Seven months after suffering a devastating loss in the 2020 conference semifinals to the Miami Heat as the No. 1 seed, the Milwaukee Bucks avenged that loss Saturday with a 120-103 victory, securing the sweep in their first-ever series. round about those in Florida.
“It’s a great moment for us to win 4-0 and beat the team that knocked us out last year,” Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo said. “But at the end of the day, we have a long way to go.”
Although his performance was not particularly efficient during the first three quarters, Antetokounmpo tied a personal record, and set a new personal record in the Playoffs, with 15 assists. He found teammates on the perimeter and served skilled inside passes in the paint.
“Being able to affect the game in multiple ways, and not just get in the paint and score,” Antetokpounmpo said. “Don’t get me wrong. If I could score every play, I would try to do it, but I have to be mature, keep my head up and look for the guys when they’re wide open; it was important to us.”
After being down for the entire first half, Milwaukee put together a 24-4 run in the third quarter to erase a nine-point deficit and build a double-digit lead. Forward Khris Middleton, who hit the playoff basket with less than a second left in Game 1, led the charge with 12 points, including a pair of 3-pointers. Bryn Forbes, whose feats of precision propelled the Bucks’ victory in Game 3, added a pair of from range in the fourth and finished 7 of 14 from distance overall.
Four Bucks players finished with 20 or more, including Middleton and Forbes, with center Brook Lopez leading the way with 25, on 11 of 15 shots. Although Lopez has expanded his range in Milwaukee and normally takes a lot of possessions on the perimeter, he did not attempt a single from beyond the arc on Saturday. Instead, he hurt the inside against a Miami defense that had no response to Milwaukee’s inside game throughout the series. Lopez finished 9 of 9 from the field within ten feet in Game 4.
The Bucks distinguished themselves on defense in the series, and again in the second half in the deciding factor on Saturday. Miami posted just a 95.4 offensive rating in the four games, the lowest total for a playoff team in six postseason games.
Antetokounmpo took on the task of defending the Heat’s most prolific offensive player, Jimmy Butler, the Heat’s wingman. Although he matched Antetokounmpo’s triple-double in Game 4, Butler fired just 4 of 15 shots from the field and posted an abysmal true shooting percentage (39.4) for the series.
“Giannis has a unique defensive talent, and Butler is a great talent, scorer and passer,” said Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer. “It takes a lot of discipline to mark a guy like Jimmy. That Giannis has that discipline with competitiveness makes him special.”
In addition to Antetokounmpo’s work on Butler, Lopez served as an indomitable presence in Milwaukee’s paint on defense. He made 76 shots in the series, and Miami shot just 32% on those attempts, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
Milwaukee’s dominance on the glass was another deciding factor in their sweep of the Heat. The Bucks made up more than a third of their missed shot attempts – their 33.6% offensive rebound rate during the series would have led the NBA during the regular season by a considerable margin. Likewise, his 78.8% defensive rebound rate against Miami would also have led the league during the regular season.
“When you look back on this series, we definitely controlled the boards, which was a big part of transitioning and giving us second-chance points,” Middleton said. “Everyone had a part controlling the boards for us. We were able to limit them to a single shot.”
The sweep concluded the Heat’s season, which included 20 lost games for Butler, after Miami was the sixth seed in the East.
The Heat enter the offseason with salary cap flexibility, which will allow them to strengthen the roster if they choose. Only Butler, Adebayo, Tyler Herro, Precious Achiuwa and KZ Okpala have warranty contracts in the 2021-22 season.
“We can be better,” Butler said. “We will improve.”
Milwaukee will now have at least a full week off before facing the Brooklyn Nets or Boston Celtics in a conference Semifinal that they will come to in high spirits.
“Peaking at the right time, we really feel like we’re doing well,” Lopez said. “And we still feel like we’re getting better every night.”