When the Milwaukee Bucks face the Miami Heat, last year’s MVP and likely this year’s will be on the floor, leading the way for the team with the NBA’s best record and one of the clearest paths to a title.
But that team, the Bucks, and that player, Giannis Antetokounmpo, are in trouble. Down 2-0 to Miami, a loss tonight would essentially bury their season. Jimmy Butler shredded them in Game 1 by scoring 40 points in a 115-104 Heat win and Game 2 ended with Butler hitting two free throws with 0.0 on the clock, after being fouled by Antetokounmpo. The Bucks were 1-4 against the Heat in the regular season this year and Miami’s defenders have contained Giannis in the series thus far. Even when Kris Middleton started hitting shots early in Game 2, Miami’s so malleable with Bam Adebayo at center that they created open threes all night for their expert shooters like Duncan Robinson.
The Heat have just been the tougher team. They are the tougher team. And although that just sounds like an old-man sports columnist take, Milwaukee doesn’t have the edge that Miami’s playing with. Butler is one of the toughest players in basketball, who has shown no patience for teams that can’t match his resolve. And we’re seeing why. Giannis was flat out not good in Game 1 wasn’t at his full Giannis capacity in Game 2, and the rest of the roster hasn’t made up for it. “Playoff Bud” is making its way back with Mike Budenholzer’s playoff shortcomings coming back into focus.
If the Bucks lose tonight, they’re as good as done. No team in NBA history has ever come back from being down 3-0, and the Bucks have shown no reason to think they could be the first. Even though Giannis stuffed the stat sheet in Game 2, it hasn’t been enough. We’re still waiting for a dominant performance where he decimates his competition for 40 minutes, the kinds of performances that make stars into legends.
And now it’s starting to creep in.
That “Are we sure…” question.
That little voice in the backs of all our heads that start to wonder. The voice that starts to doubt. That voice that gets us to check Basketball Reference and realize there… isn’t a ton of playoff achievement for one Giannis Antetokounmpo. It’s not fair to start lamenting the playoff failures of a player who’s still only 25 years old. Giannis is one of the best players in basketball, and he’s certainly closer to one than he is to three. But it’s the circle of life in the NBA. Every superstar we have was beloved early in their career as we fantasized about what he could potentially be. But after a couple years, our fantasies have not been met, and we start to ask why. If the Bucks lose this series, there will be countless tv segments questioning his greatness and potential legacy if he can’t get it done in the playoffs. We’ll all ponder, “Would he really leave Milwaukee if they have another playoff disappointment? What does THAT do to his legacy?”
That’s all it takes. Two years of playoff disappointment and not getting into the finals despite being the best player in the league. The narrative will turn just like that. We did it with Michael Jordan before his run and LeBron James before his. Then they won their rings and it stopped (For James, it didn’t fully stop until he won in Cleveland). We did it with Kevin Durant in Oklahoma City, then he went and won one in Golden State and now there are people who still don’t want to give him credit for it. We’ve done it with James Harden for years now. We’ll do it with Luka Dončić if three years go by and Dallas hasn’t been to the finals.
But if the script flips and Milwaukee wins tonight with Giannis as an unstoppable force, the Bucks can get back on track. Just last year, the Toronto Raptors were down 2-0 before peeling off four wins in a row against *checks notes* Milwaukee. If anything, Giannis can cement his current standing as a superstar by willing Milwaukee to a series victory. But if he doesn’t, this cruel, annoying world called sports media will turn on him until he wins a title.
with Packer Dave, Steve Leventhal, and John Poulter
They’re back! The Sports Report has returned for a look at post season hockey, basketball, and more.
John gives his take on the playoffs in the NHL and his first impressions of how the baseball season has progressed. Despite Covid setbacks, the MLB season is up and running with the Chicago Cubs and New York Yankees off to hot starts. Next, we examine the hockey playoffs with a focus on the Blackhawks – Golden Knights series, plus the rest of the National Hockey League.
In our second segment, Dave and Steve discuss the Green Bay Packers and their new QB. Is Aaron Rogers’ job in jeopardy? Mitch Trubisky in Chicago is certainly in the hot seat with the addition of Nick Foles. How will NFL teams handle training camp with no preseason games? And no fans?
Hear interview audio from Rogers, coach Matt Nagy, and his players Allen Robinson II and Bilal NIchols, who will be filling in for Eddie Goldman, who made the decision to sit out the season. Don’t miss a cameo from Green Bay announcer Wayne Larrivee.
If you are enjoying The Last Dance on ESPN, it was an incredible experience. I had the good fortune to share coverage of that 1998 Chicago Bulls season with my colleagues at SRN. I was able to see nineteen regular season contests and at least one game in each round of the playoffs in person.
