The Milwaukee Bucks will enter the playoffs with the best record in the NBA for the first time since 1974, clinching the overall top seed with a 128-122 victory over the Philadelphia 76ers on Thursday night.
The Bucks traveled to Philadelphia and won before another huge day from MVP candidate Giannis Antetokounmpo, who scored 45 points in the victory.
Giannis Makes MVP Statement
Antetokounmpo added 13 rebounds, six assists, and five blocks to lead Milwaukee to its 59th win of the season.
“Yeah, that felt like a statement,” Milwaukee coach Mike Budenholzer said of the performance. “Especially with what he does defensively with the five blocks and 12 rebounds and changes the game…he’s an MVP in our eyes, so we’ll keep him.”
The Greek Freak is certainly having a year that’s worthy of MVP consideration. Antetokounmpo is averaging 27.7 points and 12.5 rebounds per game, numbers that have made him a favorite over James Harden – the only other likely candidate – for the award. The FanDuel Sportsbook has Antetokounmpo as a -280 pick to win the award, while Harden is listed at +195.
But after Thursday’s game, all Antetokounmpo wanted to do was praise his teammates, who rallied after Eric Bledsoe was ejected just three minutes into the game after a dustup with Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid.
“I think the team did a great job keeping its composure,” he told reporters after the game. “Guys came in, hit big shots, played defense, played hard, and it’s big for us…it just feels good that we have 12 guys, 15 guys that are able on any given night to step up and help this team.”
Best Bucks Team in a Generation
The Bucks will now be heavily favored to win their first round series, though it’s still an open question as to who they’ll play when the postseason begins. The Pistons, Nets, Magic and Heat are all within one game of each other, with the Hornets still alive as well, and any of those teams could potentially end up as the eighth seed.
That’s new territory for Milwaukee, which hasn’t entered the playoffs ranked any higher than the sixth seed in the East since the 2000-2001 season. That’s also the last time the Bucks won a playoff series, making it all the way to the conference finals that year before falling in seven games to the 76ers.
But the team and its star have grown together over the past few years. This will be the third year in a row that Milwaukee has made the playoffs, and is the third straight year Antetokounmpo has been named an All-Star. And both he and the franchise feel like this has been a special breakthrough season that few outsiders saw coming.
“It’s amazing man. It’s a six-year journey,” Antetokounmpo said after the game. “Hopefully we can keep getting better and we can reach our goal – that is, to win the championship.”
Milwaukee is certainly in the hunt for an NBA title this year. The Bucks (+700) are the second choice to win the NBA Championship, though they are far behind the Golden State Warriors (-210), who are the clear favorite to capture their third straight title and the team’s fourth crown in five years.