There I was, happy and excited to watch another Milwaukee Bucks postseason run, optimistic that another NBA Finals trip could be in our team's future. I was so young back then. So naive.
Things ... have not gone according to plan for Giannis and company these playoffs. What seemed like a speed bump on the way to the second round – a Miami Heat team that, while talented, well-coached and always gritty, barely survived the play-in tournament against the Hawks and Bulls – has turned into a 71-car pile-up as the Bucks have found many new and exciting ways to lose a basketball game on their way to a 3-1 series deficit. One series into the postseason, Milwaukee finds itself one game away from annihilation and one of the most humiliating defeats in the team's history.
But while I could spend this article space ragefully updating Coach Mike Budenholzer's resume for him or firing up the offseason trade machine (AJ Green for Damian Lillard seems fair, right?), for my own mental health and stability, I'm going to attempt to be positive – and I'm going to attempt to spread that positivity to you. Because while things seem awfully dire right now, there are actually several reasons why you shouldn't fear for the deer – five to be exact, starting with ...
1. Giannis is back
There's an alternate universe where Giannis collides with Kevin Love midway through the first quarter of Game 1, lands on maybe his side or his arm and just shakes it off en route to a casual first-round series win. Unfortunately, that's not the universe we live in. We live in the bad one, where Giannis landed on the small of his back and had to sit out for essentially three games, helping fuel two of their three losses to the Heat – because, surprise, the Bucks are nowhere near as good without their two-time MVP. Now, however, he's back.
"But Matt," you say to the computer screen, "he was back for Game 4 and how'd that go!?" NOT GREAT, I AGREE! But you know who was great? Giannis, who made his return by nabbing a triple double (26 points, 13 assists and 10 rebounds) and helping put the Heat down double-digits before the Bucks collectively touched that glowing basketball from "Space Jam" and forgot how to play for the last seven minutes. And that was RUSTY Giannis. That was a Giannis that was clearly still getting up to game speed and fighting off some residual stiffness in his back, not being able to be as aggressive as usual. Given a few more days to rehab, work out the injury and work with the team, we should see an even more dominant Giannis performance against the undersized Heat. Have faith in the Freak.
2. Jimmy Butler burned out
Jimmy: I thought we were friends! I cheered for you at Marquette! Why do you have to go and drop a half-century of points on my basketball team?
Indeed, the Bucks have unfortunately walked their way into the path of a one-man nuclear warhead named Jimmy Butler, who already seemed unstoppable for the first three games before he dropped 56 points in Game 4 and pretty much single-handedly defeated the Bucks. That's the fourth most points ever scored by a single player in a postseason game. He would've outscored most football teams on Monday night.
That being said ... scoring 56 points isn't what you'd call sustainable. Butler is a postseason wrecking ball – but he's currently shooting almost 53 percent on three-pointers, more than 25 percent higher than his career average beyond the arc. Even just this season – one of Butler's best statistical seasons – he only shot 35 percent from distance. He averaged less than one three-pointer made per game during the regular season on less than two attempts – and now here he is hoisting more than four a game on average and averaging more than two makes. Butler's play is superhuman, but the law of averages says at some point he's going to have to come down to earth – or at least even just the clouds.
The Bucks can help expedite that. They've given Jimmy Butler a lot of easy transition shots and open looks – and while Jrue Holiday is a great defender, it's clear Butler isn't bothered by him this series. Giannis covered him for a large part of their 2021 first-round sweep – one where Butler averaged less than 15 points per game – so that would seem like an easy place to get him off his currently radioactively hot shooting. Plus, did you see Butler take practically a nap on the court in the third quarter of Game 4? As it turns out, carrying your team across four games takes its physical toll – and hopefully the Bucks make him and the Heat pay in these remaining games. Because really ...
3. The Heat can be beat
This team just isn't really that good! There's a reason why the team got 56 points from Jimmy Butler ... and only won by five. And there's a reason why the Vegas odds aren't entirely bullish on the Heat, even with their intimidating 3-1 series lead.
With their smart coaching and never-say-die "Heat culture" attitude, Miami is generally not a team you want to mess with – but this season, Heat fears were more reputation than reality. The team barely stayed above .500 all season long, then got embarrassed at home by the not-great Atlanta Hawks before salvaging their season with a close win over the even-less-great Chicago Bulls. They have the worst offensive rating of any playoff team this year, ranking in the bottom six in the league – and that was with Tyler Herro, the team's best shooter, now out for the series with a broken hand. And yet, here the Heat are, a game away from winning the series with the second-highest offensive rating of this first round and easily the highest three-point shooting percentage.
At some point, the Heat will cool off. I know the graveyard of recently deceased Bucks seasons has plenty of tombstones reading "surely Fred VanVleet can't shoot like this all series" and "surely Grant Williams won't keep hitting like this" – but truly, if past performance means anything, this first-round behemoth isn't the 2022-23 Miami Heat. This year's version of the Heat struggles on offense, lacks depth and has a woeful size disadvantage against the far-bigger Bucks. (Someone just needs to regularly remind Coach Bud and Milwaukee of that latter point.) If the Bucks play their game and play to those advantages, the Heat could and should become the team they are, versus the nightmare they've become for Milwaukee fans.
4. We've been here before
Hold on a second: down in the series, things looking dire, Bucks fans preemptively packing Coach Bud's bags for him and posting an "NBA head coach" job vacancy on Indeed. This all seems strangely familliar ...
That's right: Before the Bucks went on to win their first title in 50 years, they specialized in giving their fans heart attacks. They were down 2-0 to the Brooklyn Nets before tying things up ... and falling right back down to 3-2, after blowing a 16-point halftime lead in Game 5. In the Eastern Conference Finals, they were tied 2-2 without Giannis and without seemingly a three-point shot before turning things up and winning the next two games. And worried about having to win three games in a row? Well, in the Finals, they lost their first two games against the Suns by double-digits before winning not merely three but four games straight and taking home the trophy, giving me the greatest sports memory of my lifetime.
Basically, what I'm saying is it wouldn't be a proper Milwaukee playoff run without the team making it as difficult as possible on their fans. Sure, that was a different team with different circumstances, and being down three games to one is an all-new undesirable situation to find ourselves in. Things feel pretty sour right now – but recent Bucks history says it might just lead to something sweet.
5. History says it can be done
It's rare, but eight seeds like the Miami Heat have beaten the conference top seed before – five times, to be specific, most recently in 2012, with the Philadelphia 76ers beating the injury-ravaged Chicago Bulls. You know what's slightly less rare? Coming back from 3-1 down in a playoff series. Thirteen times in NBA history, a team trailing three games to one has come back to win the series – even twice in a single playoff run with the 2020 Denver Nuggets. So between a historic upset and a historic comeback, the odds say the latter is more likely – so here's to being on the right side of what's guaranteed to be a series for the books.
As much as it is a gigantic cliché to say that one has always had a passion for film, Matt Mueller has always had a passion for film. Whether it was bringing in the latest movie reviews for his first grade show-and-tell or writing film reviews for the St. Norbert College Times as a high school student, Matt is way too obsessed with movies for his own good.
When he's not writing about the latest blockbuster or talking much too glowingly about "Piranha 3D," Matt can probably be found watching literally any sport (minus cricket) or working at - get this - a local movie theater. Or watching a movie. Yeah, he's probably watching a movie.