By Brian Foley Special to OnMilwaukee Published Apr 12, 2019 at 1:01 PM

Starting Sunday, the Milwaukee Bucks will compete in one of the most important playoff series in franchise history – and one that could quickly become a historical footnote in a matter of weeks.

After winning 60 games for the first time since 1980-81 and for just the fifth time in the franchise’s five decades, the top-seeded Bucks will host the eight seed Detroit Pistons (41-41) in a best-of-seven series. (You can see the Bucks’ full playoff schedule here.)

Only five eight seeds have ever knocked off the top team in the opening round of the playoffs, and these Pistons certainly do not have the look of a squad built to bring down the Bucks, who swept all four games from Detroit in the regular season by nearly 15 points per game.

Detroit’s star Blake Griffin – who has put together one of the finest seasons of his career – was hobbled with a knee injury to close the season, missing four of the final six games, including the season finale. Even if he is able to return to the floor for Game 1 on Sunday evening, his production will likely be limited, either by his own deteriorating body or by Defensive Player of the Year candidate Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Detroit doesn’t have many advantages elsewhere either. Pistons point guard Reggie Jackson is essentially a poor man’s Eric Bledsoe. Andre Drummond, who has been running roughshod on the league for 10 weeks now, will be pulled away from the paint on defense by Brook Lopez, leaving the paint free and clear for the rumbling Antetokounmpo. Lopez should also be able to contain Drummond on the other end; the former UConn big man averaged 13.8 points and 10.5 rebounds on 45 percent shooting against Milwaukee this season, all well below his season-long marks.

One of basketball’s tried-and-true ways to even the scales against a superior team is to launch a ton of threes, which is actually one of Milwaukee’s few areas of weakness on the defensive end. (The Bucks surrendered the most three-pointers per game in the entire league.) Of course, that’s not exactly the Piston’s modus operandi. Detroit has some credible three-point shooters – Wayne Ellington, Luke Kennard, Jackson and even Griffin all topped 35 percent on a significant number of attempts – but none truly bend a defense to its breaking point. The Pistons shot 34.5 percent from beyond the arc as a team, which ranked just 22nd in the league.

This series really should not last more than five games, with Detroit only getting credit for the gentleman’s sweep because it’s hard to beat a team eight straight times in a season.

Still, this is not a series the Bucks can overlook, nor should its fanbase ignore the moment. Milwaukee has not won a playoff series since the 2001 conference semifinals, and even though Mike Budenholzer’s system has the Bucks playing like a completely new team, success still comes in incremental steps. The Bucks cannot simply fast forward to the conference finals.

This group has passed every test this season, and they did play well in the past two postseasons as the underdog, but winning in the playoffs is a different beast. The Bucks should be able to make enough winning plays against the relatively mediocre Pistons, but you never know until you’re there. Eventually the Pistons are going to make a run, whether it’s in Game 1 at the Fiserv Forum or in Game 3 when the series moves to Detroit. How Milwaukee responds will answer a lot of questions moving forward.

If the Bucks handle the moment with the poise they have displayed all season, then the rest of the league should be on notice, because a confident Milwaukee squad with the playoff monkey off its back could be Finals-bound.

Brian Foley Special to OnMilwaukee
Brian Foley is a Maryland native, but has quickly established roots in Milwaukee after graduating from Marquette University in May 2017 with a bachelor's degree in digital media. He has interned for several media organizations in the area, including TMJ4-TV, WTMJ Newsradio and ESPN Milwaukee, and continues to contribute to FanSided's national network of sites.

When Brian's not writing about sports, he is probably prattling on about Marquette hoops, digging through statistics, or re-binging his favorite television series. Any conversation that begins with a quote from "The Office" or "West Wing" is a surefire way to grab his attention.