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Giannis and the Bucks have reclaimed juggernaut status

These Eastern Conference semifinals between the Boston Celtics and Milwaukee Bucks would be the first test of whether the Bucks were real. Skeptics wondered whether a regular-season juggernaut that had never won a playoff series before this season could rise to the occasion against a Celtics team that came within a game of the NBA Finals last year — and reintegrated a superstar point guard who hit one of the greatest clutch shots in NBA history to cinch the 2016 Finals.

Boston’s blowout win in Game 1 was catnip for Milwaukee skeptics. The Bucks heard it.

“People say a lot of things,” Eric Bledsoe told ESPN.com between Games 3 and 4 in Boston, the latter a 113-101 win for the Bucks to give them a 3-1 series lead. “We take it personally. We want to prove them wrong.”cheap nfl nike jerseys from china

While observers wondered if they might teeter after Game 1, the Bucks kept an even keel.6

They watched film together and realized they had not played with their usual pace and fury. Instead of sprinting to the corners and taking up position behind the wall Boston’s transition defense was building at the foul line, Milwaukee’s shooters had jogged up the floor and fanned lazily out to the wing.

They did not help-and-recover on defense with the usual vigor or timing. Perhaps their first-round sweep of the Detroit Pistons had been too easy, the five-day layoff between series too long.

“I don’t think we were prepared for how fast and intense Game 1 would be,” Bledsoe said. “We were fatigued from the layoff. At least I was.”

They watched the video, owned the failure and steeled themselves for a borderline must-win.cheap nike nfl jerseys free shipping

“It was a bad feeling,” Giannis Antetokounmpo told ESPN.com in Boston. “You just got your ass whooped at home by 25. If they got up 2-0, it’s trouble. We just told ourselves, ‘No matter what, no matter how you feel or how you played in Game 1, we have to leave Game 2 with a win.’

“Everybody brought it that night and ever since.”

Somehow, the Bucks have brewed the right mix of humility and confidence. They are aware they have achieved nothing but sure they can achieve everything. They have, almost by accident, constructed a team with a perfect pecking order. Everything flows from Antetokounmpo. Khris Middleton supplies wing scoring, Bledsoe elite defense and some off-the-bounce oomph. Lopez is the largest long-range shooting specialist ever.

Aside from some early speed bumps adapting to Mike Budenholzer’s system, Milwaukee’s locker room has been a placid place. No one complains about touches. They do their work and go out for big team dinners on the road. It has made for a marked contrast with the on-again, off-again melodrama across the hallway in Boston.