Milwaukee Bucks: Let the doubters continue to overlook the NBA’s best team

As the Milwaukee Bucks wait for an Eastern Conference Finals opponent to emerge, the voices continuing to doubt or overlook them aren’t worth your time.

With the Milwaukee Bucks having sealed a second round victory with a 25-point blowout of the Boston Celtics in Game 5, Mike Budenholzer took up his spot at the podium for the post-game press conference.

Budenholzer lives and breathes, or maybe more accurately emotes his way through, every second of action of every game, and therefore by the time he speaks to the media he can often look a little dishevelled.

After all, this is the same man who dives on the locker room floor after imaginary loose balls.

Don’t let the loose tie and open shirt neck — which give him more than a passing resemblance to Ol’ Gil — fool you, though. Nor should Budenholzer’s tendency to keep his cards close to his chest in front of the media overshadow the fact that, when he chooses to be, he can be as articulate and erudite as any coach in that setting.

On Wednesday night, the best example of that came when Budenholzer was asked for his thoughts on those who continue to underestimate his Bucks team. The coach’s response was short and ever so sweet.

“I don’t give any thought to those people.”

That’s a sentiment that Bucks fans could do with embracing in the days and weeks ahead.

The Bucks proved how good they were with a 60-win season that bordered on historical dominance in a variety of key categories. They proved they were not just a regular season team by sweeping the Pistons without so much as blinking, and powering through the adversity of a Game 1 loss to the Celtics to win the next four contests.

Take just the regular season or the playoffs, or combine the two. Whichever way you want to spin it, any argument that the Bucks have not been the NBA’s best team this year is simply not based on facts at this point.

Beyond that, it should only take a brief look around the rest of the playoffs to realize their credentials are not just as strong, but in fact stronger than all of the non-Golden State Warriors teams remaining in the postseason.

Posed the same question as his coach was before him, Bucks wing Khris Middleton offered up his own attempt at explaining why there may still may be an element of doubt being placed on the team from some quarters.

“I would say it’s mainly because we just haven’t been here before yet. It’s as simple as that. In the last couple of years, we’ve only been in the first round, and couldn’t even get out of it. So they can say what they want to say, and we’re going to believe what we want to believe, and that’s in ourselves.”

Of course, Middleton is right. But if that’s the reason the Bucks are being doubted, is there any reason why the Raptors, 76ers, Trail Blazers, Nuggets and Rockets shouldn’t be too? If it’s not the first time reaching this point of the postseason for the current iterations of those franchises, it’s because they arrive at this point of the year with baggage of not being able to get over the line.

If that argument was to be dismissed, it would likely be countered with the notion that personnel changes have transformed the makeup of that team and this experience is really a new one. If that was true, though, has there been a team more completely and utterly transformed this year than the Bucks?

The Bucks boast the likely winners of the MVP and Coach of the Year awards, have been the picture of consistency and excellence throughout the season, and can now add a dominant start to postseason play to their already extensive list of achievements. Per ESPN Stats and Information, Milwaukee’s five 20-point wins through their first nine playoff games is the most by any team in playoff history.

The Pistons can easily be dismissed as a joke, and the Celtics would be the NBA’s current laughing stock if not for the non-playoff activities of the Lakers, but the idea of implosion and the discussion of those team’s losing their series continues to miss the point.

By the time this postseason is done, many may well come to realize that for any flaws the Bucks’ opponents have had, it was Milwaukee’s play and gameplan that made them look so catastrophically bad and dysfunctional.

A defense that continues to evolve and become even more suffocating — the Bucks are the only team holding their opponent to less than 100 points per 100 possessions in the playoffs (98.2) — should make that apparent, even before considering an offense that still ranks as the postseason’s third best in spite of very rough shooting from the Bucks in some of their playoff games to date.

In this regard, Middleton, again, should represent something of a voice of reason. When asked to compare what the difference between last year’s Celtics and this year’s was following Milwaukee’s Game 4 win, the 27-year-old responded:

“It’s not about them, it’s about us.”

It is all about the Bucks. These playoffs may yet be all about the Bucks. And yet don’t be surprised if the narratives continue to focus on dysfunction elsewhere.

The drama of other franchises undoubtedly makes for better copy, particularly at a time when people seem to be generally more interested in assigning blame than credit. Picking apart what went wrong seems to be what people love most, or at least what they’re most comfortable with. But what’s truly exceptional in the NBA is the train that stays on the track.

Failure is the norm in the NBA. There are 29 losers every season, which in many ways makes that a more relatable experience than the ultimate success. The Bucks should know, as they’ve done more than their share of being endlessly relatable for the past 48 years.

Now, though, the Bucks are playing at a level that isn’t reality for most teams and their fans. There’s not something eminently attainable about a superstar talent such as Giannis Antetokounmpo, not every team has a coach of Budenholzer’s pedigree, nor do they boast the sheer wealth of talent and options that are on offer on Milwaukee’s roster.

This isn’t the time to worry about those who doubt the Bucks. Milwaukee has proved skeptics wrong all season long, and those who have really paid attention know exactly what this team is by now.

The next month could be the culmination of a long, arduous and painful journey. This could be the moment of catharsis that an entire generation of Milwaukee fans have waited for the chance to experience.

And still, if the Bucks were to hypothetically beat the Warriors in a Finals epic in June, the dominant story would without question still be the losers the following morning.

Should that bother Bucks fans? Well, if you end up standing on a Milwaukee street corner on a hot June day as the Bucks parade by with the Larry O’Brien trophy raised high, do you think you’ll care about the doubters or the Bucks’ lack of recognition then?

Winning is the ultimate recognition in this league. Coach Bud hasn’t set a foot wrong so far. Follow his lead. Don’t give any thought to those people.