Q: How do you make sense of an NBA team that gets blown out by a lowly NCAA grad school team in OK City one night and then goes toe-to-toe with one of the NBA's elite, led by Dwight Howard, the best center on the planet?
A: You don't. You realize the Bucks were playing without their two cornerstones, Andrew Bogut and Luc Mbah a Moute, and you wait for Bogut and the prince to return.
Bogut returned Monday against the Bulls. It was emphatic, as if to say — enough of this losing crap, let's get back to work. And they did. There's no excuse for losing at home to a Bulls team playing without Kirk Hinrich and Tyrus Thomas, and Bogut made sure they didn't need one. I don't think Scott Skiles has very much respect for Joakim Noah as a center — he went right at him with Bogut in the post at every opportunity, leading to Bogut's 22 points Monday night. Noah was an NBA rookie in the fall of 2007, when Skiles lost the heart to coach in Chicago. Suffice it to say that Noah is not one of Skiles' favorite former players.
And now onto a matter of utmost importance in the Milwaukee Bucks universe: Allen Iverson's expected return to Philadelphia. It's going to happen. Not only will it put one of the NBA's most notorious Bucks killers back in the Eastern Conference — where the Answer belongs — but it restores one thing that true Bucks fans should never shake:
Hatred for the Philadelphia 76ers and all they represent.
This goes back 30 years, 29 to be exact, the season the Bucks switched from the Western Conference to the East, pitting Marques Johnson against Julius Erving in one of the greatest small forward showdowns in the history of professional basketball. No, Dr. J didn't win the battles against Marques, not even most of the time, but Marques' Bucks never prevailed in the playoffs against the Sixers. The Bucks lost in seven games in the 1981 East semifinals, foiled by the refs and the Bob Boozer Jinx — the Bucks didn't have a response for the Sixers big forwards, namely Bobby Jones (pictured above) and Steve Mix. Caldwell Jones was a problem, too, sometimes, given Bob Lanier's bad knees.
In the 1982 semis, the Sixers won easily in six games (Junior Bridgeman had been lost for the season with a knee injury). In 1983 the Bucks met the Sixers in the East finals and fell in five games (denying Doc and Moses Malone's predicted "Fo-Fo-Fo" title run, nearly making it "Fo-Six-Fo").
The Sixers choked in their 1984 title-defense against the Nets and the Bucks went down in the East finals to Bird and the 1984 champion Celtics. Marques was traded in the offseason, and Doc and the Sixers dispatched the 59-win Terry Cummings–Sidney Moncrief Bucks in a shameful 1985 East semis sweep.
At this point, I'd like to remind basketball fans everywhere that in game 7 of the classic 1981 Bucks-Sixers series, the refs gave Philly 42 seconds on the shot clock. The ball never hit the rim. It was our ball, should have been our game, our series. Sports Illustrated has a blow-by-blow account of game seven in its vault. Check it out.
The tragedy of 1981 was that it really was the Bucks best shot at winning a second title since Kareem and the Big O and Bobby Dandridge took the Celtics to seven games in the 1974 Finals. 1981 was our first full season in the East; it was our first full season with Lanier at center. Moses had yet to arrive in Philly. Kevin McHale was just a rookie playing 20 mins a game off the Celtics bench. Magic's Lakers, always the Bucks toughest matchup in the early 1980s, had blown their title defense in a best two-out-of-three first round series against Moses' Rockets. The Rockets would go on to lose to Bird's Celtics in the Finals.
True, in the offseason we had lost our power forward, David Meyers to a bizarre lawnmowing injury (the jinx again). Junior, Marques, Brian Winters — they've all said since that the Bucks would have won it all in 1981 if they had had Meyers, the third key player who came to Milwaukee from LA in the 1975 Kareem trade (Junior and Brian being the other two). But with so much else in the 1981 playoffs seemingly aligned in the Bucks favor, there was a chance, a legitimate chance that we could overcome the jinx.
Until we were robbed in Philadelphia.
It wouldn't be the last time the Bucks were robbed in Philly in a game seven. Some fans still can't even speak of the infamous 2001 series.