The Milwaukee Bucks are back in the win column after a convincing 120-84 victory over the Charlotte Hornets on Friday night. Now 34-19 on the season, the Bucks are currently the third seed in the Eastern Conference despite being 4-6 in the past 10 games and 2-5 since Doc Rivers took over as head coach. Indeed, it has been a tumultuous couple of weeks for the team, and perhaps their internal struggles date back farther than that.
As everyone knows, Milwaukee made the decision to part ways with rookie head coach Adrian Griffin just 43 games into the season. At the time, Milwaukee was 30-13 (which was tied for the second-best record in the NBA). The decision to fire Griffin came amidst reports that he had lost the locker room and players, particularly Giannis Antetokounmpo, did not know what they were supposed to do (especially on defense).
While the 30-13 record certainly looked good on paper, the fact of the matter is that the Bucks were struggling. It was a very rare occurrence to see the team dominate a game from beginning to end on both sides of the floor. Even under recently fired head coach Mike Budenholzer, that had at least been a normal occurrence in the regular season.
Instead, Milwaukee often played down to their competition. Opponents they should have blown out, like the San Antonio Spurs and Detroit Pistons, hung around to lose close games to the Bucks. They simply were not playing like a team that was considered to be a serious champion contender, something that Rivers told them needs to change.
Damian Lillard Says Doc Rivers Told the Milwaukee Bucks They Need to “Act Like” They Want to Win
As mentioned, the Bucks are coming off of a convincing 120-84 victory over the short-handed Hornets. While the Bucks were playing nearly at full strength (Khris Middleton remained out with a sprained ankle), the Hornets were without LaMelo Ball and had traded away a lot of their other regular players at the trade deadline and were waiting for the players they received in return to join the team.
In other words, it was a game that Milwaukee should have won in blowout fashion, but was also the kind of game that the team had made close under Griffin. According to seven-time All-Star Damian Lillard, Rivers had told them team that they needed to start acting like the contenders that they are prior to their dominating win on Friday night:
“Before the game, it was just a lot of conversation with our staff. We were watching film, and Doc just challenged us. He just checked us on what we say we want to do versus what we’ve been doing.
“And it was just like, to be a team that’s considered a contender and saying what we want to accomplish, we gotta start acting like it. And I think that starts with us and it has nothing to do with anybody else, so it didn’t matter who we (were) playing tonight, it was important for us to go out there and set the tone and start taking the steps of being who we see ourselves as and who we want to be. And I thought that tonight was a good start.“
Lillard led all scorers with 26 points while also dishing out eight assists. He also had four rebounds and three steals. Giannis only had 15 points, but he also had 14 rebounds and only played three quarters of the game. Rivers sat his starters for the entire fourth quarter.
Fans will see if Milwaukee has truly learned its lesson on “acting like” contenders with sharp focus on the task at hand and the goal ahead on Monday night. They will be taking on the defending NBA Champion Denver Nuggets at home instead of a short-handed team with a temporary roster.
The Bucks lost the the Nuggets 113-107 in Rivers’ first game as head coach on January 30.