NBA

Bucks claim temporary Eastern Conference supremacy as last remaining undefeated NBA team

MILWAUKEE — The much-hyped battle of the unbeatens on Monday night between the Milwaukee Bucks and Toronto Raptors lost a little luster with the absences of Giannis Antetokounmpo (concussion protocol) and Kawhi Leonard (rest), but the lack of stars didn’t stop the Bucks from making a statement. They crushed the Raptors, 124-109, to move to 7-0 and become the lone undefeated NBA team this season. 

“It’s great to see,” Bucks head coach Mike Budenholzer said after the game. “I think the guys are working hard in practice, working hard on their games individually. When they see advantages, they are seeing opportunities within the confines of what we do and still trying to play unselfishly. I think there is a lot of positives to build on.”

Despite not playing, Giannis made a statement as well — by showing up in a stylish salmon suit — but that is neither here nor there. Without their superstar on the floor to lead the way, it was a total team effort for the Bucks, with seven different players scoring in double-figures, and none scoring more than Ersan Ilyasova’s 19 points. They rained in a franchise-record-tying 19 3-pointers to continue their turnaround from downtown, cleaned up on the glass as they have all season long and, at least for now, claimed Eastern Conference supremacy. 

Prior to the season, there was plenty of noise about the Bucks’ new plan to space the floor and launch 3-pointers under Budenholzer. Through two weeks, there’s nothing you can say other than that it’s been a massive success. So much so that the Bucks’ super-fan section behind one of the baskets launched into loud “Bud-en-holzer!” chants late in the fourth quarter of Monday night’s victory. 

Even without the Greek Freak and his 25 points and 14.2 rebounds per game on the floor, the Bucks didn’t miss a beat. That isn’t to say they won’t be thrilled once he gets back in the lineup, just that it shows the effectiveness of Budenholzer’s system in getting the Bucks good looks. In seasons past, the Bucks would crumble when Giannis sat, but not this campaign. 

“It just shows that it works” Thon Maker said after the win. “If you trust it, like we do, and stay in it consistently, it shows that it works. You can see the result of that in this game.”

The results to which Maker is referring would be the Bucks blowing out the only other undefeated team in the league. They’re off to their best start since the 1971-72 season when they had Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Oscar Robertson, have won six games in a row by double-figures and now own the best net-rating in the league at plus-14.8 points. 

It’s still early, but it’s clear this is a new era of Bucks basketball. An era where they, at least for now, can lay claim to being the best basketball team in the Eastern Conference. 

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