Giannis Antetokounmpo’s rise to NBA MVP and Defensive Player of the Year put the Bucks back on the championship path, but this is the franchise’s first Finals trip during the Greek Freak’s tenure with the team.
Antetokounmpo is dealing with a knee injury, but has been brilliant in the postseason. Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday for a strong trio for Milwaukee, who has also gotten big minutes from P.J. Tucker, Brook Lopez, Bobby Portis and Pat Connaughton. Holiday’s trade during the offseason was the franchise’s biggest move since drafting Antetokounmpo and it appears to have paid off.
The last time the Bucks made the Finals, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was league MVP. Milwaukee played in the Western conference at the time and lost to the Boston Celtics in 7 games in 1973-74. Abdul-Jabbar and Oscar Robertson formed a dynamic duo for Milwaukee in the franchise’s early days. They led the Bucks to the NBA title in 1970-71.
Milwaukee was a consistent playoff presence during the 1980s with Sidney Moncrief and Terry Cummings, but usually got bounced by the Philadelphia 76ers or Celtics. The franchise struggled during the late 1980s and 1990s due to the rise of the Detroit Pistons and Chicago Bulls in that time period.
Ray Allen and Glenn Robinson led the Bucks to the conference finals in 2000-01, but the team fell to the 76ers in seven games. Since then, Milwaukee has made the playoffs 11 times, but got bounced in the first round every time before the 2018-19 season.
The last time the Bucks were in the conference finals, they blew a 2-0 lead to the Toronto Raptors by losing four straight games. Antetokounmpo led Milwaukee to another No. 1 seed in the East the following year, but the Bucks lost to the Miami Heat in the Orlando bubble in the second round.
Milwaukee has done a good job building around Antetokounmpo and Middleton. Lopez is a big man who can space the floor and Tucker adds a perimeter defensive presence. Holiday was the big addition after Eric Bledsoe’s struggles in the bubble. The Bucks are without a key rotation piece in Donte DiVincenzo but they’ve held their own well. Milwaukee has defeated the Heat, Brooklyn Nets and Atlanta Hawks to reach the 2021 Finals. The Nets were considered huge favorites, but lost to the Bucks in Game 7.
This season could be the reward of the Bucks taking Antetokounmpo when nobody knew what he would become. The Greek forward was taken No. 15 in the 2013 NBA draft and struggled his first two seasons, but eventually became a dynamic offensive talent. He won back-to-back league MVPs and also added a Defensive Player of the Year award to his resume. Despite questions about his future in Milwaukee after losing to the Heat, Antetokounmpo re-signed with the Bucks. This Finals trip could be the big payoff for both sides.