Milwaukee Bucks continue to prove their identity of toughness this season

MILWAUKEE, WISCONSIN - JANUARY 05 (Photo by John Fisher/Getty Images)
MILWAUKEE, WISCONSIN - JANUARY 05 (Photo by John Fisher/Getty Images) /

One of the hardest things for a team to do in becoming a contender is finding its identity. Sure, you can have a bunch of good players, play well together, and win games, but who are you? What are the one or two defining characteristics about your team that make you special? For the Milwaukee Bucks, it’s their toughness.

They didn’t really have that identity or mindset in their first couple of years as they ascended to being contenders. The team that went to the Eastern Conference Finals was really good, but there wasn’t much of an identity aside from hucking up 3s. The season after that was more of the same, but last year, the Bucks found out who they were.

That identity became clearer when they added P.J. Tucker who brought the “We Dogs” mentality and didn’t take any guff from anyone. When Tucker left, they easily could have lost that identity. General manager Jon Horst even talked with Eric Nehm of The Athletic (subscription required) about how they needed to “win differently” this season and that this roster wasn’t going to be like the championship-winning one.

The roster may be different, but that mindset and identity remain engrained in who the Bucks are this season.

How the Milwaukee Bucks have become one of the league’s toughest teams

Now, this isn’t all to say that the Bucks wouldn’t have become a tough, hard-nosed, defensive-minded team without Tucker. The veteran even said as much at his famous parade speech. The Bucks had dogs on their team, they just didn’t know how to be dogs.

Giannis Antetokounmpo didn’t take crap from anyone before Tucker’s arrival. I’m sure we all remember him making a bee-line for Mike Dunleavy after Dunleavy punched Michael Carter-Williams. He even apparently refused to wear a brace on his knee during the Finals because of that mindset.

That’s where it starts, it comes from your best player and having that mindset of being the most hard-working and being tough (even if it’s not always the best decision for the health of your knee, Giannis please wear a brace next time, sir) permeates throughout the roster.

But Tucker was the one who made it public and gave them the identity of being tougher than the opponent. When he got in Kevin Durant’s face during Game 3 of the second round series, it was almost an announcement of “hey, we’re here and we won’t back down from anyone” (even if it was his friend).

So, going into this season, how was that mindset going to show itself through this group without Tucker?

Well, some of the pieces were still in place. Of course, Antetokounmpo but also Jrue Holiday’s quiet toughness and defensive mentality, Bobby Portis’ more… boisterous toughness, as well as bringing back a veteran like George Hill.

We’ve seen the boisterous and in-your-face toughness from the Bucks a surprising amount this season. Maybe it’s players wanting to take their shots at the champs, but Portis has been in several scuffles with guys like Pascal Siakam, Naz Reid, and Grant Williams.

One moment that has stuck with me was Portis going after Montrezl Harrell after he hacked Antetokounmpo on a drive. Portis knows you can’t mess with his guy, let alone the franchise player and he knows Antetokounmpo won’t do it, so he took matters into his own hands.

Filling the “P.J. Tucker role” was more than someone who could defend big wings, but also someone who keeps that tough mindset alive.

But even with those guys on the roster, the Bucks doubled, tripled, even quadrupled down on that mentality at the trade deadline. Serge Ibaka has had some notorious in-your-face moments, including this season! He wanted all of the smoke with Patrick Beverley, who decided to shove Ibaka and then run away. Then, last night, he got into it with Tristan Thompson. He looked ready to fight but apparently restrained himself and gave Thompson a love tap on the arm.

Anyway, then the additions of DeAndre’ Bembry, as well as Jevon Carter, bring a similar type of toughness to Jrue Holiday in terms of their quiet, hard-working defensive mindsets.

It’s easy to point to those in-your-face moments where it’s easy to see that they’re tough, won’t take guff, all of that. But you see it from guys like Pat Connaughton who gets hit in the face but plays through it. Wesley Matthews fits into that tough defensive type as well.

Heck, even the quietest dude on the team, Khris Middleton, has been in his fair share of scuffles the last couple of seasons!

This mentality can only benefit them come playoff time when things tighten up, emotions get higher, and you’re facing a team at least four times in a row. We saw how it helped them in last year’s playoffs.

Next. Ranking 5 potential first round opponents for the Milwaukee Bucks. dark

The Bucks know who they are and when teams try to push the reigning champs around, they know that the Bucks are going to push back.