Chicago Bulls 1997-98 schedule and results from Basketball Reference.
The season following their fifth title got off to a bad start with GM Jerry Krause announcing that Scottie Pippen would have surgery. Pippen had aggravated the foot injury in the previous year’s Eastern Conference Finals. Krause said the injury “didn’t react to conservative treatment.” Krause said that Pippen is expected out for three months. Krause had hoped his younger acquisitions, namely Scott Burrell and Keith Booth, would step up to fill that large void.
Following the Bulls in 1997-98 was what I would have imagined it would be like covering The Beatles on tour. As seen on The Last Dance, it was crazy. Fans and media were everywhere, There was a horde of media. Michael Jordan never emerged for the post game press interviews unless he was showered and dressed in a coat and tie. There were two waves of interviews. The television and radio reporters would go first, getting the sound bites for the late news. Next it would be the beat reporters doing more meaty interviews.
Chicago did well to fill his absence going 24-10 before Pippen rejoined the team on January 10th against Golden State. His return, however, proved just how good the three-headed monster was. The Bulls went on to finish the season tied for the best record in the league with Utah at 62-20. Jordan finished the season averaging 28.7 points a game, won his fifth league MVP, his tenth scoring title, and Dennis Rodman averaged an even fifteen boards a game. A thirteen-game win streak in March and April solidified the Bulls as the team to beat once again in the Eastern Conference. Jordan had numerous thank yous to announce at his MVP Award presentation.
Chicago entered the postseason in familiar territory possessing the number one seed and homecourt advantage. They faced an opponent in the New Jersey Nets that they hadn’t seen in the postseason and made quick work of them sweeping them in three games. Six Bulls scored in double digits in game three and Rodman finished with 11 points and 17 rebounds. Jordan averaged just over 36 points a game.
The Charlotte Hornets was next on the Bulls road to the championship. They fared a little better, but not much, winning one game 78-76 and holding Jordan to 22 points. The Bulls took the loss to heart and went on the win the next three in convincing fashion.
Reggie Miller and the Indiana Pacers took the Knicks out in five games to set up a Pacers-Bulls Eastern Conference Finals matchup. A sloppy game one saw the Bulls shoot less than 36% from the field and commit 19 turnovers. Luc Longley had 12 points and 8 rebounds while Rodman recorded a double double with 11 points and 10 rebounds. Game two was a little closer to what Bulls basketball was all about. The Pacers were forced into 19 turnovers of their own and Michael Jordan scored 41 points to lead the Bulls to a 104-98 win. Indiana got the best of the Bulls in game three with Reggie Miller putting up 28 points and hitting clutch shot after clutch shot. Michael Jordan missed two free throws late and the Pacers won 107-105. Reggie Miller used a blatant push-off on Jordan to get open and put the Pacers up late to defeat the Bulls in game four and knot the series up at two. Aside from a convincing game five win in which the Bulls were up by 33 at one point, Michael Jordan scored his 35,000th career point (regular and postseason combined). Facing elimination, Rik Smits and Dale Davis were too much for the Bulls in game six, and the Pacers tied the series at three. Thus, game seven was set in the United Center and the Bulls gave the hometown fans just what they wanted-a shot at their second threepeat of the decade. The Bulls won 88-83 behind Toni Kukoc’s 14-point third quarter. Jordan said afterward, “We had to fight for everything we got.”
Homecourt advantage truly played a role as the Jazz took game one over the defending champs 88-85 in overtime. John Stockton scored seven of the Jazz’s nine points in the extra frame and Luc Longley committed a late turnover that was instrumental in the game one loss for Chicago. “Fatigue was a factor at the end of the game,” coach Jackson said of the defeat. Game two was a must-win for Chicago and they didn’t disappoint. Michael Jordan scored 37 and Steve Kerr added 15 off the bench to give the Bulls the victory and tie the series at one before heading back to Chicago. Game three wasn’t much of a game. The 96-54 score should speak for itself. Michael Jordan sat the entire fourth quarter and every Bull in uniform scored at least a point. Jerry Sloan said afterward, “It seemed like they scored 196.” It was ultimately Scottie Pippen’s defense that won the game for Chicago. He drew two early charges on Karl Malone and disrupted the Utah offense all night, causing the usually sure-handed John Stockton to commit five turnovers. “It’s a luxury for us to have a defender like Scottie. He’s able to hang tight with whoever he’s playing. His defense is what really blew the game open,” Phil Jackson said. With the embarrassment of game three fresh on their minds, Utah needed to win this one, but they couldn’t. It was Scottie Pippen once again shining and this time it was on offense. He scored 28 points, grabbed nine rebounds, and dealt five assists. Jordan added 34 of his own points in the 86-82 Bulls victory.
