Sweep Is Coming: Bucks Dominate Heat, 113-84

No matter what happens next, there should be no room for doubt. The Milwaukee Bucks won the offseason, and their 3-0 series lead over the Miami Heat is all the proof fans need. 

After game one of the Bucks’ first-round matchup against the Heat, Miami fans swore Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo’s games were an outlier. The slump continued in Game 2, however, and the Heat’s Big Two went into their home defense shooting a collective 17-of-58 (29.3%) on field goals. Popular narratives gave no credit to the Bucks’ defense, which threw in occasional switching and zone defense this time around. 

Heading into the match, the Bucks were riding high on the momentum of a 2-0 series lead and a 132-98 blowout win over the same team that ousted them a year ago. Though at least one more game remains, the victory was in many ways an exclamation point in a homestand that proved this team had finally learned its lessons. 

The question then was whether or not the Bucks could take their momentum with them before a hostile crowd in South Beach. They delivered, and there’s no room for doubt at this point. Here are a few things we noticed in Game 3. 

New Bucks made all the difference

As expected, the stout defense of Jrue Holiday and PJ Tucker were game-changers. It was a pick-your-poison scenario. When ball-handlers like Butler tried to get switched off Giannis, they would have to face Holiday and Tucker instead. 

The Bucks put the hammer down right out the gate and led by as much as 19 points in the second quarter before entering halftime with a 13-point cushion. Both teams struggled to get anything going on offense to start the game, but this didn’t seem to be a problem as it was Milwaukee’s elite defense that dictated the tempo. The Heat couldn’t string together enough stops with their starters stifled by the Bucks’ length and physicality.

Two threes by Goran Dragic and Nemanja Bjelica to start the fourth quarter prompted a timeout, igniting a run for the Bucks who led by 32 in the final frame. Poor effort on the part of the Heat to defend and box out didn’t help their case. In a must-win contest, their lethargic play saw them looking like a deer in the headlights all night long. 

If defense wins championships, Milwaukee is looking more and more like a contender in these playoffs. The Heat looked all out of sorts whenever the Bucks started switching, and their team-oriented offense was no match for a stout Bucks defense tonight. Whenever the Heat leaned on their handoffs and pindown actions, the Bucks rotated on a string and made life hard for Miami’s scoring. 

The playmaking of Bam Adebayo was also rendered useless with Brook Lopez lurking in the paint picking off passes. Defense led to offense as most every stop on defense led to a bucket on the other end. Only three Heat players scored in double figures versus six on the Bucks.

Not the same Bucks 

After previously leading the league in defense for two years, it’s an established fact that the Bucks can stop the opposition from scoring. In this series, though, the improved shotmaking is what continues to make all the difference. Whenever the Heat threatened a comeback with their ball movement, Khris Middleton or Jrue Holiday would drain tough shots. 

Even the improvements for the existing players show. Pat Connaughton is a much improved defender as evidenced by his possessions matched up against Butler. Giannis hit twin turnaround fadeaways on the baseline against Butler and later, Adebayo. Even Khris is playing with a certain fire now; concerns over his consistency should be quashed after this series is over.

Mike Budenholzer also deserves all the credit in the world. After Erik Spoelstra (one of the league’s best coaches, mind you) coached him off the floor last year, Bud and his schemes have bounced back quite well. When Bjelica was put in the game to space the floor, Bud countered by having Giannis isolate against the slow-footed power forward. Giannis was fouled on nearly every drive from that point on, and his free throws sealed the win for the Bucks. 

Final notables 

  • The Bucks were never going to shoot as well as they did in Game 2 again. Their three-point shooting went back down to earth this game, with the team going for 13-36 (36.1%) from the arc. Still, decent shooting from Middleton, Forbes, and Connaughton helped space the floor for the Bucks bigs to operate inside. The trio finished with 3 treys apiece.
  • The 19 points and 12 assists from Jrue Holiday are already impressive, but they belie his overall impact on the game on both ends. Uncle Jrue’s unyielding defense and elite shot-making carried the Bucks through rough stretches once again. His final +41 was good for the highest +/- by a Bucks player in a playoff game since 1997.
  • Donte DiVincenzo suffered a left foot contusion after just nine minutes of play and did not return to the game. In a display of the Bucks’ depth, Mike Budenholzer slot in Jeff Teague in his place, and the team saw zero defensive dropoff. It is yet unclear if DiVincenzo will be available to play Game 4.
  • Giannis’ 17 points and 17 rebounds were relatively average for his standards, but his inward gravity as an interior threat are all the Bucks need to get their scorers going. Brook Lopez and Bobby Portis finished with 13 and 11 points, respectively.
  • Khris Middleton is good. His 22 points and net +26 finished second on the team in both, and the smooth-shooting swingman hunted mismatches all night long to good results. Hitting tough shots over Duncan Robinson and Tyler Herro have been a staple for Middleton this series, and it doesn’t look like he’s stopping any time soon. The Bucks will need this consistency from him if they want to close the series out.

Sweep is coming

Indeed, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. The Bucks took a long, hard look at the mirror after their humiliating loss a year ago and acknowledged the fundamental flaws holding them back. They’re finally reaping the results of their retooling in the offseason.

Believe in the Milwaukee Bucks. This series should show even the most pessimistic of fans that this humbled iteration of the Bucks is for real. It’s brooms out for Game 4 on Monday. Give us the Brooklyn Nets. Bucks in 4.

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Franco Luna

Franco is a Manila-based journalist who just happens to obsess over the Milwaukee Bucks in his spare time. He's still patiently waiting for Donte DiVincenzo's breakout season.

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