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Larry Bird and Dr. J stood in the way of a potential Bucks' Eastern reign in the 1980s

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MILWAUKEE – The Bucks of the 1970s won a title and reached the NBA Finals another time. The Bucks of this era have won the most games of any NBA team in the past three seasons and reached the Finals this season.

But don’t forget those 1980s Bucks who won plenty of games and were a playoff reguar in an Eastern Conference loaded with talented teams in Boston, Philadelphia, Chicago and New Jersey.

“Every year there was hope because we had teams good enough to compete, and that’s something special about having teams with a good nucleus every year," Hall of Famer and former Bucks guard Sidney Moncrief said. "You knew we were going to be in the hunt.”

In 12 consecutive years from 1980-91, the Bucks made the playoffs, reaching the Eastern Conference finals three times and the conference semifinals six times.

Moncrief starred on most of those teams along with Marques Johnson, Junior Bridgeman, Bob Lanier, Terry Cummings, Paul Pressey, Ricky Pierce and Jack Sikma.

Bucks guard Sidney Moncrief and the Bucks were eliminated by Larry Bird (left), Kevin McHale and the Boston Celtics in five games in the 1986 Eastern Conference finals.
Bucks guard Sidney Moncrief and the Bucks were eliminated by Larry Bird (left), Kevin McHale and the Boston Celtics in five games in the 1986 Eastern Conference finals.

Those Bucks teams had a decade’s worth of success but never broke through to the Finals, running into those great Celtics, Pistons and 76ers teams of the 1980s. Milwaukee lost to Philadelphia four times – once in the conference finals – and lost to Boston three times, including twice in the conference finals.

“The fans stood out the most,” Moncrief said, “because they watched us break their hearts and watched our hearts be broken.”

Moncrief, who was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2019, was a five-time All-NBA selection, five-time All-Star, two-time defensive player of the year and five-time All-Defense selection.

“Quite frankly, I would rather not be guarding some of the best players in the NBA because it’s a tough task,” Moncrief said. “I just took it as a responsibility as much as it was a challenge. That was something I needed to do to help the team win games. I’d rather just chill on defense and get back on offense, but I didn’t have that luxury."

During the best stretch of his career, Moncrief averaged at least 20 points in four consecutive seasons, and in 1984-85, he averaged 21.7 points, 5.4 rebounds, 5.2 assists and 1.6 steals.

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“What I do remember is just balling out every night,” he said. “You wanted that level of play to be the best. When you do that, the stats you don’t pay much attention to. You know you’ll have results but my main focus was being prepared with the scouting report, who I was guarding and their tendencies, and our rotations on defense. I studied, comprehended and executed when I got on the court on the defensive end.

“I played for great coach in Don Nelson and later Del Harris and they gave me offensive freedom to express my talents. I was a slasher, driver, post-up player and they didn’t try to put me in a box. They said 'We’re going to run sets to take advantage of your strengths on the offensive end.' ”

Moncrief and Johnson were in attendance for Game 3, and Moncrief also attended Game 5 against the Atlanta Hawks in the Eastern Conference finals.

“It’s great to see them regroup, refocus and add a piece here and there,” he said. “They’re a fun team to watch and have been very resilient and showed a lot of grit throughout the entire year.”

Follow Jeff Zillgitt on Twitter @JeffZillgitt.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: 1980's Bucks won a lot of playoff games, then ran into Bird or Dr. J