Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals Sunday against Boston did not go the way the Milwaukee Bucks had hoped, a 112-90 loss at home to the Celtics.
Taking a 10,000-foot view, it's a sign of how things have changed in Milwaukee.
In just a couple of short years, the Bucks have gone from NBA purgatory - just good enough to get into the playoffs, but not good enough to do anything once they got there - to being legitimate title contenders.
So a smarting 22-point loss to the Celtics Sunday is an indication of how much expectations have grown within the team, among the fan base and nationally given a regular season in which the Bucks posted the best record in the NBA.
Last month, I had the opportunity to listen to Bucks senior VP Alex Lasry, son of co-owner Mark Lasry, speak at the Wisconsin Newspaper Association convention. He spoke about a wide number of topics in both sports and business and, obviously, the Bucks' success so far this year was one of the main topics.
Going into the year, with a budding star in Giannis Antetokounmpo and first-year coach Mike Budenholzer, Lasry said he thought 50-53 wins, a top-four seed in the Eastern Conference and a first-round playoff series win would be a good season.
"I'd be lying to say if expectations haven't changed," Lasry said March 7 at the convention in Madison. "Expectations change over the course of a year. If your company's doing better than you thought it would, you raise your expectations, you raise your goals.
"When you're No. 1 team in the NBA, your goal shouldn't be just getting out of the first round. That would be grossly underselling yourself. We have the best record in the NBA. We're having a historic regular season. I would be upset if our guys didn't think we should get to the finals and possibly compete for a championship."
A first-round sweep of the Detroit Pistons helped fuel those heightened expectations going into a rematch with the Celtics, who Milwaukee took to seven games last year before getting knocked out in the first round.
Milwaukee won the regular season series with the Celtics, but Lasry - even well before the playoff bracket was set - figured this could be a difficult series.
"I also think to put in perspective that the top four, five teams in the East are really, really good," he said. "Any of those teams can beat any of the other teams. Do I think we're better than them, yes. So that raised the expectations but, if in the second round, would it be a colossal upset if we played the Celtics and they beat us? No. They're really talented. They're a really good team."
The Bucks hope to rebound tonight at home in Game 2 and even the series before heading off to Boston for Games 3 and 4.
Already there has been talk about what the Bucks may look like a few years down the road. Do the Bucks have what it takes to turn into a small market dynamo, like the Spurs of the 1990s and 2000s or, more recently Golden State? Or will this year be like 2001 when the Bucks made it to the Eastern Conference finals and lost in Game 7 to Allen Iverson's 76ers. Soon thereafter, the Bucks were once again mired in mediocrity.
A lot of that will likely depend on what happens to Antetokounmpo when he hits free agency following the 2020-21 season. Does he take his talents to a bigger market or, like Steph Curry, does he stick with the franchise that drafted him and surround himself with talent that makes his team one of the best in basketball.
Lasry said, after opening the Fiserv Forum this year, and making other key investments, the Bucks have the ingredients in place to keep Antetokounmpo around and build a model franchise.
"We personally subscribe to the belief that we compete with New York or L.A. and any other city to get players because we have the best facilities, we have the best culture, we have the best organization that empowers and trusts our players," he said. "We want to win and, when you have a winning organization, people want to play.
"If we're good and we're competing for title like we are this year, there's a good chance Giannis wants to stay here. There's a good chance all the guys - (Eric) Bledsoe just singed - want to stay here."
It's been a different time in Wisconsin sports. The Brewers and Bucks have been great, while the Packers and Badgers have struggled, compared to their lofty expectations. The Brewers got to within one game of the World Series last year and now the Bucks are in the midst of that they consider to be their own legitimate title run.
While Lasry said the team's expectations have changed to getting past this series and advancing to either the Eastern Conference or NBA Finals, regardless what happens the team and its fans need to enjoy the ride.
"Who knows how long we'll be considered the best team in the NBA and possibly compete for a championship," he said. "People are trying to think two, three, four years down the line. We are definitely do that but we also need to live in the moment a little bit, enjoy what's going on. It's been 20 years since we've had a moment like this. Let's see where this ride takes us."
Jeremy Mayo may be reached at email@example.com.
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