MILWAUKEE -- After finishing with the best record in the league and making it to the Eastern Conference finals, the Milwaukee Bucks got out to a bit of a slow start this season. They were 2-2 after their first four games, and both losses came after blowing huge double-digit leads. But before anyone could start to truly worry about them, they turned things around quick. First, they peeled off a mini four-game winning streak that was only stopped by a heart-breaking loss to the Utah Jazz on the road, in which Bojan Bogdanovic hit a 3 at the buzzer. And from there, Milwaukee didn't lose for over a month.
Starting with their win on Nov. 10 over the Oklahoma City Thunder, the Bucks won 18 games in a row, a streak that was good for the second-longest in franchise history, and tied for 11th-longest in NBA history. With Luka Doncic out for the Dallas Mavericks on Monday night, no one had any doubt they would easily take care of business to make it 19 in a row and then turn their attention to the mighty Los Angeles Lakers. Only, .
Despite 48 points and 14 rebounds from Giannis Antetokounmpo, the Bucks fell to the Mavericks, 120-116, in a wild game. Down by double digits early after a sleepy start in the first quarter, the Bucks worked their way back into the game, and even took the lead in the third quarter. The Mavericks quickly regained control, however, and after Kristaps Porzingis rained in back-to-back 3s from 30 feet in the middle of the fourth quarter to put them up by 14, it seemed to be over.
Against most teams it would have been, but the Bucks embarked on a furious comeback in the last few minutes, cutting the lead down to 3 points in the closing seconds. It proved to be too little, too late as the Mavericks held on. Still, the Bucks showed a strong spirit in defeat.
That effort they showed down the stretch, in conjunction with what they accomplished over the past six weeks, meant there was no moping around after the loss for the Bucks. Even if they didn't play their best basketball against the Mavericks, they were proud of what they accomplished.
"Proud of the way the guys fought until the very last second tonight," head coach Mike Budenholzer said. "To find a way to be close in the fourth quarter, have an offensive rebound and give ourselves a chance I think is a sign of the competitive nature of this group, competitive spirit of this group, very impressive. ... As far as the streak, I'm very proud of the group, impressive that they did that for 18 straight nights. The competitiveness, the focus, it's a special group, and I think what they did was pretty special.
It was indeed special. Along with the historical notes already mentioned, the streak helped the Bucks get off to a 24-4 start, which has them in first place in the East by four full games. It's also tied for the best start in franchise history. The only other times they started off this well were back in the 1972 and 1974 seasons, when they still had Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
In the locker room, the players echoed Budenholzer's thoughts. From George Hill ...
"I don't think [losing] makes it feel any different," Hill said. "We lost the game. No one wants to lose, but I think every guy in this locker room should hold their head up. We've been on a great ride of 18 games. That's something to be proud of."
... to the reigning MVP.
"It's an unbelievable streak, 18 in a row," Giannis said. "At the end of the day, it was amazing. We played good basketball, we played good teams, we played bad teams, and we were able to get the job done every single night. Tonight we weren't able to do that, but nobody said it's gonna be easy. For you to excel as a person, and become a better team, better basketball player, you gotta face adversity in life. This is good."
It's only the middle of December, this is a regular season accomplishment and after their failure in the Eastern Conference finals last season, the Bucks still have to prove they can get it done in the playoffs. But even accepting all of that as true, the Bucks should still take pride in what they accomplished during the streak.
A championship is the ultimate goal, but there is plenty of joy to be found in the journey, and the Bucks brought plenty of it to Milwaukee during those 18 games.