Milwaukee Bucks: Now is Eric Bledsoe’s chance to flip the script on playoff woes

NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA - FEBRUARY 04: (Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images)
NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA - FEBRUARY 04: (Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images) /

Eric Bledsoe’s playoff struggles for the Milwaukee Bucks have tarnished his mainstream reputation as a high level NBA point guard. But this year’s playoffs present an opportunity for Bledsoe to flip the script on his legacy.

Two years ago, Eric Bledsoe sat down with reporters following Game 2 of a first round playoff series that pitted his Milwaukee Bucks against the Boston Celtics. He presumably was already in a bad mood, due to the fact that his team faced an 0-2 series deficit at the time, but one reporter’s question likely put the nail in his spirit’s coffin.

“Terry Rozier’s gotten off to a strong start to the series, [he has] no turnovers in 78 minutes. How personally do you take that matchup?” Bledsoe was asked. To which he bluntly, and perhaps quite spitefully, replied “I don’t even know who the f*** that is, man.”

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But everyone, Bledsoe included, was aware of who Rozier was. He was the player who was averaging 23 points, 5.5 assists and (like the reporter noted) zero turnovers during his first two playoff meetings against Bledsoe. He was also the player who would later come out on top between the two, as Boston eliminated Milwaukee from the playoffs in a 7-game series.

Bledsoe would average 13.5 points per game for the series; Rozier went on to average 17.5 points per game. Now, one statistic of course doesn’t tell all, but anyone who watched the series knows the cold-hearted fact: Bledsoe was outplayed.

And not only was he outplayed; he was outplayed by a 24 year old, second unit point guard who was filling in for an injured Kyrie Irving. He was outplayed by a player who, as Bledsoe himself described it, he didn’t even know who that was. And it was that fact which would go on to figuratively haunt Bledsoe for the rest of his playoff career.

Take last year’s Eastern Conference Finals as an example, when the Milwaukee Bucks took on the soon-to-be NBA Champions: the Toronto Raptors. Everything was on the line and the stakes could not have been higher, but Bledsoe unfortunately failed to bring his A-game, yet again.

The usually star point guard averaged 10.1 points per game and 4.1 assists per game while making only 29.4 percent of all his shots and only 17.2 percent of his 3-pointers.

This is not the usual Bledsoe, a player who averaged 15.9 points per game and 5.4 assists per game while shooting 47.5 percent on field goals and 34.4 percent on threes. But for some odd reason, one that has yet to be pinpointed by Bucks fans, he has seemingly inescapable demons that follow him through every turn of the playoffs.

Bledsoe has been crucified by those demons – which became prevalent during the aforementioned Boston and Toronto series – ever since. They have defined him and his career legacy for years now. Because NBA fans do not forgive, and they do not forget, especially when it comes to playoff time basketball. Even an All-NBA caliber point guard, who has started on the best regular season team for two years in a row now, is not immune to that judgement.

Because whenever Bledsoe’s name enters the conversation, whether if it’s about his incalculable importance to Milwaukee’s drop screen coverage or the value he brings on offense by acting as a second driving-initiator presence, the same tired response always arrives on cue: “but what about the playoffs?” That narrative has to sit uncomfortably in Bledsoe’s gut.

To know that no matter how great he performs in the regular season; no matter how much the Milwaukee audience clamors about his importance to the team, the larger audience will always be filled with non-believers, who at this point are also simply stating the facts.

The best players, the ones who have their names etched in the NBA history books, are players who perform at another level when the lights turn the brightest. Bledsoe, on the other side of things, hides in the corner until the shadows of lower-stakes basketball returns. Because of that, any fan who tries to challenge his legacy with the “but what about the playoffs?” claim can do so in good conscience. But luckily for Bledsoe, that narrative works to perfection when correct, but completely falls apart when proven wrong. Take star point guard, Kyle Lowry, as a prime example.

Up until last year, when he and the Toronto Raptors upended the Bucks and later the Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals, Lowry was infamously labled as a “playoff choker.” Now, a lot of that label was under false pretenses, but the fact still remains that the judgement of his greatness was affected because of it (correctly or not).

What freed him of that judgement so quickly? Results. Lowry performed last year in the playoffs, especially when it mattered most. When he brought a championship home to Toronto last season, the narrative of him being a playoff choker completely collapsed upon itself. Just like that. And now, Bledsoe has the perfect chance to do the same to his narrative.

Bledsoe will be entering this year’s playoffs as fresh as he’s ever been both mentally and physically (assuming there’s no long-term complications stemming from his COVID-19 diagnosis). With a more clear head space, Bledsoe can finally cleanse himself of his past playoff demons. He’s had four months to prepare himself and there will be no crowd in attendance.

But counteractively, there will also be no more excuses. The table is set perfectly for him, now he has no choice but to feast. Luckily, Bledsoe seems to understand this and he seems to have been preparing for this moment. When asked what he had been working on over this past offseason, Bledsoe answered:

"“My focus, it was pretty much just mental.That’s what I’ve kind of been working on, even in this training camp. If I miss a shot, make a turnover – move on to the next play, don’t compound the mistake by getting down.”"

Bledsoe seems ready to leave his playoff struggles exactly where they are: in the past.

Next. It's the Bucks’ time to prove themselves. dark

Time will only tell whether or not others will be able to do the same. There’s only one way to flip the script on playoff narratives, and that is with results. Kyle Lowry proved that last year; now is Eric Bledsoe’s chance to do the same, under what seem to be perfect circumstances. Milwaukee Bucks fans know that he can, so here’s to hoping that he finally will.