It may be an understatement to say that the Miami Heat—missing Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo, Markieff Morris and Victory Oladipo—entered Wednesday night’s game against the Milwaukee Bucks shorthanded. However, the depleted Heat managed to muster up enough of a second-half fight to ship the Bucks out of South Beach with a 113-104 loss, moving the series to 2-1 on the season with an advantage to Miami.
What Did We Learn?
That Heat Culture is alive and well even without some of its primary proponents on the court. Kyle Lowry continues to be a “hate to play against him, love him if he’s on your team” player who molded himself into Pay Riley’s player archetype before even being traded from Toronto. Mike Budenholzer co-signed Miami’s continuity after the game, noting that walls are still being built when Giannis Antetokounmpo approaches the paint.
"It's the same defense we've seen for 4 years."— Milwaukee Bucks (@Bucks) December 9, 2021
Coach Bud's ASL Press Conference: pic.twitter.com/ZEn4se5VfC
Giannis and the Bucks, however, will not always face nights like this, as the Heat reached deep into their rotation and found productive minutes where they weren’t reasonably expected. Listed as questionable before the game, Caleb Martin looked anything but while scoring 28 points on 9-12 shooting, including 6-8 from three over the course of nearly 34 minutes.
This, likely, is the exception rather than the rule when it comes to Martin, whom the Charlotte Hornets let walk in free agency (while retaining his twin brother, Cody) before he inked a two-way contract in Miami. Martin’s performance stands as a surprise, perhaps a heartwarming story and, ultimately, an obstacle the Bucks did not expect to encounter and certainly did not focus their defensive game plan around. The same goes for P.J. Tucker’s 15-point outburst (by 2021 P.J. standards), Max Strus’ 16-point contribution and four minutes of game time from… Omer Yurtseven (who?). Allowing 46.8% shooting from long-range and seeing it tick up to 53.8% in the second half are not nightly occurrences, and won’t be going forward, if history has anything to say about Bud’s squads.
Javonte Smart might have staying power. After an impressive debut in the rotation against the Cleveland Cavaliers on Monday, Smart went just 1-5 from the field against the Heat. While that one basket was a craft one-dribble stepback, looking at his role in a wider frame shows the Bucks will not necessarily be relying on him to score regularly, so making an impact elsewhere is key. Facing Miami, Smart pulled in four rebounds, assisted on one basket and recorded one steal while committing just one foul—a tidy, efficient showing. In 11 minutes of play, Smart logged an 81.8 defensive rating while playing with each of the Bucks’ nine other active players across eight lineup variations. This stands out as a team best by far, with DeMarcus Cousins’ 100.0 defensive rating coming in second. If it’s the little things that help fringe players stick with a team (or in the NBA at large), Smart is is doing his best to prove that he can handle those responsibilities.
Jrue Holiday is still one of the best point guards in the league. He turned in a wire-to-wire performance: a season-high 27 points (12-17; 3-7 from three), four assists, four rebounds and one block. Four turnovers and four fouls are undeniable blemishes on Holiday’s night, but Holiday’s ability to show up as an effective scorer, a willing passer and a high-level defender at any given moment cannot be appreciated enough.
Giannis’ night did not go as planned. Scoring under 20 points a game for just the third time this season, Antetokounmpo did seem to the be main victim of a P.J. Tucker revenge game as Tucker found the MVP candidate early and often. Tucker drew eight fouls against the Bucks—and committed four fouls of his own—before the night was over. Just as there are outlier games for twins on two-way contracts, though, there are outlier games for perennial All-Stars. Call it the Miami hangover, call it too much Uno, but don’t call it worrisome or troubling.
Bonus Bucks Bits
- Bobby Portis extended his double-digit scoring streak to 17 games, the longest of his career.
- No look, no worries as Jrue connected on drop-off to Giannis in the third quarter.
Jrue with the no-look pass as Giannis finishes the bucket!! pic.twitter.com/1gQ4aC83pT— Milwaukee Bucks (@Bucks) December 9, 2021
- The Bucks committed 18 turnovers, but the Heat routinely failed to capitalize on them, resulting in just 13 points. Milwaukee, however, turned 20 Miami turnovers into 29 points.
- Boogie is still going strong. Despite going 0-2 from the field, he snagged six rebounds, dealt two assists and managed one steal en route to a team-high 25.0 net rating.