Detroit, Michigan: Giannis Antetokounmpo, the favorite for the league’s MVP award, scored 41 points on 23 shots in a 127-104 victory against the Pistons on Monday night. The Bucks completed a clean first-round sweep, beating Detroit by at least 16 points in each of their four meetings and setting up a second-round series with the Boston Celtics.
The 2001 season ended with a controversial Game 7 in the Eastern Conference finals that sent the Milwaukee Bucks home. The years since have brought plenty of drama and change to Milwaukee’s basketball franchise.
Ten head coaches have cycled through the organization. The Bucks have had four general managers, a change of ownership and move into a new arena.
There was the fateful and short-sighted Gary Payton-Ray Allen trade and firing of George Karl followed by a descent in the standings. There were whiffs in the draft as well as some luck, with the Bucks getting Andrew Bogut with the No. 1 pick in 2005. There was the “Fear the Deer” season that came crashing down with an awkward fall and broken arm suffered by Bogut.
Then came the ironic rallying cry of “Bucks in 6,” a 15-win season, the “Winning Takes Balls” billboard and Herb Kohl selling the franchise to a group led by Wes Edens and Marc Lasry in 2014, solidifying the Bucks’ future in Milwaukee.
In all that time, there have been eight trips to the playoffs. The first seven resulted in zero series victories.
That drought ended on Monday night in Detroit as the Bucks completed a sweep of the Pistons with a 127-104 victory at Little Caesars Arena. Giannis Antetokounmpo powered the Bucks with 41 points — 24 in the second half — nine rebounds, four blocks and three assists in the closeout game. He absorbed blow after blow from Detroit’s physical defense and spent much of the night at the free-throw line, going 15-of-20 there.
Giannis did it ALL in the @Bucks Game 4 victory against the Pistons! ??
— NBA TV (@NBATV) April 23, 2019
Antetokounmpo’s performance put him in rare air as just the fifth player in Bucks history to score 40-plus in a playoff game. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar did it three times while Terry Cummings, Ray Allen and Michael Redd each did it once.
While the final score wasn’t close, the Pistons looked like they had the Bucks on the ropes into the third quarter. Reggie Jackson scored 20 of his 26 points in the first half, including an emphatic put-back before the halftime buzzer, and Blake Griffin gave his team and the sellout crowd life with a 22-point, six-assist, five-rebound night while wearing a sizable brace on his left leg.
Detroit led by six at halftime and by as many as nine in the third quarter. But Antetokounmpo kept attacking, getting buckets and foul calls to keep the Bucks in it. With 4:35 left, one play removed from an and-1 driving through Thon Maker, Antetokounmpo again drew a foul as Maker reached in to knock the ball away.
— Milwaukee Bucks (@Bucks) April 23, 2019
The Pistons, who were whistled for 31 fouls on the night, had reached their boiling point. Coach Dwane Casey aired his frustrations and was assessed a technical foul. Khris Middleton made the technical free throw, then Antetokounmpo made his two freebies.
Milwaukee crept within one. Jackson and Griffin both went to the bench. The game shifted for good.
Pat Connaughton followed a Detroit timeout with a steal for a dunk, and the Bucks never trailed again. The Bucks roared to a 37-8 run following the technical on Casey, and when Griffin fouled out with over seven minutes remaining, the Detroit crowd saluted him before heading to the exits, their team down 18.
Middleton complemented Antetokounmpo with 18 points, while Eric Bledsoe chipped in 16. Brook Lopez, who went to the locker room in the third quarter with an apparent back injury, returned for the fourth and he tallied three blocks — of his five on the night — in the first four minutes of the quarter to anchor Milwaukee’s defense and help spur the run that put the game away.
The Bledshow was BALLIN’ ?
— Milwaukee Bucks (@Bucks) April 23, 2019
Next up for the Bucks will be the Boston Celtics in a second-round series that is likely to start this weekend in Milwaukee. The Bucks have waited a long time to reach this point again and they’re not ready for the ride to end.