Bucks’ tough 1st round

To contend that the Bucks expect more from their 2023-24 season would be to understate the obvious. They swung big prior to the start of their campaign, netting Damian Lillard at the expense of continuity alongside a coaching change they believed would enable them to meet their ultimate objective. Their reasoning was clear: They didn’t want to engage in insanity by doing the same thing over again while expecting a different result. Unfortunately, their impatience got the better of them; 43 games in, they saw fit to get Adrian Griffin out of the hot seat in favor of Doc Rivers. Never mind that they were then in possession of the second-best record in the National Basketball Association. The upheaval resulted in a middling second half that relegated them to third in the East and set them up for a tough first-round battle against the Pacers.

Under the circumstances, it can be fairly argued that fortune did not favor the Bucks heading into the playoffs. They lost eight of their last 11 outings, including three straight against the lowly Wizards, Grizzlies, and Raptors. As their reward for the tumult, they drew the dangerous Pacers, who just so happened to match up well against them; not for nothing did they previously claim a single triumph in five meetings versus their stylistic foils. And to literally add injury to insult, they will likely be navigating the remainder of the series with Giannis Antetokounmpo and Lillard at far less than a hundred percent — assuming that the top dogs even get to suit up.

Perhaps the Bucks would be in a worse situation with Griffin at the helm. The front office certainly saw and felt enough in the first half of the season to give him the pink slip despite initial support from Antetokounmpo. Perhaps they would then have been better off hiring anyone other than Rivers, more known for playoff debacles than successes in recent memory. And so on and so forth. Which leads to an important point: When protagonists begin ruminating on the past and indulging in What Ifs, discontent has already set in.

True, the Bucks still have a lot going for them. On paper, they have the depth to continue being competitive. Meanwhile, Rivers is, if nothing else, familiar with the pressure of mentoring under the klieg lights. The flipside, of course, is that the Pacers boast of the same strengths — and momentum to boot. Game Three was a deflating loss for the green and white, and it all but makes Game Four a must win. How well they stay confident of their chances will determine whether or not they can take the measure of the competition and keep their title hopes alive.

Anthony L. Cuaycong has been writing Courtside since BusinessWorld introduced a Sports section in 1994. He is a consultant on strategic planning, operations and human resources management, corporate communications, and business development.