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Horning: Milwaukee bucked much conventional wisdom netting title

  • 3 min to read

It’s hard to know how to write it because it’s too much.

Maybe if we told you the Milwaukee Bucks’ first NBA championship since 1971, won Tuesday night over the Phoenix Suns, shatters everything you think you know about sports, or everything everybody’s been telling you about sports, we’d have your attention.

But it’s probably not true.

It might only shatter 50 percent of what you know, or what you’ve been told.

In a clinching Game 6 victory, Giannis Antetokounmpo led the Bucks to the title, maybe turning in the finest championship clinching performance in sports history.

Don Larsen threw his perfect game in Game 5 of the 1956 World Series, but the Yankees beat the Dodgers in seven.

Tom Brady completed 43 of 62 passes for 466 yards and New England beat Atlanta in overtime at Super Bowl LI, but only two of the tosses were for scores and one was picked off.

That leaves Reggie Jackson hitting three home runs on three swings, lifting the Yankees over the Dodgers in Game 6 of the 1977 World Series.

Antetokounmpo went for 50 points, 14 rebounds and five blocks, so you decide, because this is not about that, but so much more.

• Like the fact that no team since the 2010-11 Spurs had won the title as a No. 3 or lesser seed and still that San Antonio team tied for the second-best record in the Western Conference, going 55-27.

You’ve got to go back to the 2006-07 Spurs to find a team with the third best record in its conference to win it all, yet that San Antonio team still went 58-24, posting a .707 winning percentage, significantly better than Milwaukee’s .636 after going 46-26.

That leaves going back to the 2005-06 Heat, who went 52-30 (.634) to find a team that won it all with a lesser winning percentage than the Bucks, yet even that one comes with an asterisk because Miami removed Stan Van Gundy as coach 21 games into the season, the Heat just 11-10 at the time, in favor of Pat Riley, who went 41-20 (.672).

• Like the presumed fact a team needs lottery picks to compete for an NBA championship, because the Bucks put only one such player on the court in their clinching win, barely. That was center Brook Lopez, selected 10th overall in 2008 out of Stanford, who only joined Milwaukee, his fourth team, as a free agent in 2018.

The Bucks signed him for one season and $3.4 million, only to watch Lopez play his way into a four-year, $52 million deal, which is still not much by NBA standards.

No other Buck on the court Tuesday was selected any higher than 15th, where Antetokounmpo was taken in 2013.

Khris Middleton, P.J. Tucker and Pat Conaughton weren’t even taken in the first round.

• Like the whole thing about having to construct a team around two or three superstars to win a championship.

LeBron James and Anthony Davis led the Lakers to a title last season, but they failed to make it out of the first round in this one.

Paul George and Kawhi Leonard haven’t made it happen with the Clippers.

The Nets had injury issues, but the night the Bucks eliminated Brooklyn in Game 7 of their second-round series, June 19, both Kevin Durant and James Harden played every minute and couldn’t get it done.

Milwaukee made a big preseason move to get Jrue Holiday out of New Orleans and alongside Antetokounmpo, but it was not an alignment of superstars.

Holiday was the 17th pick in 2009 following his freshman season at UCLA. He got to Milwaukee after averaging 19.1 points, 6.7 assists and 4.8 rebounds his final year with the Pelicans, which is really good, but doesn’t make him a superstar. He’d been an all-star only once, in 2013, playing for Philadelphia.

The Bucks knew who they wanted, but their eventual title is testament to chemistry, not the dictation of superstars to choose common destinations.

• Like the false idea that centers, even power forwards, can’t still play like centers, because while it’s true Antetokounmpo can shoot the 3, getting up 4.7 and 3.6 attempts per game the last two seasons, when previously he’d never hoisted more than 2.8, he’s become a superstar getting it done in the paint.

His first five seasons, he never made more than 56.3 percent of his 2-point attempts, even averaging 26.9 points during the 2017-18 season. In the three seasons since, he’s averaged 27.7 points, 29.5 points and 28.1 points, shooting 64.1 percent, 63.1 percent and 63.6 percent from inside the arc and the vast majority of those coming from within the half-moon restricted area beneath the basket. Look at his shot charts and you’ll see. He may not be a center, but he puts the ball in the basket like a great one.

• Milwaukee’s championship also shatters the idea players can’t develop, even dramatically, deep into their careers.

Antetokounmpo averaged 14.9 points and 6.9 rebounds the first 318 games of his NBA life and 28 and 11.7 the last 271.

Holiday averaged 14.3 points and 6.2 assists the first 504 games of his career and 19.4 and 6.9 the last 187.

P.J. Tucker doesn’t have big numbers, but played in Israel, Ukraine, Greece, Italy and Germany from 2007 to 2012 before returning to the NBA, where he’s played no less than 19.9 minutes per game over his last nine seasons, a span of 689 games.

Where players are now is not where they’ll be, but good luck hearing about that on all the gabfests that qualify as informed sports television these days.

• Finally, not every superstar can’t wait to split for New York, Los Angeles, Boston or Chicago.

Antetokounmpo’s on his third contract, each with Milwaukee, bucking the trend.

It’s unfortunate Chris Paul lost, absolutely. But for all the reminders, it is wonderful the Bucks won.

Clay Horning

405 366-3526

Follow me @clayhorning

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