The Milwaukee Bucks broke through a massive hurdle and took down arguably the favorites for this year’s NBA championship, the Brooklyn Nets, in the second round of the NBA Playoffs. This comes after Giannis Antetokounmpo and Kevin Durant put on battle for the ages in Game 7 that saw the Bucks edge out the Nets in a grueling 115-111 overtime win.

Milwaukee is set to clash with the winner of Game 7 between the Philadelphia 76ers and the Atlanta Hawks in the Eastern Conference Finals. Meanwhile, the Phoenix Suns and the L.A. Clippers are already booked to face off in what should be an intriguing series in the opposite bracket. With this set of remaining teams, the Bucks are arguably now the team to beat, regardless of who they face in the ECF. Here are a couple of reasons why:

1. Going through the Nets should make them battle-tested for the rest of the playoffs

Sure, it’s just a second round series win, but it was arguably the greatest obstacle this Milwaukee Bucks team has overcome since they became “championship hopefuls” in 2019. Despite putting together historic regular seasons over the past three years, Milwaukee has been largely disappointing in the playoffs. It’s been a different story so far in the 2021 postseason.

More than anything, the Bucks showed tremendous composure and resiliency throughout this series and they did so in every situation imaginable.

Milwaukee looked to be at the point of no return when Brooklyn embarrassed them to the tune of a 49-point drubbing in Game 2 of this series to go down 2-0. The Bucks could have faltered like they did in the past but bounced back by winning two straight games at home to even up the series.

After two consecutive wins, the Bucks looked to begin the pivotal Game 5, racing out to a double-digit lead at the half. However, a massive second half collapse paired with a classic masterpiece from Nets superstar Kevin Durant put Milwaukee on the brink of elimination. But once again, the Bucks proved they weren’t just about to go down without a fight by winning Game 6 led by 68 points combined from Khris Middleton and Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Then, the series all boiled down to one deciding contest. Game 7 saw a classic showdown with the two superstars in Giannis Antetokounmpo and Kevin Durant engaged in a heated duel. With the game going back and forth, the Bucks gained some separation down the stretch in regulation and looked poised to close the deal with a 4-point lead with a minute remaining. Brooklyn scored immediately on the next possession and the Bucks failed to execute on two consecutive offensive possessions to put the Nets away.

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This opened the door for the Nets to tie or win the game with 6.1 seconds remaining. And the Nets looked to none other than Kevin Durant to deliver the goods. KD nailed a dagger of a two-point jumper with a second to go, that, if not for his long foot, would have ended Milwaukee’s season.

Again, the Bucks looked like they were going to falter after failing to close out the Nets in regulation with bad execution down the stretch. The overtime period was actually pretty ugly, with both teams failing to put the ball in the hole for the most part. In the end, Khris Middleton made the big go-ahead shot and Milwaukee played tremendous defense down the stretch to finally get past their demons.

This is still a long way to go for Milwaukee on their way to the 2021 NBA title. But everything the Bucks went through in this series — from an embarrassing Game 2 loss, to a heartbreaker in Game 5, and coming out victorious in a thrilling Game 7 — proved to be the right kind of test the Bucks needed to prepare them for the remainder of the playoffs.

2. They are the only relatively healthy squad

Almost all the remaining teams in the playoffs have at least one significant piece that is nursing some kind of injury. Philadelphia 76ers star Joel Embiid continues to play with a less than 100 percent knee. The Phoenix Suns will be without Chris Paul, who has entered the league’s health and safety protocols after he reportedly contracted COVID-19. The Atlanta Hawks are already going to be without defensive stud Deandre Hunter for the rest of the playoffs with a torn meniscus. Finally, L.A. Clippers superstar Kawhi Leonard continues to be out indefinitely with a knee injury.

Sure, the Bucks also have a man down with starting shooting guard Donte DiVincenzo out for the rest of the postseason with a torn ligament in his ankle. Nonetheless, much of Milwaukee’s core is still in tact and reserves such as Pat Connaughton have done a good job to replace DiVincenzo’s production and the intangibles he brings to the Bucks.

With that, Milwaukee seems to be the most healthy squad remaining on the field. These playoffs have definitely been a bummer due to the number of significant injuries that happened recently. The Bucks certainly benefited from them in the previous series against the Nets. Nonetheless, injuries are inevitably a part of the game and all teams at this point are banged up anyway.

The team that is relatively at full strength until the end is usually the one that ends up lifting the Larry O. Right now, the Bucks are looking good in the health department and this should boost their chances of winning their first NBA championship in 50 years.