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Milwaukee’s Christmas Milestone

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Rebuilding. It’s a tired word fans of struggling franchises quickly flee from with hands slapped to ears. “Re” implies previous occurrences, and “building” connotes a cliched process few outside of Philly can actually complete. That’s why the Bucks’ 109-95 rout in the Garden Christmas Day was refreshing. Sure, we probably didn’t need further proof that the Deer are finals contenders in 2019. But Giannis effectively licked and sealed the envelope that contains a top two seed in the best of several notable games in the last four years of, ahem, constructive progress.

2015 OPENING STRUGGLES

After an enormous 26-game improvement between Larry Drew‘s sole season and Jason Kidd‘s first, expectations were much higher in 2015. The NBA even granted Milwaukee its first home season opener since 1984. The energy and excitement at the Bradley Center, where the Bucks faced the Knicks, was palpable. A sold-out crowd waved now iconic hand-lights. New York, who fans universally expected to struggle, were belittled by the Oompa-Loompa song as anticipation raised to a climax.

RAPTOR EXTINCTION

But the Bucks weren’t close to ready for the bright lights. Derek Fisher and Carmelo Anthony (both notably out of the league now) led New York to a 122-97 rout. The Bucks never recovered and limped to a 33-49 disappointment. Even the famous upset of 24-0 Golden State only boosted the team to 10-15 and led to a three-game losing streak. Milwaukee performed modestly better in 2016-2017, earning a winning record and sixth playoff seed. The next giant euro-step forward came in a crucial game three against Toronto at the Bradley Center. A trapeze-artist Giannis and playoff prime Khris Middleton feasted a juiced crowd’s eyes to a 104-77 masterpiece.

CELTIC VICTORY JIG

It’s harder to pinpoint one moment from last season because the team’s obvious talent was tantalizingly close to fruition. The question isn’t whether a win against the dominant Celtics was the tease of the year– it’s which win. Considering the Celtics didn’t show up in game three and the first half of game four, Milwaukee’s 97-86 victory in the Bradley Center finale wins the nod. Although the Bucks had a bit less talent and much less experience, they displayed frenetic energy and had the fans screaming at jet engine decibels.

CHRISTMAS YAWN?

In contrast, what’s notable about the New York Christmas win is how routine it felt. Giannis hardly broke a sweat and this time it was the Knicks’ turn to not come out to play after halftime. NBA success needn’t always be exciting. This season’s holiday triumph was a quiet affirmation that the Bucks are the finals cofavorite. And that’s perfectly fine, as sometimes the most pleasant milestones are the ones that point out an already obvious destination.

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About Jeffrey Newholm

"Jammin Jeff" Newholm had been a basketball fanatic since his high school days, and remained a casual fan as a student in Whitewater. Wishing to check in as an active participant, he also completed a writing certificate program at UWM. He loves seeing Bucks games more than any other activity in hometown Milwaukee and especially screaming really really loudly to get someone to miss a free throw. Twitter: @JeffreyNewholm

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