Milwaukee Bucks Playoff fever was in the air, as the Giannis Antetokounmpo led squad came home off a successful road trip in Toronto, taking game 1 in convincing fashion, dominating the Raptors 97-83 and owning home court advantage for the time being.
For the second time in the past three seasons, the Milwaukee Bucks have made the playoffs as a 6th seed. This year, they square off against the heavily favorited Toronto Raptors, who were only two games out of the best record in the Eastern Conference.
Walking into the BMO Harris Bradley Center Thursday night, one would think the arena was a massive time machine that bounced back to the 2001 Eastern Conference Finals, where the Big 3 of Ray Allen, Glenn Robinson and Sam Cassell took on the Allen Iverson led Philadelphia 76ers.
The arena was hard pressed to contain the frenetic chants and cheers from a near capacity crowd. All fans were decked out in a blacked-out shirt, which had a graphic of the infamous angry deer head, intended to shake the will of a Toronto Raptors team that was pushed hard in their game 2 victory in Toronto, tying up the series 1-1.
A bright spot for the Bucks franchise has been “The Greek Freak” Giannis Antetokounmpo. So far this series, Giannis has been averaging 20 points, 9 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 steals and 1.5 blocks per game and is one of only two players to do this during the 2017 NBA playoffs. The other player? Cleveland’s King, LeBron James.
Milwaukee got off to a hot start offensively and carried that over into the second quarter. It seemed as if there was no opportunity for fans to sit down, as the team pummeled Toronto on both sides of the ball. The Raptors were held to 27 points in just the first half. For comparison sake, the NBA record for lowest point total in a half was 19 points, scored by the Los Angeles Clippers in a regular season matchup against the Los Angeles Lakers on December 14th, 1999.
As if the stadium could not get any louder, at one point the jumbotron showed Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who flashed his Fear the Deer fan giveaway shirt to a standing ovation. It was at this point that I think people’s heads were about to explode.
Also attending the game were newly acquired tight end Martellus Bennett, left tackle David Bakhtiari and backup quarterback Brett Hundley.
The Bucks finished off Toronto 104-77 behind excellent shooting performances from Khris Middleton, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Greg Monroe and rookie Thon Maker, setting up an almost too good to be true scenario of going up 3-1 on a team that nobody thought they could beat. Defeating Toronto would mean winning a playoff series for the first time since the 2001 Eastern Conference playoffs.
The Bucks complete dismantlement of Toronto would earn a new rating’s record for Fox Sports Wisconsin. This game was the number one program overall in the Milwaukee area for Thursday, besting game 2’s viewer rating.
Saturday’s game four would not go as planned, as both teams played lackluster offense and Milwaukee’s defense slipped just a little bit to allow Toronto to take a 87-76 win, evening the series yet again. The arena was quieted behind a monster performance from Toronto shooting guard DeMar DeRozan, dropping 33 points and seemingly killing any momentum Milwaukee tried to find late in the game.
The Bucks posted relatively lackluster attendance numbers this past season. The team ranked 27th out of 30 NBA teams, posting an average attendance of 15,828, which accounted for 84.6%. Toronto on the other hand, averaged a sellout crowd, putting them 3rd overall. It was encouraging to see Bucks fans come out in droves to support the team. The Bucks marketing team offered a deal at the end of the season to get two tickets to the final home fan appreciation game and two upper level playoff tickets for $70 total.
The Bucks would unfortunately be embarrassed in a pivotal game 5 in Toronto this past Monday, where they had another golden opportunity to bring the series back to Milwaukee and close out Toronto in game 6. Milwaukee now faces an uphill battle of having to win their final two games to win the series.
Interestingly, Bucks head coach Jason Kidd was in an analogous situation when he coached the Brooklyn Nets in the 2014 NBA playoffs. Brooklyn was down 3-2 to the Toronto Raptors and won the series in Toronto. There is definitely hope for this Milwaukee Bucks team!
Whether the Bucks win this series or not, one thing is for certain, Bucks mania has taken over the city. One cannot go far without seeing some green “Fear the Deer” painted across a sidewalk and the team has done an excellent job of community engagement, as well as finding unique ways to get fans into the aging BMO Harris Bradley Center.
In the background, the new arena is standing tall. An imposing image of what Bucks ownership has had in mind all along when coming up with the “Own the Future” slogan. Ownership has just applied to host the 2021 All-Star game. Hopefully by that time, the Bucks will have won multiple playoff series and perhaps even added their second NBA title, giving the team’s fans a well-deserved championship to celebrate.