Bucks-Celtics: A Recent History of an Eastern Rise


In baseball, there’s a popular sentiment that game sixes are the best. There’s even a book titled Game 6 about the Red Sox-Reds World Series. (Never mind that Cincinnati won game seven in the ninth.) Basketball fans, however, know better. Game sevens reign supreme in the NBA. A pivotal moment for Milwaukee was the crucial game seven in 2018 in Boston. Unfortunately, the Celtics easily defeated Milwaukee 112-96. Seemingly, they proved the Bucks would never become an eastern champion. By examining the rivals’ battles over the last two years, however, fans can understand how perpetual also-rans became deer to be feared.


November 1st: Celtics (6-1) Defeat Bucks (7-0) 117-113

From their first preseason game, the Bucks proved Coach Bud provided change. After winning their first seven games, Milwaukee questioned if Boston was genuinely the east favorite. An early litmus test in Boston suggested, at least momentarily, Milwaukee wasn’t ready to be the favorite. Boston hit an astonishing 19 threes, only one short of the NBA record. Boston hadn’t come close to discouraging their foe. However, Bucks fans switched off the TV with more groans.

December 21st: Bucks (21-9) Defeat Celtics (18-12) 120-107

In December, Milwaukee battled Toronto for the top east seed. Boston, however, faced closed-door meetings and a dysfunction insidiously destroying the locker room. Giannis’s 30 points proved more than enough over a Celtics team losing its luster. However, many experts still perceived Boston as the conference favorite.

February 21st: Bucks (43-14) Defeat Celtics (37-21) 98-97

The Bucks sleepwalked out of the all-star break, leading to concern. Needing a confidence boost, Money Middleton gave Milwaukee a 98-95 lead with a late trey. After a Kyrie Irving layup, Milwaukee lost the ball on a controversial shot-clock violation call. Irving could break the Bucks’ hearts and declare that Milwaukee was not the true king. Eric Bledsoe smothered the Celtic, but in basketball, sometimes good defense isn’t enough. Thankfully, Irving’s dissatisfaction in Boston clouded his competitive edge in 2019. The shot BOINKed, and Milwaukee escaped their nemesis. With the Bucks soon to clinch home-court, they guaranteed the Celtics would start any playoff series in Milwaukee.

Eastern Conference Semifinals

Game 1: April 28th: Boston Wins 112-90

After the Bucks thrashed Detroit, they faced a determined Boston team. The C’s had just swept Indiana, and many scribes anticipated a Boston upset. In game one, the Cream City fans gaped in horror as Boston easily stymied Giannis. The Freak’s shocking +/- of -24 prematurely indicated discouragement. Yes, we all know about Paul Pierce’s after-game comments. Hardy-har-har, what a fool. At the moment, however, fans could understand the Bucks’ concern. Game two was vital. If the deer fell behind 0-2, they would have little chance of a comeback.

Game 2: April 30th: Milwaukee Wins 123-102

Milwaukee clung to a 59-55 lead at halftime, seemingly setting up a tense finish. Brad Stevens, however, failed to cure the franchise’s road playoff indifference. The deer sprinted past his Irishmen 39-18 in the third. The Bucks tied the series, but two frightening contests in Beantown followed.

Game 3: May 3rd: Milwaukee Wins 123-116

The Bucks, down one at the break, stormed ahead by 17 with just 5:56 left. Unfortunately, there’s an odd tendency in any sport to let up when a team seemingly secures the game. After an Al Horford downtown bomb, the Bucks faced a daunting inbounds pass with just a five-point lead. Thankfully, Giannis strutted to the line. Swish. Swish. The Bucks led 2-1 and could effectively end the series with another W.

Game 4: May 6th: Milwaukee Wins 113-101

Boston led 49-47 at halftime, but an old cliché gave the Bucks hope. Does “the team who wants it more” always win? When it’s the Greek Freak who desires a victory, the old phrase leaves no doubt. Behind Giannis’s 39 points and 16 boards, a discouraged Beantown fanbase depressingly dragged feet to the exits. After 19 years of too-quick playoff exits, the Bucks, up 3-1, could finish the series at home. (Also, note to NBA fans: simply shouting, “defense! defense!” will not stop Giannis.)

Game 5: May 8th: Milwaukee Wins 116-91

Winners never quit, and quitters never win. In game five, the Celtics quit, lost, and returned to the east coast humiliated. The Bucks blazed past their dispirited rival with a dazzling display of swiftness and athleticism. A magical night allowed fans to fantasize about the NBA Finals.

After Toronto’s conference finale triumph, however, the Bucks’ boulder rolled down the hill again. With Kemba Walker joining the Cs and Irving helping by leaving, Giannis and co. had to start over.


October 30th: Boston (2-1) Defeats Milwaukee (2-1) 116-105

It seems like a loooong time ago, but the Bucks started crummily this season. A problem with being the best team is you are everyone else’s Super Bowl. Milwaukee eventually shrugged this problem, but another third-quarter malaise troubled some fans. And rightfully so, because the deer were too talented to lose a 19-point lead. Perhaps the loss was a needed jolt, however, as Milwaukee won 22 of its next 23 games.

January 16th: Milwaukee (36-6) Defeats Boston (27-12) 128-123

Milwaukee scraped by, but a frightening fourth-quarter charge suggested Boston was a legitimate opponent. Thankfully, Walker’s 40 points couldn’t quite outshine Giannis’s 32 points and 17 boards. The Bucks stood atop the mountain, but an enemy that deer can’t see shocked the league.

Next Game: July 30th?

In a cruel twist of fate, the NBA suspended the season one game before the next Bucks-Celtics showdown. Later, the superflu devastated America the NBA courageously brainstormed a plan to start the season in Orlando. One proposal for the regular-season wrap-up is to have each team play their next eight regularly-scheduled games, excluding teams not participating in Florida. That plan would pit the Bucks’ triumphant return against their three-seed challenger. Is game seven the best in basketball? Of course. But game 1.1 would reinvigorate an already passionate Milwaukee fanbase in the best sport’s extraordinary redemption. A microscopic virus is much smaller the NBA, and large-hearted owners and players ensure the east’s premier rivalry will have a new birth.

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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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