Milwaukee Bucks: Debunking narratives surrounding the 2021 title run

MILWAUKEE, WISCONSIN - JULY 22 (Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)
MILWAUKEE, WISCONSIN - JULY 22 (Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images) /
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Milwaukee Bucks: Giannis Antetokounmpo
Jul 1, 2021; Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports /

Did the Milwaukee Bucks win a ‘Hospital ring?’ NBA Finals history says no

It’s a convenient narrative that’s pulled out every year, particularly from fans of teams that were also in title contention but bowed out a little earlier than expected. On its face, it also makes sense to a degree. Losing your best players to injury, after all, means that your team isn’t at full strength, making a loss somewhat inevitable.

This year, in particular, it’s easy to see how a healthier Nets team with Kyrie Irving and James Harden, a Hawks team with Trae Young, or a Phoenix team with Dario Saric could have changed the end result. That’s all well and good for the most part. With the tumult of injuries, especially those of high-impact All-Stars this year, surely it’s worth asking: Did the Bucks win solely because of the injuries that befell their opponents?

Even if you have to ask, the answer is simple: History and context say no.

After all, one of the most important parts of NBA Finals history, however overlooked, is the circumstances behind each matchup. And media narratives were quick to look past a crucial fact when assessing the championship team’s Finals run: namely, that the Bucks were also missing their fifth starter in Donte DiVincenzo.

This isn’t to argue that DiVincenzo would have altered the course of a series the way star guards like Irving and Young would. But while that is obviously an outrageous point to make, the Bucks were also missing him in ways that very clearly affected their title contention at the time.

Matchup data on shows that in the regular season, Brooklyn’s trio shot a collective 5-of-13 (38.4percent), Phoenix’s duo shot 6-of-16 (37.5 percent), and Bogdan, Huerter, and Reddish shot 4-of-13 (30.7 percent) when being guarded by DiVincenzo.

It’s a fact that DiVincenzo is no Harden, but another fact is that the Bucks, who won the title on the heels of their versatile and league-leading playoff defense, were sorely missing an elite defender who held the entire Miami Heat roster to 4-of-13 (30.7 percent) field goal shooting as the closest defender through three playoff games en route to a sweep.

Even then, his wasn’t the only loss that came their way.

Another injury, one more monumental, came in the form of Giannis Antetokounmpo’s left knee hyperextension in Game 4 against the Atlanta Hawks. We all know how it ends, and to pontificate over it all over again would be redundant at this point. Though the scary fall looked grim and potentially season-ending at the time, the Greek Freak went on and scored 50 points in a closeout game to win his team the title just weeks later.

This isn’t to say that the other injuries didn’t alter the end result for the Bucks. Nobody expected a healthy Bucks team to take a series win away from a healthy Nets team, after all. This is only a reminder that just like their counterparts, the Bucks, too, dealt with adversity in the form of injuries and soldiered on despite the costly losses. They were dealt a difficult hand but found ways to win simply by being the most resilient team left standing. Consequently, whether the Bucks would have and could have won under different circumstances is moot and academic, simply because these circumstances ultimately never transpired. (Perhaps those teams can try again next year.)

Was this really a hospital ring? Sure, but only in the sense that highlights the resilience the Bucks showed in the aftermath of their own injuries.