May 22, 2018

The Playoff Experiment: Week One

About a month ago, a discussion broke out between some friends on Twitter about the differences between the college basketball game and the NBA. I started questioning why I don’t watch the NBA because I love March Madness and I follow my alma mater every year. I think I never got into pro basketball because I didn’t have an allegiance. Living in Iowa, there is no de facto local team and I didn’t have family ties to anyone as strong as I do to the NFL’s Green Bay Packers, for example.

I decided to follow a team for the NBA playoffs and see if I can get hooked. I’m writing one piece every week about my new fandom, what I’m loving about the game, and potentially what I’m not loving. I’m watching and learning about one team until they lose, in which case, the winning opponent will be my new team.

So which one did I choose and how did I choose it? I went back and asked the source: Twitter. It was a close race between three teams, but the Milwaukee Bucks were victorious. Someday my grandkids could potentially ask me, “Why are we Bucks fans?” Now I can tell them, “I didn’t know which team to pick so I asked a bunch of strangers on the internet and did what they said.” Thank you to everyone who voted for being part of that story!

Going into this experiment, I did not know a lot about the Bucks. I knew they had a Greek player named Giannis Antetokounmpo whose name I see on Twitter a lot. I was also pretty sure they have historically not been very good, and some quick research showed that is the case, especially in my lifetime. But I made a commitment to the first round series against the Boston Celtics!

Game One

During warm-ups, I noted how a deer mascot, and the accompanying phrase Fear the Deer, is extremely Midwestern. The Bucks’ uniforms were really nice! The logo and style were definitely more modern than I remembered and stood in contrast to the Celtics’ very traditional jerseys. I decided I definitely prefer the more forest green of the Bucks to the bright, true green of the Celtics. Apparently, when I don’t know much about a team, my go-to method of trash talk is to judge their uniforms and colors, so I learned something about myself.

Less than a minute into the first quarter, there was already a dunk and I was very into that. I did notice pretty much immediately that the crowd sounded quieter than the college games I’m used to. I chalked it up to it being early in the first game and a larger arena. I could tell the Bucks were having trouble with turnovers and the Celtics finished the quarter on a 15-0 run.

One non-game thing that stood out to me was a Lean In Together commercial that aired featuring players and coaches of the NBA talking about supporting women in our lives and in the workplace. I don’t know enough about the league yet to judge if that commercial is just lip service, but it seemed to contrast with the NFL’s pink merchandise that may or may not actually help breast cancer and glaring problems with domestic violence.

In the second quarter, the Bucks started to come back and I realized why I know Giannis’ name. He’s everywhere. I was also forced to watch several Arby’s “I Need a Gyro” commercials, which seems like it would be kind of insulting cuisine to a player who is actually from Greece. Lastly, I found out that Marcus Smart plays for Boston. He is one of the many injured players, but no word on if he got that injury while flopping.

Both teams settled in for the third quarter and the scoring was pretty back and forth. I did get very invested in the idea of a “you vs the guy she told you not to worry about” hair meme with number 46 of Boston (Aron Baynes) and Giannis.

Quarter four brought some foul trouble from the Bucks, but I finally got that raucous atmosphere I was waiting for. I was fighting off Sunday naps – I do it for you, TGS – when the last 15 seconds WOKE. ME. UP. I don’t know near as much about basketball as I do about baseball or football, but I saw what Boston’s Terry Rozier did to Eric Bledsoe and thought “uh oh, dude.” Rozier’s three went in and I thought it was over. What could they do with half a second? What could they do, indeed.

The Bucks inbounded the ball to Khris Middleton, who knocked down a deep three in HALF A SECOND. Is this normal?! Have I been depriving myself of improbable sports insanity my whole life? Whew, one game into my NBA fandom and I was already going to experience overtime.

I appreciate, first of all, that the NBA keeps it short and sweet with five minute OT periods. It seemed like the refs were letting both teams play a little, which is a good strategy in my opinion. Everybody says they don’t want the refs deciding the game, at least until they think their player got blatantly hacked. Boston fans got a classic “bullshit” chant going after a no call on Giannis fighting for the ball. They got their wish soon after on a similar play, which caused Giannis to foul out. It crossed my mind that it could have been a make-up call, so maybe the fandom is beginning to take hold of me.

The Celtics ended up winning a fantastic game, 113-107. My questions that remained for game two: Will there be this much drama again? Will I be forced to reckon with cheering against former Iowa State Cyclone and current Celtic, Abdel Nader? How old is Jason Terry? We will find out.

Game Two

To my misfortune, the second game in the series fell on the same night as a Chicago Cubs vs. St. Louis Cardinals game. I get few opportunities to watch the Cubs in Blackout Central (Iowa) so I was not thrilled about missing it. Toward the end of the first quarter, the Celtics went on a big run and I was even less happy. Turnovers and generally sloppy play were again a problem for the Bucks and it was frustrating me. Was I mad because I cared? I’m not sure.

I was, however, definitely impressed by the athleticism of the players on both teams. If you leave guys open in the NBA, they do not miss. I also learned from the broadcast that Jason Kidd was the Bucks’ coach before he was fired mid-season. It seemed a little bizarre for a team that was good enough to make the playoffs, even as a 7 seed. Some Wikipedia research revealed that the team was truly struggling and turned things around after his departure.

In quarter two, I became convinced that Giannis and his long-ass stride could just step over a grown non-NBA sized human. Look at this man and tell me he would not move over, around, or through you like it was nothing.

I learned that Matthew Dellavedova plays for Milwaukee now. All I know about Delly is that Twitter hates him for some reason that I do not remember. Game-wise, Boston refused to let the Bucks catch up or gain any momentum. For all their injuries, they seemed to be playing very well. Unfortunately, on this day, they looked like the overall better team. On a positive note, the Celtics had Desiree Linden at the game! Desi became the first American woman to win the Boston Marathon in 33 years this week, so that was very cool.

Things really stopped being fun in the third quarter. By the end of it, the Bucks had given up 90 points and even Giannis seemed to have the yips at the free throw line. Other than that, the only note I wrote down for myself was this: NOT GREAT, BOB. At this point, I was less interested in the game and more interested in Giannis’ hall of fame stank face, which does not get memed enough.

via GIPHY

The Bucks still could not get it together in the fourth quarter and the Celtics took game two 120-106. The tone of the game felt to me like it was never in doubt. I wished I would have watched any baseball game instead, leading me to determine I am in the fair weather stage of attachment to the Bucks. I would consider myself a Giannis fan at this point; he’s very fun to watch. But in order to form the bond that allows you to persevere through the inevitable bad games, I need the rest of the team to be a little more exciting. Giannis is the Greek Freak, but right now he needs some help.

Hopefully, a home court atmosphere will be just what the Bucks need as the series moves to Milwaukee next. I really want to see them make it competitive. I also need to know: do they make NBA shirseys? If the Bucks pull off a comeback, I could maybe be convinced to get one with that nice logo.

Nicole Gustafson 24 Articles
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Nicole was born in Chicago and raised in Des Moines. She took her talents to The Iowa State University, where she earned a degree in journalism. You can find Nicole cheering on her favorite sports teams, hanging out with her dog, or finishing a Netflix marathon. Nicole is a big fan of #pitcherswhorake, fat guy TD's, and carbs. She's not a fan of mornings, winter, or vegetables and will complain to anyone who will listen.

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