The Bulls were one win away from sealing the deal and doing it on their home court. With their backs against the walls, Utah squeaked out a two point victory and would send the series back to Salt Lake City. Karl Malone put up 39 points to lead the Jazz. Game six will go down in history as one of the greatest Finals games ever. With the Bulls trailing by one in the final minute of what would have forced game seven, it happened. By it, I’m referring to what is known in Chicago as “The Shot.” It started off with a strip of Malone by Jordan and Steve Kerr bringing the ball upcourt. Kerr then made the biggest pass of his career to Jordan, who was guarded by Bryon Russell. Jordan broke Russell’s ankles with a crossover dribble, elevated, released, and drained a jumper putting the Bulls up by one. Jordan said, “I never doubted myself. I never doubted the whole game.” Jackson said, “I think it was the best performance I’ve seen in a critical situation and critical game in a series.” Kerr summed up not only the night, but perhaps the last three seasons best afterward.
Jordan, Pippen, Rodman, and Jackson all left Chicago the way they should have-on top. Jordan would leave the game for two years only to return with the Washington Wizards. Pippen expressed his desire to be traded during the season. He was granted that request and traded to the Houston Rockets following the Finals. Dennis Rodman went on to sign with the Los Angeles Lakers as a free agent. Phil Jackson wasn’t far behind Rodman as he agreed to coach the Los Angeles Lakers as well. The Bulls team underwent a re-building period and missed the playoffs every year until 2005. Chicago may never see another group as talented and dominant as they did for these three seasons.
UNC point guard Coby White is making his first long term foray outside of his home state. White didn’t have to go far from his Wilson, North Carolina home to join the Tar Heels. The city of nearly fifty thousand people was once a major center for tobacco cultivation. Now it’s better known for Interstate 95, a major north-south route along the eastern seaboard, and as the birthplace of Julius Peppers, another illustrious UNC alum.
On draft night, the Chicago Bulls made him the first Tar Heel first-rounder the team has selected since Michael Jordan, with the seventh pick in the 2019 NBA Draft. Most mock drafts had him going to the Bulls, who finished the 2018-19 season with a paltry 22-60 record.
I felt a sense of relief for Coby because he was at a spot where people recognized what a great player he was for us. He was in serious consideration for the third, fourth, fifth and sixth picks before the Bulls took him at seven. Chicago wanted him from day one, so I am very pleased he went there. They are getting a fantastic player.– UNC coach Roy Williams
John Paxon stressed that, “the most important thing is that Coby White is a nineteen year-old young man, that’s going to get better. He’s just starting his career. Our job is develop him and help him develop into the best player he can be.” Paxon went on to state, “all of our background on him is that he is the type of young man that will take the challenge on. You have to play faster in today’s game. You have to get the ball up the floor. This young man can play an up tempo game. Jim (coach Boylen) has spoken often how we want to have multiple ball handlers. Guys who can take the ball off the board and push it up. Coby can run. He can shoot the ball. At North Carolina, he took on a leadership role with a lot of older guys. We feel he’s just a really good fit for us.”
He is spot on in that assessment. White led the break for one of the highest and quickest scoring teams in college basketball. Coby averaged a tad over 16 points per game, scoring almost 100 more total points than Michael Jordan did his freshman season.
Bulls coach Jim Boylan had high praise for his new draftee. “We loved his positional size. We loved his multi-position defender and multi-position ball handler. He can play on the ball. He can play off the ball. He can create. He can receive. Above all that, he looks you in the eye when you talk to him. He’s coachable.”
I love being here. I’m glad they drafted me. My goal is to win. I’m all about winning. All the individual awards, that’s gonna come. My main goal is to come in here and win.-Coby White
The slender guard was spoting a neatly trimmed beard, and his now trademark crazy hair. He wore a beige suit and white shirt with no tie. His voice is quiet but confident when he adderssed the media, family, friends, and Bulls employees at the press conference. “At this level,” he says, “you are going against great players every night. Being in the ACC helped. I was playing against great college point guards. Every night you had to come ready to compete. You had to show up every game. For me personally, the ACC was the toughest conference in the country. Playing in that conference helped me bring that competitive spirit, that heart, and that will to win.”
with Packer Dave, Steve Leventhal, and John Poulter
The guys are back to discuss the Toronto Raptors’ first ever NBA Championship, the St. Louis Blues and their seven-game Stanley Cup win over Boston, as well as talk of the Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers offseason football. John also gives his thoughts on the Major League Baseball season. Lastly, Jeff Rich joins us to talk Cleveland Browns football and the upcoming NBA Draft. We also discuss the trade between the Lakers and Pelicans that sent Anthony Davis to Los Angeles for the fourth overall pick and three players.