The wait is finally over for Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks. On Saturday night, they booked their place in the NBA Finals after knocking off the Atlanta Hawks 4-2.
A lot had been made about Antetokounmpo's future prior to the 2020-21 campaign. Would he stay? Had the moment passed for this Bucks side to win the title? Battling without the Greek for the last two games, his teammates made sure they put that argument to bed and have put themselves and the side's superstar in a position to win a championship that has eluded the franchise for half a century.
Despite winning a ring within three seasons of creation, the Milwaukee Bucks would in the following 50 years reach just one more NBA Finals contest. In this article, we will take a look back at what happened the last time the Bucks reached the biggest stage in basketball and if this current crop of stars can win a chip.
What happened the last time the Milwaukee Bucks went to the NBA Finals?
Despite dominating the Eastern Conference in the regular season over the past three campaigns, the Milwaukee Bucks have failed to reach the NBA Finals after underwhelming in the postseason. Even before Giannis and co., there wasn't always the glitz and glamor of winning. The organization fell in the first-round on eight occasions between 2001 and 2018 and failed to qualify for the postseason on nine other attempts, finishing bottom of the Eastern Conference in 2014.
However, this year, they got over the final hurdle and put their demons to rest. Now all they have to do is bring home a title, something the Milwaukee Bucks haven't done since 1971. Just three years after their success, they were once again in the NBA Finals, this time facing the Boston Celtics.
The Milwaukee Bucks side of the early 70s were daunting. They had MVP of the league Kareem Abdul-Jabbar at center and future Hall-of-Fame point guard Oscar Robertson and small forward Bob Dandridge.
In their title-winning season of 1971, Abdul-Jabbar averaged 31.7 points during the campaign while Robertson put up 19 points and eight assists per game. Three years later, they were still as dominant. At the time, the Milwaukee Bucks were playing in what was then the Western Conference, finishing with a 59-23 record while the Celtics topped the East with a 56-26 record.
Up until that point, Boston had ruled the NBA with 11 championships. They maintained a team full of Hall-of-Fame legends, including Dave Cowens, Don Nelson, Paul Westphal, Jo Jo White and John Havlicek.
In game one, the C's eased past the Milwaukee Bucks on the road 98-83 with the Bucks still feeling the loss of regular starting point guard Lucius Allen, who had suffered a knee injury. In game two, Abdul-Jabbar put the team on his back. The towering big man put up 36 points, grabbed 15 rebounds and made three blocks. Most importantly, he limited Boston center Dave Cowens to just 3-13 shooting from the field.
The two sides traded wins again as the series moved to Boston, with the Bucks turning the ball over 27 times in their game three loss. In game five, all three of Cowens, Havlicek and Abdul-Jabbar put on stellar displays, with the former two pouring in 28 points each and the latter 37.
Both Havlicek and Abdul-Jabbar would go back and forth at one another in a crazy game six which went into double overtime. Both superstars scored over 35 points as the Bucks prevailed on the road by one point.
Despite having home-court advantage for a defining game of seven, the Milwaukee Bucks fell again for the third time in the series at home. Boston came off to double and triple-team Abdul-Jabbar, which worked as they ran out 102-87 victors in their first title post the Bill Russell era.
Since their dramatic postseason in 1974, the Milwaukee Bucks have fallen at the Conference Finals stage four times. They dominated the East in the mid-80s, appearing in the Conference Finals three times in a four-year span. However, they were never able to topple their opponent.
This year could be different. Even before any playoff basketball was played, the Bucks came in as one of the favorites to win the championship. They have finished in the top-three teams in the East over the last three seasons and have reached the Conference Finals and semi-finals. Most importantly, though, they have overcome adversity.
Budenholzer's team swept the Miami Heat in the first-round, simultaneously getting revenge last year. They then knocked off the toughest team in the East, the Brooklyn Nets, over seven games. In game four of their Conference Finals series with the Hawks, Giannis Antetokounmpo went down injured and would not return for the final two matchups. There was never any worry, though, as Khris Middleton picked up the reins and led the Bucks in both wire-to-wire wins.
Whether the Milwaukee Bucks can succeed or not may well come down to the Greek's availability, which is currently being handled as day-to-day. They have the offensive weapons to challenge the Suns and are mean defensively. It has certainly been a long wait for the Bucks fanbase and they will be hoping that this team of stars can take the final step to glory.