The Milwaukee Bucks were believed by many to be the favorites to win the NBA championship this season. They had an impressive regular season, earning 58 wins and 24 losses which was the best record in the entire league. Star forward Giannis Antetokounmpo finished as a finalist for the Most Valuable Player award, remaining one of the best players in the world.
Their first-round matchup against the 8-seed Miami Heat was expected to be easy and clean for Milwaukee. Despite almost making the Finals last season, Miami had a lackluster year in which they struggled to gain momentum. The Bucks were going to take care of business and move on to tougher opponents.
But in the first quarter of game 1, Giannis went down with a lower back injury. This was all Miami needed to cruise to a win and a 1-0 lead over the 1 seed. However, many still expected the Bucks to make quick work of the Heat; after all, Giannis wasn’t going to be out for long, and the rest of Milwaukee’s squad is formidable on their own.
But with Giannis’ return in game 4, the struggles remained. The Bucks blew a double-digit fourth-quarter lead and couldn’t stop Heat forward Jimmy Butler, who posted 56 points in one of the greatest playoff performances ever. The Bucks fell down 3-1 in the series. Their season was on the line.
Things looked comfortable for Milwaukee heading into the fourth quarter of game 5 at home, but again the tide shifted in Miami’s favor. The Heat erupted to tie the game and send it to overtime, where they edged out the Bucks and officially eliminated them from the playoffs.
This was one of the biggest collapses in NBA history. There was no question the Bucks would at least make the conference finals– yet here they are eliminated in just 5 games. But what does it mean for the rest of the playoffs?
With the top seed gone, the east is now wide open. Though the Boston Celtics, who are currently the favorite to win it all, remain in the run, they’ve yet to get out of the first round after their own fourth-quarter collapse in game 5 against the Hawks. They should take care of business in game 6, but as we saw last night… nothing is guaranteed.
However, Boston was already expected to have a good shot at reaching the Finals. Milwaukee’s elimination is more significant for the Philadelphia 76ers, New York Knicks, and, of course, the Miami Heat.
Philly is set to face the winner of the Celtics-Hawks series, which is of course, expected to be Boston. If they do in fact play the Celtics, they will certainly be the underdog, having lost 3 of 4 to Boston in the regular season. But if the Sixers can get past them, the threat of the Bucks no longer remains, and they will have a good shot at the Finals.
Miami and New York are set to face each other in the second round, which is a toss-up as far as who wins that. With the Bucks gone, it’s reasonable to believe either of those teams has a decent chance at making the Finals.