Just three months after Giannis Antetokoumpo’s 50-point performance clinched a decisive title win over the Phoenix Suns in Game 6 of the NBA Finals, the Milwaukee Bucks will begin their title defense when the new season begins on October 19.
The vacation period was particularly short for Khris Middleton and Guru Holiday, who departed for Tokyo shortly after parading the championship and winning gold medals with the US Olympic team.
“It was crazy,” Holiday said.
They were given a little time to go home and rest before starting the process of trying to repeat. They understand the need to maintain the same tenacity that helped carry them to the franchise’s first championship since 1971.
The Bucks opened the season against the Brooklyn Nets, who would have eliminated them in the second round of the 2021 playoffs if Kevin Durant’s foot had not slipped through the 3-point arc during his shot in Game 7.
“It’s a challenge,” Middleton said. “I think we have to find a way to stay hungry, not feel good about what we accomplished last year, to find a way to do it again.”
Throughout their championship run, the Bucks have been driven by their past failures in the post-season. The Bucks no longer have that motivation, but they say they will remain as motivated as ever.
“The difference will come for us,” said Antetokonmo. “But we have to have that hunter mentality ourselves.”
Milwaukee brought back most of its starting players from last season, although BJ Tucker left for the Miami Heat and Brian Forbes returned to the San Antonio Spurs. They added Grayson Allen, Simi Ogli and George Hill to the bench.
This depth can be tested.
The Bucks may need to keep an eye on their top players early in the season because they haven’t had much rest during this brief season.
Antetokounmue, who squandered his left knee excessively in the Eastern Conference Finals, says he feels comfortable but will be cautious with his knee early in the season. The Bucks should also make sure they don’t get overwhelmed at Holiday and Middleton after their busy season is over.
“They’re usually good at reading men and their bodies,” Holiday said. “Not only that, she’s good at maintenance and upkeep.”
Milwaukee hopes that preaching caution early on will lead to another memorable end.
“It was a story ending for us, wasn’t it?” goalkeeper Pat Connaughton said. But the stories have sequels. The stories have a trilogy. At the end of the day, it’s about continuing the next story, and following up on the next book.”
The Bucks are coming off a season in which they scored 120.1 points per game. This made them the most-scoring team in the NBA since 1983-84, when the Denver Nuggets and San Antonio Spurs both passed that average.
Familiar area for Budenholzer
Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer knows the demands involved in trying to win a second consecutive NBA title. Budenholzer was part of four NBA Championship teams with San Antonio while serving as an assistant on Gregg Popovich’s team from 1996-2013. These Tottenham teams have not won consecutive titles.
“You admit it’s different, yes,” Budenholzer said. “There will be things that are a little bit unique after the tournament. But there will be a lot of very similar things – the competitive nature of the league, the way people are going to follow you. I think our players always embrace that competition and the need to live up to that level.”
This season marks Hill’s second assignment in Milwaukee. He played for the Bucks from 2018-20 and made a high-quality 3-point shot off the bench before being included in the four-team trade that brought Holiday to Milwaukee.
“They had to do this trade to get a guy like Jrue, which is a no-brainer in every situation,” Hill said. “He is the best goalkeeper in the league in the eyes of many people. There are no hard feelings.”
Hill was also one of the leaders of the Bucks’ 2020 protest in the bubble that led to the temporary postponement of the NBA games.
The Bucks are building on a successful comeback from Donte DiVincenzo, who tore his left ankle ligaments in the first round of the playoff series with Miami and missed the rest of the post-season. Devincenzo started 66 games and averaged 10.4 points last season. The Bucks have not announced when they expect DiVincenzo to play again.
Meanwhile, Allen didn’t get a warm reception from local fans when he snatched money from Memphis during the holiday season. They remember how Allen ruined Wisconsin National Championship dreams by scoring 16 points as Duke beat the Badgers 68-63 in the 2015 NCAA Championship Final.
“When I first traded, 30 minutes later, I was saying about 80% of my memories were angry Wisconsin fans not happy about my coming to Milwaukee,” Allen said.