The changing of the guard in the Eastern Conference might not be far off.
The Milwaukee Bucks stole Game 1, and they nearly did the same in Game 2. They’ll live with the small consolation prize that is Game 3. It was a thorough, brutal beatdown of the Toronto Raptors as the series shifted back to Wisconsin, starting the moment the game began and never letting up for a second.
The 104-77 win puts Milwaukee up two games to one, with another game at home coming up. It’s too soon to count out Toronto, because we’ve seen them power through ugly series and inexplicably win them. But right now, it looks like the Raptors are headed for a couple more games, and then a quick extinction. They could easily be down 3-0, and they would need a lot going right to get the turnaround they desire.
We’ll have a long talk about Toronto if they do indeed lose. Right now, this is about Milwaukee, and how the Bucks have maybe come together to play incredible basketball.
Look, this game was over after a quarter. You can see the actual score after 12 minutes — Bucks 32, Raptors 12 — and if you didn’t watch the game, you might think Toronto was just missing shots and Milwaukee had everything going. No, trust me, if you watched that first quarter, you knew that game was over right in that moment. Indeed, Toronto never even managed the facsimile of a run to get back into the game, losing the second quarter by seven points and the third by five more.
It helps that Milwaukee has the best player on the floor: Giannis Antetokounmpo finished with 19 points, eight rebounds, four assists, two steals, two blocks, and 7-of-10 shooting, while notching a team-best plus-29. But Antetokounmpo obviously isn’t being asked to carry an enormous load — his teammates are swarming all around him, with Khris Middleton popping off for 20 points in the starting five while Greg Monroe dropped 16 off the bench.
Milwaukee didn’t have this defense during the regular season, not for three games like we’ve seen in this series. Much of that is the Thon Maker effect, as the rookie is rapidly learning just how debilitating his massive arm length and craft foot speed are to an opposing offense. Add in another couple dozen feet worth of wingspan from the rest of the starting five, and if they’re playing fundamentally sound basketball, it’s just so hard to score.
Like, they’ll even block your shot with their elbows. Who does that?
The Greek Freak with the NASTY REJECTION!! #FearTheDeer pic.twitter.com/3O6u8VLg4B— Milwaukee Bucks (@Bucks) April 21, 2017
The Bucks have made a clear statement that they should be feared. Even if they somehow seize up and fall apart in a series loss, something nobody is predicting at this point, consider how damn young they are. We see teams rise and fall out of the Eastern Conference constantly — remember how the Knicks were good for a season, and only that? Remember the Indiana dynasties that fell obsolete so, so quickly? Now, Milwaukee might be doing the same thing to Toronto, who has run in the top of the East for a few seasons now. The Bucks, unlike any of those teams mentioned before, are built to last long into the future.
They have Antetokounmpo, who is 22 years old. They have the emerging Maker, who looks like another score for them. All around them are more young faces, and while this team isn’t near their final form, they have time to develop into that. Antetokounmpo, especially, has no ceiling on how high he can soar. Will he be the league’s best player in five years? There’s honestly a good chance.
But the Bucks don’t need to worry about the future, because right now, they’re here in the present and beating up a team that some called a dark horse finals squad. So far, so good.
Please fear the deer. What started as a catchy slogan has now become a public service announcement. After watching the fate that befell Toronto on Thursday, we really just don’t want to see anyone else get hurt.