It's been a long time since the Milwaukee Bucks were a serious threat in the Eastern Conference playoffs. The last time they won a series, it was 2001 and they were led by a 25-year-old phenom shooting guard named Ray Allen.
As the Bucks rattled off 15 wins in 17 games, many started thinking that this could be their year. This could be the year that after nine seasons of futility. The year things turned around for the Bucks' franchise and Milwaukee could see a winner.
The Bucks had all the reasons in the world to expect a turnaround. They had Brandon Jennings, an explosive guard and arguably the best all-around rookie player in the NBA. They had John Salmons, added at the trading deadline to pack a little extra scoring punch into their starting five. They had one of the deepest, most well-rounded benches in the league.
They also had Andrew Bogut.
A week ago, Bogut dislocated his right elbow finishing a dunk in the Bucks' 107-98 win over the Phoenix Suns at the Bradley Centre. He slipped off the rim, he fell hard, and with him fell the Bucks' chances of serious contention this spring. Sad, but true.
For the guy who still remembers a time when the Bucks were a force in the NBA, the news hit hard.
"This is a tough time of year because they're making playoff plans," Allen said. "They're selling playoff tickets. They're right there in the hunt. I think every coach dreads that."
These will be tough times for Scott Skiles, the second-year coach in Milwaukee. He had spent all year angling for a strong position in the East playoffs — a No. 6 seed, maybe even a No. 5 — and for what? To come out overmatched and overwhelmed without his best player?
It's a coach's worst nightmare. And it's happened to the Celtics before, too. Boston was forced to shut Kevin Garnett down for the season on March 25 last year, putting their chance for a championship repeat in serious doubt. Doc Rivers had spent all year planning to make another run at the NBA Finals, and then it all fell apart. The C's got bounced in the second round. Doc knows what Skiles is going through.
"I can just go from last year, you know, with Kevin," Rivers said. "But I don't know. Hell, we almost made it to the Eastern finals there. You've got to play. In some ways it's better, as crazy as that sounds, when it happens this late. You can just keep playing. I think when it happens early enough — I've always thought you can play through injuries for five, six games, and just get through it. But when you have that month, then all of a sudden, that guy really starts to be missing. But listen, that's big for them. He's a terrific player."
On Saturday night, the Celtics will get a good, close look at the Bogut-less Bucks. They'll find out firsthand whether this team is still ready to fight, or whether there's something missing.
Since Bogut's injury, the Bucks have won four straight games. They finished the win over the Suns last Saturday, then rattled off three straight victories over Chicago, New Jersey and Philadelphia.
Now with the Celtics, they get a real test. And we're about to find out how they handle it.
"Teams can respond in different ways," Allen said. "They can put their heads down, or they can just fight even harder because of the adversity they're facing."
Which will it be?