By: Devin Zanskas
Editor’s Note: Bango is the official mascot of the Milwaukee Bucks.
The Bucks had another historic regular season in 2020. Even after only winning three of the first eight games in the Orlando Bubble, they still finished with a 56-17 record, a 62-win pace in a normal 82-game season. In addition, Giannis had an even more remarkable 2020 season, winning not only his second consecutive MVP trophy, but also becoming the only player besides Hakeem Olajuwon and Michael Jordan to win the MVP and Defensive Player of the Year Award in the same season. Of course, after stumbling into the Bubble, their struggles continued in the postseason. The Bucks were certainly embarrassed by the Heat in the conference semifinals. The Heat pride themselves on finding success with ball movement and gaining contributions from their entire lineup. Indeed, their “Heat Culture” produced, and all their top six players in minutes showed up. Meanwhile, Bucks fans became even more familiar with the opposition building a wall, a lack of Budenholzer adjustments, and Bledsoe actively hurting the Bucks on the offensive end.
With Giannis’s contract expiring entering the season, and the Bucks failing in even more disappointing fashion, they had no choice but to make a move to hold onto him for the long-term. The fear was that several teams, including the Heat, preserved cap space to form a Big Three with Giannis. Most fans will remember the immense draft compensation that the Bucks sent to the Pelicans for Jrue Holiday. ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski compared that Pelicans’ haul to what they received for Anthony Davis. Jrue was undoubtably the second option to Davis, but those picks also bought the Bucks enough support for Giannis to say “This is my home.” Even though the upgrade to Jrue didn’t offer the Bucks the number one seed like the past two seasons, they were still more prepared to advanced further into the playoffs by experimenting with different defensive attacks like switching and zone defense. Jrue is also better at defending and finishing over larger defenders, and creating his own shot, which are particularly valuable in the postseason. Unlike the 2019 season, the Bucks were now able to own their regular season matchup, draining a NBA-record 29 threes on December 29th, and playing their best ball of the year right before the playoffs, when they could’ve dodged the Heat in the first round.
As Q-Tip said, “Scared money don’t make none.” That rings true as, if the Bucks see themselves as title contenders, it would’ve looked soft to avoid a first-round opponent. The experimentation and sacrificing of regular season wins paid off for the Bucks, as the tides completely turned for them. Despite shooting an embarrassing 16% from beyond the arc, the Bucks still won in overtime from a Khris Middleton elbow jumper over Duncan Robinson. Either side of the fence could’ve twisted this outcome into optimism. For example, the Bucks could’ve felt encouraged because of winning while shooting so poorly from the three-point line. On the contrary, the Heat could’ve liked that they were one bucket away from stealing homecourt advantage, with another chance to do so in Game 2. Fortunately for the Bucks, their shooting woes would halt, and Game 2 will be remembered as the Bryn Forbes game, since he sunk six out of nine three-point attempts. Game 3 would play out similarly, except the Heat scored only 84 points. The Bucks would find themselves slightly behind at halftime of Game 4 after not matching the Heat’s energy, until they went on a 24-4 run in the third quarter, to secure the sweep. Although Bango has enjoyed redemption, there’s still business to take care of.