Pistons built a double-digit lead early in the first quarter. But by the end of the period, their lead had been slashed to two. The two teams exchanged points in the second quarter — the lead bobbling back and forth.

At the half, the Pistons led by six. The Bucks found their stride in the middle of the third quarter. The Pistons were plagued by foul trouble and sent the Bucks to the free throw line 16 times in the third quarter alone. By the end of the third, Detroit’s advantage had disappeared. Less than one minute into the fourth, the Bucks had built a 15-point lead.

From there, Blake Griffin fouled out and the Bucks never looked back.

“We just had to weather the storm,” Bledsoe said. “At the end of the day, they didn’t want to get swept. We knew they was going to come out aggressive.”

While players were clearly excited to have won, there was also a feeling of inevitability that hung in the locker room. The Bucks had, after all, swept the Pistons in the regular season and beat them by double digits in every game. With the Game 4 win, the Bucks tied the 1986 Lakers for the second-highest point differential in a series sweep in NBA history, according to ESPN Stats & Information research.

Milwaukee was also the second team in postseason history to win their first four playoff games by at least 15 points, joining the 1980 Celtics.

The Bucks have said all the right things this series: that they are determined not to get ahead of themselves. Players said they are taking the playoffs one game at a time. Budenholzer said he found no solace in the fact that his team swept the Pistons in the regular season, and that they are not focused on what will happen in the second round because they needed to take care of business against the Pistons first. Now business is taken care of and it’s on to the next one.

The Boston Celtics loom ahead.

Last year, the Celtics were the Bucks’ playoff death knell. Milwaukee fell to Boston in a seven-game series — the last of which took place at TD Garden. Bledsoe struggled in that series, shooting just 44 percent from the field.

This year’s Boston/Milwaukee series will have some new faces. The Bucks added Brook Lopez to their starting lineup and signed veteran depth with George Hill and Nikola Mirotic. Last year, Gordon Hayward and Kyrie Irving were sidelined with injuries for the Celtics.

At least for one night, the Bucks say they will try to put off worrying about their future opponent.

“We’re going to enjoy this win tonight,” Bledsoe said. “And worry about them tomorrow.”

Read More

Leave a Reply