Yes, these NBA playoffs are some of the most competitive in years. Yes, the Western Conference looks stacked with any of the four teams capable of advancing to the NBA Finals.
But I look at the teams I’ve seen over the past few days, and the Milwaukee Bucks are the one that looks like the eventual champion right now.
It’s not just their superstar, Giannis Antetokounmpo although he certainly is a big reason for the team’s success. “The Greek Freak” has upped his production every game in the series against Boston, going from his 22 points in the series-opening loss to 39 in Monday night’s win, which gave the Bucks a commanding 3-1 series lead.
Milwaukee is the only team with a 3-1 lead in their conference semifinal series, and the Bucks got that advantage by winning two straight at Boston. It has been against a Celtics team that many had anointed the next NBA champion after their run to the Eastern Conference finals a year ago.
But, as I said, this is not just Giannis. The Bucks are deep. Khris Middleton was an All-Star this year, and he’s showing why averaging 19.2 points against Boston.
Point guard Eric Bledsoe hasn’t had the best series against the Celtics, but he’s a bulldog, driving to the hoop for buckets. And his backup, George Hill, the guy with the most playoff experience on this squad, has been outstanding, averaging 18 points in the two wins in Boston.
Pat Connaughton, Nikola Mirotic, Ersan Ilyasova and Brook Lopez all provide solid outside shooting to open the floor for Antetokounmpo to drive to the hoop, and all are solid defensively as well.
That Milwaukee defense has been stifling on the Celtics, to the point that we’re hearing about Kyrie Irving being in a major playoff slump. The Bucks have held the star guard to 19-of-62 shooting over the last three games, all Bucks victories.
I’ll admit, when Boston went to Milwaukee and came away from Game 1 with an easy 112-90 win, I thought Milwaukee could be a year away from true title contention. That’s how it was back when I was growing up, a team would advance around a year until they finally were mature enough to make it to the Finals.
But there’s no waiting now. Look at Golden State when it got good. Steph, Klay and the boys didn’t wait around, winning the title in their first season under Steve Kerr.
Milwaukee might be ready to make that same leap. Coach Mike Budenholzer has changed this team for the better since taking the job prior to this season and the Bucks look ready to take the title.
Ready To Advance
They’ll likely take down Boston quickly allowing them rest before they take on the winner of the Sixers-Raptors series. Then it’s on to the NBA Finals where even Golden State — if it advances — hasn’t shown the consistency to say it can take four of seven games from Milwaukee, especially with the Bucks holding homecourt advantage.
So be ready everyone. The Greek Freak is ready to fly to a title this year. We may just all be along for the ride.