MILWAUKEE – After suffering their biggest loss of the season in Game 1 against the Boston Celtics, many questioned whether the Milwaukee Bucks’ historic regular season was on the brink of going to waste.
Just ten days later, the Bucks demolished Boston 116-91, to cap off a 4-1 series victory in brutal fashion. After the Game 1 shocker, the series was flipped on its head, with Boston unable to escape Milwaukee's suffocating defence.
The roars from the sellout crowd reached deafening levels inside Fiserv Forum, and thousands more packed out the bars in the newly opened ‘Deer District’. Jubilation took over with chants of ‘Bucks in five’ as the the home team clinched their first Eastern Conference Finals appearance since 2001.
The Bucks held Boston to 31.2 percent shooting on the night, the lowest of any team in the postseason so far. Kyrie Irving continued to struggle, finishing with 15 points on 21 shots. The All-Star guard finished a woeful 37-for-104 from the field for the series, and was just 23-for-83 after the Celtics' Game 1 victory.
Searching for answers pre-game, Celtics coach Brad Stevens gave little away to the media present, before re-inserting Aron Baynes into the starting lineup. Baynes had played just six minutes in Game 4 and had struggled to make an impact on the series, under the Bucks' unrelenting transition offence.
The Australian would have little impact on the game, playing just ten scoreless minutes and finishing -22 on the box score.
The night ended a tumultuous season for Boston, who opened the regular season with championship aspirations.
“I understand that we didn’t meet the outside expectations. We really rode a rollercoaster a lot of the year and it was difficult,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said.
“I do think, I told the guys in there, I think they showed a lot of character a lot of different times to keep coming back and stay together. I said from the get go to this team together in the locker room, when they are all together, is great. We just couldn’t find it playing together as well as we hoped.”
Headlining questions to come in a critical offseason for Boston, will be the future of All-Star guard, Kyrie Irving, who appears set to leave via free agency.
“Truth be told, it’s no time to be disappointed. I think that you take your lessons and the ass whooping that they handed us and you move on,” a candid Irving said.
“It’s a basketball journey, and you want to keep playing. [The Bucks] put a halt to that, and they deserve this series. They played like they wanted it, and I’m looking forward to seeing them going to the Eastern Conference Finals and playing their next opponent. It was a great opponent for me to play against, because for the rest of my career, I’ll never forget something like this. The taste of feeling defeat and this type of style, I haven’t felt. For me, it’s just moving on to the next thing and seeing where it ends up.”
For the Bucks, they continue on to face either the Toronto Raptors or Ben Simmons, Jonah Bolden and the Philadelphia 76ers. Head coach Mike Budenholzer tipped his hat to his squad's defence on the night, with their consummate handling of everything the Celtics threw their way.
“For our team, we talk about defence every day, every film session. I think the way we guarded, covered for each other, [and] the commitment on the defensive end set the tone for us,” Budenholzer said.
“To have everyone contribute offensively, to have Giannis [Antetokounmpo] trust the pass and his teammates, to have everybody play together on offensive and defensive ends [is great]. Now, we have a couple days to get ready for whoever is next, keep the same focus and the same hunger.”
The usually vibrant Bucks locker room was on another level post-game, with loud music pumping among smiles, hi-fives and hugs all round.
The Bucks will now wait for their next opponent, with Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals to be held next week.
Bucks players vowed to enjoy their evening of celebration, but remain determined to get back to work quickly, with their goal of winning the city's first NBA championship since 1971, still eight wins away.
For All-Star forward, Khris Middleton, the outside noise means little, as they continue to bulldoze their way through the competition.
“They can say what they want to say. We’re going to believe what we want to believe and that’s in ourselves, so that’s it,” Middleton said.
At this point, it would be hard to doubt them.