Milwaukee Bucks: Bobby Portis cements status as playoff folk hero

Jul 1, 2021; Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA (Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports)
Jul 1, 2021; Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA (Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports) /

When Bobby Portis first arrived to the Milwaukee Bucks last November, he made it clear why he made the decision to come to Milwaukee.

After having largely been playing on middling-to-rebuilding teams throughout his six year career, Portis spoke of wanting to be a winning team and within a winning culture. Say what you will of the Bucks’ postseason success, especially considering Portis’ comments were coming in light of the Bucks’ playoff collapse to the Miami Heat down in the bubble, but it obviously left a mark on a journeyman forward like Portis nonetheless.

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Thursday night saw those ambitions become realized in the Bucks’ 123-112 win over the Atlanta Hawks in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals that puts the Bucks one win away from their first trip to the NBA Finals in 47 years.

Cheers from the sold-out crowd inside Fiserv Forum regularly rained down on Portis as the Bucks exerted control of the win from the opening tip and in part due to Portis’ performance while filling in for the injured Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Portis’ first career playoff start saw him finish with 22 points on 9-for-20 shooting (1-for-3 from downtown, 3-for-6 from the free throw line), eight rebounds, three assists as well as three steals in more than 35-and-a-half minutes of burn.

The Arkansas product put in exactly the inspiring performance the Bucks needed not only after dropping Game 4 in miserable fashion, but also a nerve-wracking 24 hours as speculation swirled around Antetokounmpo’s injury. Portis was flying around getting into passing lanes, muscling his way on to the glass and throwing down easy dunks after leaking out in transition. And it was exactly what was needed to get the crowd to their feet and serenade Portis and the Bucks on their way to victory.

Bobby Portis has been a crucial role player for the Milwaukee Bucks all season long

It hasn’t been the easiest postseason for Portis. After all, Portis grew into becoming a DNP-CD in the final three games of the Bucks’ duel with the Brooklyn Nets last round.

By ekeing out a win in that Game 7 by the skin of their teeth, the Bucks moved on to the Eastern Conference Finals and the slate was wiped clean for Portis to make the impact that he’s done all year in Milwaukee. Antetokounmpo even went up to Portis after that hard-fought win urging Portis to stay ready and saying ‘We’re going to need you.’

Fast forward 11 days later and Portis’ awakening will surely have ripple effects for his future beyond this season. The Bucks knew very well if Portis impressed throughout this season that he would essentially price out what they could offer him in free agency as it’s more than likely he declines his $3.8 million player option for next season.

Yet the impact, the development and production he’s displayed in Milwaukee has been more than enough to assert himself as an impact player when it matters most. And as he talked about after Game 5 to ESPN’s Royce Young, Portis can reflect knowing that his decision to come to Milwaukee was the perfect one for him:

"“Coming here was the best decision of my career,” Portis said. “Having good veterans like Giannis and Brook to coach me up on how to be a two-way player on the defensive end and guys like Khris [Middleton] and Jrue to put the ball in the hole and still trust me to shoot my shot, and having a coach like Coach Bud and the whole coaching staff … it was just a great business decision.”"

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Showings like the one Portis had in Game 5 is exactly what makes the playoffs such a thrill when seeing unlikely figures grow into impact performers. And when it came down to it, the Bucks needed Portis the most just as Portis needed the Bucks to revive his career. Talk about a win-win-situation.