MILWAUKEE – They had the best NBA record at the All-Star break.
However, not everyone was convinced that the Milwaukee Bucks were even the best team in the Eastern Conference.
Asked at the All-Star festivities about Philadelphia's biggest competition in the # 1 seeding seed race at East, Ben Simmons, Sixers goaltender, replied: "Toronto and Boston" .
If Simmons' failure with the Bucks was disrespectful, Jayson Tatum of Boston was just as guilty of throwing out the NBA surprise team for the first two-thirds of the season. Although the Celtics recorded the fifth best performance of the East during the break from the stars, Tatum said which team was, in his opinion, the best, stating, "We will win the final (NBA) this year. "
This created an interesting subplot when the Bucks and Celtics started the race on Thursday night at Forum Fiserv: the team with the best record in the East against the team that many people think has the best talent in the world. ballast.
Indeed, it was a perfect place for one team or another to make a statement, this time on the ground. And making a statement is exactly what the Bucks did.
In a defensive fight that was more like a Big Ten match than an NBA game, the Bucks' 98-97 win over the Celtics brought tangible and intangible benefits. This is tangible because their record was beaten at 44-14 and the Celtics, who eliminated them in the playoffs last year, were better ranked. Intangible because they kept their game level before the break of a week with their 15th win on 17 occasions.
However, the victory virtually buried the Celtics in the regular season race – Milwaukee has eight fewer defeats in 24 games to play – and has shown to all skeptics that the Bucks are not going to make things easy for the teams that make them continue. .
"It was huge," said striker Khris Middleton. "We went to the break with a lot of momentum and getting this one and bringing the momentum was great. It was a tough match, a nasty game. You expect the All-Star to qualify, but it was a great win against a big team. "
It was an ideal starting point for stretching. The Bucks were not synchronized to the offensive, which was predictable after a layoff, but they were outstanding in defense, got an encouraging performance thanks to the acquisition of Nikola Mirotic and have got one of their toughest matches safely in the column of victories.
"It was great," said Brook Lopez Center. "I think we were not at our best on the offensive. We could be much better and we even had defensive mistakes. But in the end, I thought that each of us was excellent in defense and team. We met each other. This is what we really like since the beginning of the season. "
The Bucks, Raptors, Sixers and Celtics are all potential Eastern champions, a refreshing change from the last 10 years when LeBron James led the conference. Milwaukee and Toronto have the best records and the easiest schedules, making them the best teams to beat in the last six weeks of the season.
It could be said that the race started before the All-Star break, when the Bucks, Raptors and Sixers all made significant acquisitions by the trade deadline. Milwaukee landed on Mirotic, an imposing and powerful man. Toronto acquired Marc Gasol Center; and Philadelphia brought forward versatile forward Tobias Harris.
With two losses less than the Raptors and a slightly more difficult schedule, the Bucks are in charge. There are two games remaining with the Sixers, but the Raptors and Celtics have finished. Except for a match against Oklahoma City, they also finished with the top four West Conference teams. Finally, they have six games against teams preparing for the season at this stage.
The fifth season of the 60 victories in the history of the franchise and the first since 1980-1981 looks more and more like a possibility. But the reasonable timetable is only one of the reasons for optimism. The way the Bucks play is another. Although the Bucks' reception showed she was not satisfied when she traded against Mirotic, coach Mike Budenholzer does not think players need to change anything.
"I'm really a coach (who) philosophically believes that it's important to come and do his job every day," he said. "I really believe in player development, so do you improve individually? And if you become better as a player then we will be better as a team. And collectively, are we improving every day? This is a little what we have been doing since the first day of the camp. If you continue to do so throughout the season, you will play your best basketball for the playoffs. "
Mirotic showed during a 14-minute pass against Boston that he could single-handedly push the Bucks to another level. He will probably take the minutes of forward D.J. Wilson.
"I thought Niko was great," Budenholzer said. "I think he just has a way to play, he's confident, he's been pro for a long time … I think he feels good about the opportunity, the team he's joined. just want to help us.I thought that he had helped us tonight at both ends.
One more reason for the opponents to do better to show more respect to the Bucks.