The Milwaukee Bucks’ 108-99 victory over the Hornets wasn’t an ordinary win. They took another crucial step toward becoming an elite team.
It may have just been another game in an 82 game season on Friday night, as the Milwaukee Bucks beat the Charlotte Hornets by nine points, moving them temporarily into sole possession of the Eastern Conference’s top spot.
It was, however, no ordinary win. The Bucks appeared to take yet another crucial step in their development toward being a title contending team, as they found that all-important extra gear to grind out a win.
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For the first three quarters on Friday night, almost everything seemed to go wrong for the Bucks. They were missing open looks, especially from three. They were struggling at times on defense, and the Hornets were shooting extremely well, even when the Bucks were contesting their shots. It looked like one of those games where, no matter what the Bucks did, it just wasn’t meant to be.
In the fourth quarter, however, the Bucks took it up to an entirely new level. Their defense stifled the Hornets on every possession, forcing turnovers and heavily contesting each and every shot. Their offense began to move the ball with surgical precision. Their best player and team leader, Giannis Antetokounmpo, dominated the game on both ends of the court.
By the end, the Bucks had turned an 87-76 deficit at the end of three quarters into a 108-99 win.
What distinguishes good teams from the great ones, such as the Golden State Warriors, is a team’s ability to grind out a win when they’re far from their best.
Great teams have another gear or level they’re able to get to in games, even when they’ve struggled for the majority of it. You’re not always going to blow the doors off of teams, especially in the playoffs. Being able to respond to adversity, when everything seems to be breaking against you, and grind out wins is the hallmark of an elite side.
The Bucks have been playing fantastic basketball for much of this season. However, no win they’ve had has arguably been as impressive as the Hornets win on Friday night.
Their response in that fourth quarter, and the realization they were better than their opponents and should win, was another critical step in the Bucks’ development. These are the types of wins that help set you up for success in April, May, and June.
The Bucks start a difficult five-game road trip in Oklahoma City on Sunday afternoon, as each of their upcoming opponents is currently in contention for the playoffs in their respective conferences. The odds are high that the Bucks will have to find a similar gear in at least one of those games if they’re going have a successful road trip.
The Bucks showed they have an extra level to their game. Now, they have to show that they can find that on a consistent basis. That’s what separates the elite from the rest.