It was hard to hate the Bucks. Giannis Antetokounmpo is the league's most likeable superstar, Jrue Holiday, Bobby Portis, and Pat Connaughton play their tails off, and harried head coach Mike Budenholzer looks as disheveled as Jack Lemmon in Glengarry, Glen Ross. ("I need those leads!" he implores at halftime, probably).
With the Celtics advancing to the Eastern Conference Finals, however, likability will no longer be an issue. They're squaring off against the Miami Heat, and there's sooooo much to hate about them. So let's break it down.
1. Pat Riley
The enduring image of the Showtime Lakers isn't a no-look, a sky hook, or Jack Nicholson trying to add a Laker girl to his little black book. It's Riley's smug mug and slicked mafioso hair on the sidelines. He exuded calm because his Lakers never worked nearly as hard to reach the Finals as the Celtics, who survived the Philly-Milwaukee-Detroit gauntlet, not to mention the occasional rock fight with Bernard King or Michael Jordan.
Riley won four titles in L.A., including Larry Bird's two Finals losses. He worked the refs, whined about Boston's physicality, and embodied the pampered land of entitlement the Lakers call home.
Then he went to New York and ruined the NBA in a futile attempt to stop Jordan, turning a beautiful game into a 48-minute prison shanking. It took at least a decade to untangle that mess.
Then he changed course again and retired to Miami, where he won another championship in 2006 with a veteran Shaquille O'Neal and an ascendant Dwyane Wade before stepping upstairs and bringing a mercenary LeBron James to South Beach and winning two more insufferable titles.
The truth is, the Heat's 77-year-old president was a decent player, a great coach, and an incredible executive. No one should be all of those things. And he still has most of his hair! To hell with him.
2. The city of Miami
To turn the Celtics into a contender, Danny Ainge needed to make a miracle trade with the Nets, hit home runs on Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum atop the draft, supplement them with productive lower-round picks like Robert Williams and Grant Williams, and swing a deal for Kyrie Irving, which promptly exploded in his face because that's what that guy does.
The Heat, by contrast, are a destination because of their tropical location and wild nightlife. Their pitch to free agents is basically "bikinis, beaches, and bars, and did we mention bikinis?" and then here comes Shaq (via trade, but still) and LeBron and Chris Bosh. Easy-peasy. By contrast, the biggest free agent signing in Celtics history is probably Al Horford.
What's so great about Miami, other than the gorgeous weather and the gorgeous people and the gorgeous views? Nothing, that's what. Gimme Boston's random piles of filthy snow that still haven't melted in May because they're in the shade. Gimme snarling drivers in snarled traffic who won't even move over for an ambulance. Gimme our pasty skin and general distrust of the sun over their year-round tans.
In Boston, nothing is handed to us. We earn our happiness, and then we beat it with a tire iron because joy should always be fleeting.
3. Jimmy Butler
Everyone who has ever said, "The Celtics need a real star like Jimmy Butler to lead them," needs a history lesson.
The 30th overall pick out of Marquette in 2011, Butler transformed himself from eighth man to All-Star over five years in Chicago. But along the way he clashed with point guard Derrick Rose, clashed with head coach Fred Hoiberg ("We probably have to be coached a lot harder at times"), and eventually made himself expendable when the Bulls decided to rebuild.
They shipped him to the Timberwolves before the 2017 draft and he spent one miserable year in Minnesota before shooting his way out of town. Once again, he had issues with teammates, and this time he demanded a trade, but not before murdering them in a practice he treated like Game 7 for some reason.
The Wolves obliged, sending him to the Sixers. He spent one year there, too, reportedly balking at his role in Brett Brown's offense. At this point, it's important to note that by his 30th birthday, Butler had spent seven years in the league without advancing beyond the second round of the playoffs.
That's your big winner? A guy who butted heads with three coaches and routinely accused his teammates of not caring as much as he does like some kind of hardo? Please.
The Sixers pulled the plug and shipped him to the Heat in a four-team trade. Only then did Butler finally lead a franchise anywhere, beating the semi-dysfunctional Celtics in the bubble to advance to the Finals, where the Heat were housed by LeBron's Lakers.
Miami is back in the conference finals, and Butler will be a problem, for sure, but I'll take Tatum's career arc, thank you very much.
4. Duncan Robinson
Some may look at Robinson and see an impossible success story: a New England kid who drew no college interest before enrolling at Div. III Williams, transferring to Michigan, and becoming a 3-point sharpshooter in Miami.
I see a kid who got into Williams, which is impossible, not that I speak from experience or anything. At least my Tufts Jumbos did what no one else in the NESCAC could do, limiting him to a season-low 10 points in a 2014 tournament game that Williams won anyway.
5. Tyler Herro
It's not possible to like an athlete whose last name is pronounced "Hero." That's a golden boy name if ever there was one, and Herro plays like it.
He has carried himself like he's better than he is since the day he arrived, except he's actually that good, dammit. A fearless gunslinger who embraces his role as the best sixth man in the NBA, he just averaged over 20 points a game at age 22. He's got limitless range, is deadly off the dribble, and isn't afraid to deliver in big moments. I hate him.
(Author's note: If he had lasted one more spot and fallen to the Celtics at No. 14 in the 2019 draft, he'd be my favorite player in the league).
6. Udonis Haslem
As a young reporter, I covered Haslem at the Chelsea High School Christmas tournament in 1997 when he came to town with a Miami Senior High team that included future NBA guard Steve Blake. Needless to say, they won the whole thing.
Now 41, Haslem is in his 18th season, all with the Heat. He appeared in 13 games this season and is effectively an extra assistant coach. Because I saw him play in high school when I wasn't that far removed from high school myself, he is a link to my youth.
My youth is gone. I cannot look at him.
7. Kyle Lowry
Lowry is basically a more talented version of Marcus Smart, a tough-as-nails point guard who'll knock you over and then help you up, which I don't trust for a second. What's he hiding?
Lowry has been around so long, he threw the inbounds pass that knocked Boston College out of the 2006 NCAA tournament before his top-seeded Villanova Wildcats lost to Al Horford and Florida in the Elite 8.
Lowry went three picks after Rajon Rondo in that June's draft. Now in his 16th season, he earned a ring with the Raptors and a reputation as a clutch performer. When news broke that he'd been traded to the Heat last August, if you're like me, your reaction went something along the lines of, "Craaaapppppp."
Lowry is one of many Heat players you don't want to see with the ball in his hands at the end of a tight game, but in fairness, that's practically all of them, from Butler to Herro to Bam Adebayo to P.J. Freaking Tucker.
The Heat are just that kind of team, and Lowry's a perfect fit for their relentless brand of basketball. If only he were playing anywhere else.