Giannis free agency rumors and trade talk. Endless taunts and criticisms. And a five game bubble beatdown to back all of it up. The tension that was at the forefront of this series was well-documented and obvious to fans here and across the league. There’s a reason many predicted the 6 seed Heat would hang with the Bucks despite their inferior record, stats, and players. There was a significant mental roadblock in Milwaukee’s way, and not everyone believed they could clear it.
We can officially say it now – those people were wrong. The Bucks made as strong of a statement as they possibly could have, sweeping the Heat in a series that was never really up-for-grabs after it began. As the team said on Twitter after the Game 4 win, “this ain’t the bubble.” These aren’t your 2020 Bucks either. One down, three to go.
With that, let’s look at Game 4 with a little more detail before going into some takeaways.
The first quarter saw the Bucks look vulnerable and, frankly, disinterested. It was a pretty sharp departure from what we saw in Games 2 and 3. Miami started up 10-6. There wasn’t a whole lot of variability from there, and both teams had scored sixteen more points by the end of the quarter. The defense was largely fine outside of allowing Trevor Ariza to get a little more space than he should have been given. You’ll take the 26 points allowed pretty much any day of the week. But Milwaukee got absolutely nothing going on the other side of the court. They couldn’t buy a triple, and Giannis and Khris Middleton combined for zero field goals and only 3 points.
The conditions flipped in the second. The offense was pretty good. The defense really started to struggle. The Heat ended up with 38 points in the frame; their previous high in a single quarter in this series had been 31. Kendrick Nunn did a lot of damage with Tyler Herro and Andre Iguodala also stepping up. Goran Dragic and Jimmy Butler sprinkled in some points here and there. Then there was Bam Adebayo, who converted a lot of looks right around the rim. He put in some dunks that continued to drive home the idea that the Bucks just weren’t up for this game.
The saving grace in the second was the offense. Middleton started to put some points in while Bryn Forbes hit four threes to get the perimeter game rolling. Despite the sluggish start, it was hard to feel too upset halfway through this one. The Bucks had played a pretty terrible first two quarters – or at least it felt that way – and they were down by just 7 points. There was reason to hope they could turn it around in the second half.
Turn it around they did, and the Heat couldn’t keep up once the jets came on. The offense and the defense were firing in the third with the Bucks scoring 34 and limiting Miami to just 21 points. Khris scored a little more, Forbes and Bobby Portis hit some threes, and the Bucks started the quarter on a 29-10 run that gave them a double digit lead. Eight points from Kenrick Nunn and a three from Goran Dragic in the last 2:30 brought the Heat back within six and kept the game alive, but the momentum had already undergone a clear and complete shift.
The little spurt from Nunn had the Heat hoping they could make this a game, but the Bucks never really let that happen in the fourth. A Goran Dragic free throw led off the quarter to bring the deficit down to five, and Miami never got any closer than that. Milwaukee finished the game on a 29-17 run that started with a little 7-2 stretch sparked by Giannis and Bobby Portis. That made it 98-88 with ten minutes to go and just about put a cap on the series. Giannis and Brook Lopez handled most of the rest of the scoring, and the Bucks rolled down the stretch to a game and series win.
With the Nets and Celtics needing to play at least two more games, the Bucks are going to have a nice little stretch of rest here. Thanasis Antetokounmpo might be able to use the next few days to get healthy. No one should be expecting a whole lot from him in playoff minutes, but it’s certainly possible we see him at some point given the absence of Donte DiVincenzo. Outside of that, the team will just have the chance to rest up and prepare for what comes next. Since we can only assume at this point that the Nets will eventually join the Bucks in the second round, there’s little point in diving into a detailed look at the next series. We can, however, run through some quick things to keep in mind.
Forbes deserves massive praise for the role he played in this Heat series. He was simply fantastic, especially during highly impressive performances in Game 2 and Game 4. The man is a shooter, and he was at his best against Miami, hitting 16 of 30 threes over the last three games. Here’s the issue – he can’t play defense. Against Miami, where you can hide on someone like Trevor Ariza or at least put up a good fight against someone like Tyler Herro, that’s not much of an issue. Against Brooklyn and three isolation assassins that will find and exploit any weak links in the defense…it’s a different story. Assuming we play the Nets – can Forbes stay on the court? And if he can’t, is Bud willing to make the tough call to pull him off?
Giannis was not a full-fledged scoring machine in this series, averaging an impressive but personally underwhelming 23.5 points. The Heat aren’t a great match-up for him in that regard, and so he let others carry a little more of the load – through his passing and otherwise. With teams less capable of handling him coming up, look for Giannis to be back up in the 30s consistently.
The Impressive Defense
The Bucks put on a defensive clinic against Miami. Brook Lopez largely erased Bam Adebayo by turning him into a midrange shooter. Giannis and PJ Tucker combined to control Jimmy Butler for much of the series. Milwaukee took Duncan Robinson out after his impressive Game 1. Tyler Herro never got much of anything going. Goran Dragic was really the only key Heat player that delivered about what was expected offensively. The players, Bud, and the rest of the staff deserve a lot of credit. Now the key test is next. How does that defense look against the Nets?
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