Milwaukee Bucks: 49 years in 49 days – 1981-82 season

BOSTON - 1981: (Photo by Dick Raphael/NBAE via Getty Images)
BOSTON - 1981: (Photo by Dick Raphael/NBAE via Getty Images) /

The Milwaukee Bucks became the best defensive team in the NBA as Sidney Moncrief emerged as a two-way star in 1981-82.

The season: 1981-82

The record: 55-27

The postseason: 2-4, lost in second round

The story:

The Milwaukee Bucks 1981-82 season was one of the most bizarre in franchise history. The Bucks were injury-riddled all season, which resulted in 17 different players checking into a game for Milwaukee at one point or another.

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Former Bucks champion Bob Dandridge was retained for 11 games despite being 34 years old, mostly because of the loss of Marques Johnson at the beginning of the season. Marques wasn’t on the disabled list, though–he held out for a better contract, and eventually got it, raising his deal from $1.1 million over six seasons to $8 million over eight seasons.

Quinn Buckner missed 12 games, Brian Winters missed 21, and Junior Bridgeman missed a full half of the season while playing in just 41 games. Thankfully for Milwaukee’s sake, Sidney Moncrief managed to stay relatively healthy all season, and he didn’t waste his opportunity in the 1981-82 season.

Moncrief averaged 19.8 points, 6.7 rebounds, 4.8 assists, and 1.7 steals in 37.3 minutes per night across his 80 played games. He led the Bucks in total points, assists, and rebounds on the season while playing absolutely stifling defense.

Even while dealing with the myriad of injuries plaguing Milwaukee, with Moncrief leading the way the Bucks were the NBA’s best defense. In the incredibly high-scoring days of the early 1980s, Milwaukee allowed just 102.3 points per 100 possessions, best in the Association.

Sid the Squid became recognized as a top-tier guard, making the All-Star team for the first time and being named to the All-Defensive Second Team for his efforts in ’81-82. He wasn’t the only Buck playing well, though.

Injuries and missed games across the roster forced Don Nelson‘s Bucks to rely on all sorts of players, and they were so damn good because they were deep. Seven Bucks averaged at least 12.5 points per contest that season, and Milwaukee was fifth in the league with over 27 assists per game.

Moncrief and Marques were the best players and top scorers, but they were supplemented by an outstanding supporting cast including all of the players previously mentioned, plus Bob Lanier, who certainly had plenty to do with the Bucks defense suddenly being stifling.

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Their efforts led to 55 regular season wins and another first round bye in the playoffs, thanks to the odd postseason setup the NBA utilized at the time. Waiting for Milwaukee in the second round was, again, the Philadelphia 76ers.

The players around him shifted somewhat, but Julius Erving remained a Buck hunter in the NBA Playoffs in 1982. He led the series in scoring with 21.7 points per game, while Mickey Johnson led Milwaukee with Marques close behind.

Sid the Squid slumped slightly in the playoffs, with just over 15 points per game. A young Andrew Toney added some serious firepower to the 76ers, who took Game 1 for the second straight postseason and went on to win in six games instead of seven this time around.

Next: 49 years in 49 days: 1980-81 season

Milwaukee certainly had found a rival in Philly back in the early 1980s, but at least the Bucks had a pair of young stars on the rise. The regular season wins wouldn’t dry up for quite some time.