MILWAUKEE – Before winning his first NBA championship, the star of the Milwaukee Bucks, Giannis AntetokounmpoShe used to imagine how her life would change: how a weight would be lifted off her and how she would finally be able to breathe.
“But it’s false,” Antetokounmpo said after the Bucks received their 2021 championship rings. “If you’re a competitor, your mind creates something different, a different challenge. You could say, ‘Okay, I did it once, I need to do it. a second time. ‘And when you do it a second time, you want to do it a third time. “
For players like Antetokounmpo, there is always a new goal to reach, always a new slight, real or perceived, to acknowledge.
“We are still the Milwaukee Bucks. At the end of the day, there are a lot of people who still don’t think we can do it again,” he said.
Antetokounmpo, 26, has already found a place among basketball legends; last week he was included in the list of the 75 greatest NBA players of all time at the beginning of his ninth year in the league. He’s already a two-time MVP. He has won a Defensive Player of the Year award. He has been selected on five consecutive All-Star teams.
A week after the NBA season, the Bucks (3-1) don’t appear to be suffering from a championship hangover. Not in a team with Antetokounmpo as its best player. The Bucks, who rose to first place in recent ESPN Power Rankings, scored a dominant season-opener win over the Brooklyn Nets, followed by wins against the San Antonio Spurs and Indiana Pacers despite a rotation that was overwhelmed. for injuries.
The star of the Nets, Kevin Durant, saw the difference on the Bucks from the playoffs a few months ago to opening night last week.
“(They) have a core of guys who have been together for four or five years,” Durant said. “And also the whole coaching staff feel more comfortable with each other and have some success in winning a championship, that naturally brings confidence.”
“That will be good for them all year long. I know they are going to use that to squeeze games, that experience of winning a championship and going through deep races together that will win them some games this year.”
The Bucks have won the most regular-season games in the NBA in the past three seasons (162), though two of those seasons ended in major disappointments: They lost a 2-0 postseason lead to Toronto in 2019 and a embarrassing loss to the Miami Heat in the bubble in 2020. “We definitely have a lot more confidence in ourselves,” said the Bucks forward, Khris middleton.
“It’s natural, we should. We are the champions. We’ve been through all kinds of situations that you could go through. So at the same time, you know what to expect. There’s no need to worry about failing because you know what you need to do.”
The Milwaukee stage is set for success
Before the Bucks’ first practice together in September, Middleton and Antetokounmpo addressed the team on the practice court. His message: Forget about last season.
That talks about setting a tone.
“We have great leaders on our team,” said the Milwaukee guard. Pat connaughton. “They are humble. So we have that confidence, but it is not arrogance. And I think that line is very important.”
“That has a lot of value when you have these guys who are now champions … and they pave the way for everyone else,” added the point guard. George Hill, who was with the Bucks from 2018 to 2020 before meeting them this season. “It’s easy to do the same when you have guys like that.”
Middleton and Antetokounmpo are entering their ninth season together in Milwaukee. They joined perfectly with their third star, Jrue Holiday, who was acquired in a trade before the start of last season. Middleton and Holiday became the first pair of teammates to win an NBA championship and an Olympic gold medal in the same year since the former Chicago Bulls greats Michael Jordan and Scottie pippen They did it in 1992.
Since returning from Tokyo, Middleton and Holiday have forged an even closer bond.
“Oh yeah, (their relationship) has grown a lot,” Antetokounmpo said on Zoom after the first preseason game. “Now they sit next to each other in the locker room. Yeah, they go out to dinner. Dates and stuff.”
“Hey, you sound jealous, man. Are you okay?” Asked Middleton from the back, who was waiting to join the next call.
“I’m not jealous,” Antetokounmpo said, smiling.
While jovial attitudes persist in Milwaukee, outside of there, the Bucks’ greatest enemies in the Eastern Conference have engaged in wars from within. The Philadelphia 76ers have been locked in the public eye with the disgruntled star Ben simmons, who has yet to play in a game and was hoping to see his offseason trade request fulfilled before now.
The Nets, preseason betting favorites to win the NBA championship, started the regular season without the point guard. Kyrie irving, who will not practice or play with the team until it complies with the New York City COVID-19 vaccine mandate.
There has been no such melodrama in Milwaukee.
Antetokounmpo quashed rumors that a long-term extension could be signed before the start of last season. Middleton and Holiday are also locked in the long term. Coach Mike budenholzer and general manager Jon Horst received extensions this offseason. The Bucks have become the face of the anti-super-team in the NBA, a small-market franchise whose best players chose not to go to other teams to join forces.
But the road to repetition will continue to present its challenges. The Bucks’ offense was below average during the playoffs, 11 of 16 teams in points per 100 possessions (although their defense was No. 1), and they will need to find ways to generate points more fluidly this season. Holiday and Middleton went straight from the Finals to the Olympics, so their durability will be put to the test after a shortened offseason.
Across the league, the Nets are loaded with All-Stars and offensive firepower. The Los Angeles Lakers have had their stumbles at the start, but they recharged with their own star experiment. The Heat, who have faced the Bucks in the playoffs two years in a row, had a great victory in their first home game against Milwaukee. And young teams like the Atlanta Hawks and Phoenix Suns now have another year of experience after being dispatched by the Bucks last postseason.
After watching the videos featured during the opening night of the ring-giving ceremony, filled with flashbacks of a young Antetokounmpo and Middleton during their first few seasons together, Antetokounmpo pointed out the way they positioned themselves on the floor, launching themselves in search of loose balls.
“If our approach to the game doesn’t change, the guys that are there and Coach Bud, it’s hard to change the culture of this team,” he said.
In the opening game, Milwaukee beat Brooklyn 127-104 with Antetokounmpo and Durant figures.
Dynasty on the way?
Before Milwaukee won the title last summer, the Bucks’ road to containment provided many more questions than answers:
Would Antetokounmpo re-sign with the Milwaukee small market team?
Is Middleton a worthy No. 2?
Did they give up vacation too much?
Who would be the next coach if they didn’t win?
Now? Not so many questions.
“I’m happy,” Antetokounmpo said. “And I’m not happy because I’m happy, I’m happy because the people around me are happy. I don’t feel like people are stressed anymore.” I feel like people are being taken care of and we are going to do this for a long time. You see many times in organizations that could not overcome that pothole, they give up. That did not happen with us. I’m happy that we can … be able to do it for the next four, five, 10 years, whatever the case may be. “
That sounds like dynasty talk. Antetokounmpo wasn’t about to get too far ahead of himself just yet. Real or perceived, that’s what Giannis and the Bucks are up against: proving that their small-market victory, which came in a year of NBA superstar injuries, was no accident.
Since the Golden State Warriors championship in 2015, a starting team didn’t seem to be on the rise yet. Consider how the Heat responded during the 2012-13 regular season after winning the title the previous season: With 66 wins and a historic 27-win streak en route to a replay. The NBA has not seen a repeat champion since the Warriors won back-to-back titles in 2017 and 2018, and only three teams – Warriors, Heat and Lakers – have repeated as champions since the turn of the century.
“Winning a championship fulfills a lot of dreams and a lot of hard work,” said Dallas Mavericks coach Jason Kidd, who led the Bucks from 2014 to 2018, crucial development years for Antetokounmpo and Middleton. “A lot of times there is a dynasty, when you look at the Bulls, the Spurs, the Warriors. When you talk about Milwaukee winning that championship, all the hard work that Khris and Giannis did to finally climb that mountain and be on top. helps keep going.
“Is your appetite big enough to try again? That’s what the greats do.”
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Why Giannis and the Bucks think they could be the NBA’s next great dynasty