Seven months after advancing to the 2020 NBA Finals, the Miami Heat are one loss away from elimination in this year’s playoffs after falling 113-84 to the Milwaukee Bucks on Thursday night in Miami.
For the second game in a row, the Bucks led from the opening minutes to the final bell, accumulating leads of more than 30 points. It’s a total change from when these teams met in the Eastern Conference Semifinals last season, when the Heat thrashed the seeded Bucks in a 4-1 series win.
“[Estoy muy sorprendido por] how quickly it got out of control, “said Heat wing Jimmy Butler.” We have to choose who we want to be: Be physical, make things much more difficult. Then you have to live with the result. “
The Heat’s offensive production in this series has been anemic. His 93.2 points per 100 possessions in three games would be the lowest total for a playoff team since the 2015-16 Memphis Grizzlies, without Mike Conley and Marc Gasol, posted an 89.3 offensive rating while being swept by the San Antonio Spurs. .
“The pace is off,” Heat point guard Goran Dragic said. “It is very far. We lose confidence. We still have one game left.”
Since the start of the series, the Bucks defense has held down the Heat, giving up lower-percentage mid-range shots while focusing their effort on the inside. The length of the Bucks, particularly Giannis Antetokounmpo and center Brook Lopez, has limited Miami’s penetration. Heat center Bam Adebayo is averaging just 0.74 points per play when scored by Lopez. Overall, the Heat were just 2 of 8 in the paint Thursday when Lopez was the top tire protector, according to ESPN Stats & Information research.
Butler, who shined when the Heat toppled the Bucks last season, has struggled to find opportunities. When it has, it has struggled to convert. His true shooting percentage for the series is a meager 40.4. Among the Heat’s rotation players, only Trevor Ariza has posted a lower mark. Overall in the series, Butler averages 15.3 points, 6.7 rebounds and six assists per game.
Antetokounmpo claimed the assignment to cover Butler defensively for the series, a matchup in which the Bucks opted in last season’s series. In keeping with the Bucks’ plan, Antetokounmpo has strategically offered Butler minimal space to take jump shots, while cutting the driving lanes.
“We set the tone early in the game,” Antetokounmpo said. “We knew how important this game was. We went out. We kept the guys up front. We were bouncing the ball. We set the tone defensively.”
To bolster their prospects in the playoffs, where they have been disappointed in the bottom line of each of the past two years, the Bucks acquired point guard Jrue Holiday during the offseason. Holiday lived up to expectations in his first series with the team, averaging 16.7 points, 10 assists and seven rebounds.
“Jrue is the most underrated player in the NBA by far,” said Milwaukee big man PJ Tucker. “People don’t understand how good he is. I didn’t understand how good he is until I played with him. They get it, and he’s the quietest dog you’ve ever played with in your life.”
The modest Holiday has stabilized and organized a Bucks offense whose flow could turn rubbery during previous playoff races. Milwaukee has posted an 87.5% effective field goal percentage off Holiday passes, and those passes have led to 27 unopposed field goal attempts for his teammates. Holiday has scored or assisted 127 points in all three games, according to ESPN Stats & Info.
Tuesday night’s result was not entirely positive for Milwaukee. Bucks starting guard Donte DiVincenzo came out in the second quarter with a concussion to his left foot and did not return. DiVincenzo will be reevaluated by the Bucks medical staff Friday morning.
On Saturday in Miami, the Heat will try to avoid elimination and begin the journey that no NBA team has ever done successfully: rebounding from a 3-0 deficit to win the series.
“We have to find ways to improve tomorrow,” Butler said. “He’s not overly concerned with what history says and all that good stuff. But we have a lot of work ahead of us.”