By Nick Murray
2021 was supposed to be a Championship year for the Milwaukee Bucks. Favored to win the NBA championship, the Bucks were coming off another 1st seed season under head coach Mike Budenholzer with Giannis Antetokounmpo finishing third in MVP voting. In shocking fashion however, the Bucks became just the fourth one seed in NBA history to be upset in the first round of the playoffs and the first one seed in NBA history to win only one playoff game.
After defeating the Bulls in the play-in tournament, the Miami Heat claimed the 8 seed to face the one seed Bucks. The Heat won game one, as Giannis exited midway through with a back injury which ultimately forced him to miss the following 2 games. However, the Heats third leading scorer in the regular season, point guard Tyler Herro also exited game one with a broken hand which would force him out of the playoffs. After Herro’s injury, despite the Heat winning game one, the Bucks remained favorite to win the series, reinforced by the Bucks game two victory. In historic fashion the Heat shockingly won the remaining 3 games to advance to the conference semifinals.
The Bucks historic upset can be attributed to a number of failures including poor play from Giannis, an utter inability to guard Jimmy Butler, and Heat HC Erik Spoelstra indisputably out coaching Mike Budenholzer. By his own standards, Antetokounmpo played poorly through the entire series, failing to attack the rim, instead, opting for mid range shots which he constantly failed to sink. In game 5, Giannis shot 50% from the field with 6 of his 13 misses coming in the fourth quarter and 7 turnovers. To his credit however, the Greek Freak finished the game with 20 rebounds.
The Bucks defense was completely incapable of stopping Heat small forward Jimmy Butler who averaged 35.9 points per game (third most in the first round), 6 rebounds and 4.8 assists through 5 games. Butler’s final blow came in a must win game 5 for the Bucks in which Butler dissected Milwaukee’s defense for 56 points, fourth most in NBA playoff history including a game tying tip-in with 0.5 seconds left in regulation.
In the wake of Milwaukee’s embarrassing first round collapse, the team fired head coach Mike Budenholzer after 5 seasons. The move comes as a surprise, as Budenholzer led the team to three 1st seeds and a 2021 NBA championship. However, the team’s struggles in the first round were inexcusable. In game five alone, Budenholzer made a series of blunders that potentially cost the Bucks the game. The defense failed to adjust to Jimmy Butler’s momentum allowing him 56 points in game 5. Despite Butler’s success, the Bucks entered the fourth quarter up 11 but let Jimmy Butler dwindle the lead down to 2 with mere seconds left on the clock.
In the final seconds of regulation one would think your best net protectors would be on the court to hold the lead. Instead, the Bucks best net protector, Brook Lopez sat on the bench, allowing Butler to tip in the game tying shot with 0.5 seconds left. One would think that with your championship hopes on the line and 0.5 seconds left in a tie game in regulation, you would call a timeout to formulate a plan to just maybe take the lead and seal the game. Instead, Budenholzer let Jrue Holiday inbound it to Giannis who failed to take a shot before time ran out. One would think with 8 seconds left in overtime and the Heat up 2 the Bucks would rely on their star power forward or at least get a shot on net. Instead, Giannis passed it off to Khris Middleton who subsequently passed it to Grayson Allen at the 3 point line who proceeded to eurostep towards the hoop, failing to get the ball out of his hands before the buzzer, ending the Milwaukee Bucks season.
What should have been another Championship season for Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks ended in disaster, making history no team wishes to make. Milwaukee’s championship window appears to be shrinking as the team entered the 2022-23 season with the oldest average age roster in the league at 29.47, exacerbated by the team’s lack of a 2023 first round pick. The team will now look to find a suitable head coach replacement and re-sign instrumental point guard Jrue Holiday, likely to have drastic salary cap implications.
In a post game interview after game five when asked if he viewed the season as a failure, Giannis responded, “it’s not a failure, it’s steps to success” reiterating that just because you don’t win a championship does not make the season a failure. The question remains however, can Giannis’ stardom support a rapidly aging roster under a new head coach?