This NBA Tuesday miniseries focusing on the best teams in individual franchise histories moves a little east this week to examine the Milwaukee Bucks, an organization that has won two NBA titles (1971, 2021) in its 55 years of existence. With 35 postseason appearances in the franchise’s past, the Bucks have been pretty darn successful for a small-market team. Strangely, though, their most recent title team didn’t make this list, topping out at No. 10 in the sabermetric rankings.
No. 5: 2018-19 Milwaukee Bucks
This team won the Central Division with a 60-22 record, and it was also the No. 1 in the SRS rankings overall. The Bucks had the No. 1 offense and the No. 11 defense to work with in the postseason. Milwaukee started the playoffs with a four-game sweep of the Detroit Pistons before needing just five games to eliminate the Boston Celtics. However, after taking a 2-0 lead on the Toronto Raptors in the Eastern Conference Finals, the Bucks lost four straight to the eventual champions.
Power forward Giannis Antetokounmpo (14.4 Win Shares) led the team in value, while winning the MVP vote, too. He was ably backed by point guard Eric Bledsoe (8.2), center Brook Lopez (6.7), shooting guard Malcolm Brogdon (6.5), and small forward Khris Middleton (6.1). Against Toronto, though, Milwaukee lost Game 3 by 6 points on the road, Game 5 at home by 6 points, and Game 6 on the road by 6 points. That trio of close losses buried the Bucks’ title hopes.
No. 4: 1985-86 Milwaukee Bucks
This was a fun team for the times, as it finished 57-25 to win the Central with the No. 5 offense and the No. 5 defense. That left the Bucks as the No. 2 team in SRS rankings overall. The postseason began with a three-game sweep of the New Jersey Nets before Milwaukee had a grueling (albeit successful) 7-game series against the Philadelphia 76ers. That clearly left the team taxed for the ECFs, as the Celtics swept the Bucks on their way to another NBA championship.
PG Sidney Moncrief (11.7 WS), SF Paul Pressey (9.8), SG Ricky Pierce (8.3), and PF Terry Cummings (7.4) were a formidable quartet. The Sixers series was a back-and-forth affair that went down to the wire, literally, as the Bucks won, 113-112, at home in Game 7. However, the tank was empty against Boston as the Celtics won each game by an average of 15 points per contest. The closest game, by far, was Game 3 in Milwaukee, decided by only four points. Yuck the rest.
No. 3: 2019-20 Milwaukee Bucks
Another Central Division title came during this Covid-interrupted season, where the Bucks finished 56-17 overall with the No. 1 offense and the No. 8 defense. That resulted in the No. 1 overall ranking in the SRS, too. The delayed postseason was a bit weird, of course, but Milwaukee opened the playoffs with a five-game series win over the Orlando Magic before facing the Miami Heat. That matchup did not go the Bucks’ way, as Miami closed Milwaukee out in five games, readily.
The Greek Freak (11.1 WS) won another NBA MVP vote (not to mention the Defensive Player of the Year nod, too) and his supporting cast was familiar, led by Middleton (7.9). Overall, nine played posted at least 3.2 WS in a shortened season, which is impressive depth. But the Heat was on a mission to reach the Finals, and the Bucks didn’t have an answer for them in the matchup, really. Miami jumped out to a 3-0 series lead, winning the first two on the road. And that was it.
No. 2: 1971-72 Milwaukee Bucks
As the defending NBA champions, these Bucks went 63-19 with a big target on their backs. They still won the Midwest Division behind the No. 4 offense and the No. 2 defense, adding up to the No. 2 overall ranking in the SRS. To open the title defense, Milwaukee defeated the Golden State Warriors in five games before facing the eventual champion Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference Finals. That didn’t go so well, as the Lakers won the matchup in six games.
In his first season with a new name, C Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (25.4 WS) won his second straight MVP Award. His top teammates got enough of the job done behind him: SF Bob Dandridge (9.1), aging veteran PG Oscar Robertson (8.3), and PG Lucius Allen (7.6). The year prior, the Bucks eliminated the Lake Show, but it was revenge time for L.A. this time around—Milwaukee actually outscored the Lakers, overall, but Los Angeles won three games by a combined 8 points.
No. 1: 1970-71 Milwaukee Bucks
A team-record 66-16 mark helped propel this Milwaukee squad to first place in the Midwest Division. The team finished No. 1 on offense and No. 3 on defense, while posting a No. 1 ranking in the overall SRS. The Bucks dropped just two games in three rounds on their way to the franchise’s first championship: They beat the San Francisco Warriors in five, the Lakers in five, and the Baltimore Bullets in a four-game Finals sweep. It was that easy for this group of dynamic stars.
C Lew Alcindor (22.3 WS) won his first MVP Award vote, and other standouts on the roster included Robertson (12.4), Dandridge (9.5), and SG Jon McGlocklin (8.9). The key playoff matchup was the one against the Lakers, who sent the legendary Wilt Chamberlain out to take on Alcindor: the only game L.A. won was Game 3 at home in a series where the Bucks outscored the Lakers by almost 14 ppg. The Finals were a relative breeze for the Bucks after taking down L.A.