Milwaukee Bucks: Giannis Antetokounmpo’s postseason vow

TORONTO, CANADA - MAY 25: (Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images)
TORONTO, CANADA - MAY 25: (Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images) /

With the playoffs fast approaching for the Milwaukee Bucks, Giannis Antetokounmpo’s determination to avoid a repeat of last year’s defeat will be on display.

Having been forced to spend the past few months on the sidelines playing the waiting game, the Milwaukee Bucks were provided more and more distance from the moment that offered up their undoubted motivation coming into the current campaign.

A blown 2-0 lead in the Eastern Conference Finals last year clearly haunted the Bucks as they reconvened for training camp in October, but it’s certainly fair to wonder how much that defeat at the hands of the Toronto Raptors will still prove to be a factor in the 2019-20 postseason.

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A phenomenal regular season, which improved upon their brilliant performance from the previous year, will undoubtedly have helped the Bucks to reframe that particular conversation in their minds. After all, considering the two seasons they’ve played under Mike Budenholzer in their totality equates to relentless winning, with one notable and ill-timed blip on the radar against Kawhi Leonard and the Raptors.

That loss certainly wasn’t all down to luck, but there was a clear make or miss element at play for Milwaukee all the same.

What’s maybe most interesting about how the Bucks will look to conquer those demons and advance further this season is the reaction of the team’s best player, and the league’s reigning MVP.

One of many details to emerge from a fascinating exploration of the Bucks by Bleacher Report’s Yaron Weitzman, there’s perhaps nothing more significant than the desire of their best player to never be nullified as he was against the Raptors again.

Assistant coach Ben Sullivan described the Raptors approach after the Bucks went 2-0 up as something entirely new for both Giannis and Milwaukee to face:

"“They were really the first team to play him like that and to that extreme,” Bucks assistant coach Ben Sullivan says. “They had two to three guys, helping only on him, making sure he couldn’t get where he wanted to go.”"

For Antetokounmpo, that made things even simpler after the fact. The Greek superstar is said to have commented while watching film of that series:

"“I don’t want to get to that same point again and have that same defense work.”"

At this point, it’s incredibly difficult to doubt Antetokounmpo when he sets his mind to doing something. That’s not built on any kind of blind faith as much as it’s informed by his impeccable track record of year on year improvement.

And before the COVID-19 pandemic swept in, the signs of further gains were certainly there in the regular season. Antetokounmpo was taking and making more triples than he had in a number of years, was stepping confidently into midrange jumpers and fadeaways, and seemed to have greater control and range with his passing than ever before.

All of those skills will be tested much more extensively in the playoffs, as will the contributions of Antetokounmpo’s teammates and a Bucks’ supporting cast that features a number of new additions from a year ago.

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Giannis will have to prove it all again when the pressure’s on, but having made a vow that he doesn’t want to be stopped in that way ever again, you’d need to be either brave or foolish to bet against him.