"Fear the deer! Fear the deer! Fear the deer!"
What started as a call to arms quickly morphed into a sigh of resignation. The Milwaukee Bucks' in-game MC implored the crowd to chant the nostalgic battle cry, only to be greeted with three half-hearted rounds that fizzled to general fan chatter in a matter of seconds.
As quickly as it started, the MC and Sector 7 were left alone to rally around an optimistic vice that the rest of the BMO Harris Bradley Center was content to abandon. Fan malaise at its finest (or lowest).
Thursday night, the Bucks played their first game at the BC in the last three years, yet few people believed a victory over the top-seeded Miami Heat would change the series. But the 104-91 loss, raising the possibility of a sweep we all kind of saw coming, still felt sobering.
After an early Bucks surge that gave Milwaukee a 50-48 lead at halftime (which should've been larger, no thanks to a pair of Ray Allen triples and a buzzer beater from LeBron James), the Heat eventually pulled away after a third-to-fourth quarter run that felt inevitable from the tip-off.
"I thought we had some good moments. we were moving the ball around. ... Getting out in transition a little bit," coach Jim Boylan said. "We had a three to four minute stretch, just like in the first two games where they kind of blitzed us and (we) dug ourselves a big hole. (We) couldn't come back from it."
The series now stands at 3-0, and the guillotine hovering over the 2012-13 Bucks' neck has been lowered a few inches closer. Losing certainly was the expectation. And yet, frustration is still the latent emotion driving fan tweets, blog comments, radio call-ins, and general indifference that stands in stark contrast to the last time Milwaukee played past the 82 game mark.
It's not so much a frustration with the organization (that's a whole different, relevant discussion). It's more a frustration with opportunities squandered. And there have been plenty, thanks to bouts of Miami sloppiness.
You wouldn't know it from the final scores, but the Bucks have stuck around through three quarters in both Game 2 and Game 3. In both instances, Milwaukee unraveled in a masochistic fashion, aided by a brief reminder that the Heat are the best team in the Eastern Conference, if not the NBA.
We are resigned to a one-and-done appearance in the playoffs, but knowing the games have been winnable makes it that much harder to stomach.
JJ Redick. Not one minute into his first burn at the end of the first quarter, Redick knocked down back-to-back threes from the right side of the floor. He added another one in the second quarter, and scored all of his 11 points on 4-7 shots (3-6 3fg) in just under 11 first half minutes. Redick only played six minutes in the second half, managing one shot (naturally, a three pointer) and committing two turnovers. After that initial scoring outburst, Redick had trouble fighting through Miami's perimeter pressure and getting open looks in general.
Larry Sanders. At one point in the third quarter, with the game still close, Sanders (16 pts, 7-10 fg, 2-4 ft, 11 rbs, 2 stls, 1 blk) took the ball end-to-end and finished with a dunk that brought down the house (see Three Good below for the video). It was simply gorgeous, but far flashier than the rest of his offensive work, which included a few putbacks and general aggression around the rim. Nine of his 10 shot attempts were within the restricted area. Just imagine if he had a few post moves and a reliable baby hook...
Luc Mbah a Moute. For the second game in a row, Mbah a Moute was solid individually defending LeBron (22 pts, 9-14 fg, 2-4 3fg, 6 asts, 5 rbs, 5 to), But his biggest contribution came from a litany of off-ball cuts to the hoop and a few baseline drives opened up by hard closeouts from Shane Battier. The end result was 12 pts and enough trips to the line (6-8) to make Mbah a Moute the game's most frequent visitor and converter at the charity stripe. Let that sink in for a moment.
21-3. Here's that run we all expected, yet never saw coming. It included a three and a half minute stretch at the end of the third quarter where the Bucks committed four turnovers and failed to even attempt a shot until Brandon Jennings heaved one in desperation at the buzzer.
-12. Second lives are never a good idea in the NBA. Especially when the opposition features half the cast of The Expendables in their lineup. Miami won the second chance point battle 16-4, highlighted by the continually perplexing game of Chris Andersen (11 pts, 5-5 fg, 6 rbs) and those brick wall action stars I mentioned earlier.
"Some of our breakdowns defensively, where guys were penetrating and we had no help," Boylan said. "Then you end up leaving somebody, we're cracking back, we're coming back with a smaller player, and they were on the glass taking advantage of that. We got some offensive rebounds also, but we didn't convert at quite the same rate they did. That was definitely something that hurt us, and they took advantage of it."
27%. The Bucks may have scored 23 points off 19 Heat turnovers, but their second half caretaking left much to be desired. Milwaukee turned the ball over 13 times, compared to seven in the first half, and finished with a 27% turnover rate over the third and fourth quarters.
Missing from deep. Other than the first quarter (5-10 3fg), the Bucks hit a meager 12.5% (2-16) on three point attempts. Notably, Jennings and Monta Ellis combined for 2-13 triples. It should also be noted that Milwaukee started the first quarter 0-4 beyond the arc.
"Tonight, we were hitting a couple in the beginning. It seems as the game goes on, we kind of got tired a little bit," Jennings said. "I felt like, myself, we're too busy trying to look for the three instead of attacking. We're just settling for a lot of threes."
LeBron bashing. I totally understand the Bucks' need to rile up a pretty despondent fan base, but I feel like the ship has sailed on the "Queen James" and "crybaby" jokes, both of which were common themes during their fan interaction promotions. I did enjoy the bit featuring Bango haunting Dwyane Wade's nightmares, but I'm not big into low blows directed at the game's best player, especially when he's having a historic year.
Free throws. For all the griping about the referees wearing black and red, the Bucks actually won the free throw battle 18-29 vs. 14-25. Although both teams missed 11 attempts, Jennings and Ellis combined for 7-11 free throws. I just don't get it.
That coast-to-coast Larry Sanders dunk. Seriously, it was awesome. Just watch:
Ray Allen making history. A wide open spot up three from the corner that further clinched the game for Miami. It's hard to imagine any other way Ray Allen would surpass Reggie Miller as the NBA's all-time playoff leader in three pointers made. Resent him if you want, but it's kind of cool that he did it on the floor where he began his Hall of Fame career.
Almost over. I'd love to see the Bucks make a series of this, but no NBA team has ever come back from a 3-0 deficit in the first round. At this point, the allure of a completely unknown offseason is growing stronger.