Without Giannis Antetokounmpo again due to his sore back, the Heat bull-rushed the Bucks Saturday evening and jumped up two games to one in the best-of-seven series. From the late first quarter on, it was all Miami. Jimmy Butler led all scorers with 30, while Khris Middleton was Milwaukee’s high man at 23.
Behind an early ten from Holiday, the Bucks were in front for much of the first quarter. However, the Heat grabbed their first lead with under two minutes to go thanks to a 14-0 run. Butler got into his bag, even hitting three threes on his way to 17 first-quarter points, and his side was ahead 29-21 at the first break.
That run extended to 19-0 before Milwaukee finally got off 21 points, a five-and-a-half minute drought. The Heat jumped in front by as much as 18 behind continued hot three-point shooting as the second reached its midpoint, and though the Bucks hit plenty of treys too, they trailed 66-53 at half.
A few costly turnovers in the opening minutes of the third killed any chance for the Bucks to cut things to single digits. Miami’s lead swelled to 20 as the Bucks could not get things closer than 11. Butler left limping with a bit over three minutes remaining in the quarter.
Down 94-79 entering the fourth, still with a faint possibility to come back, the Bucks didn’t put up much of a fight from there as the Heat stretched their lead to nearly thirty. The effort level of their non-Giannis players kept lacking, and they went weakly into garbage time.
Game 4 is on Monday night. The Bucks and their fans will be hoping Giannis is healthy enough to go because right now, things look very tough without him.
I’m not sure I’ve seen a worse playoff game from Jrue Holiday. After such a nice start, hitting his first four shots with good defense on Butler for several minutes, Holiday played undeniably poorly. Perhaps letting those early minutes get to his head, he started forcing the issue himself. He took some ill-advised shots, but the issue was more his driving; the Heat’s pressure on penetration neutralized him. He coughed it up (five turnovers) either by losing his handle among the double- and triple-teaming limbs of Heat defenders or by making bad passes beneath the rim. Holiday racked up 27 assists in the first two games of the series, looking comfortable as a facilitator and scorer, if a little inefficient last Sunday. Last night he only dropped three dimes. Holiday simply has to be better, especially without Giannis.
Khris Middleton was the closest thing to a bright spot the Bucks had. In addition to hitting three of his five attempts from downtown, he looked pretty good on isolations at times. However, he had to take on a fair bit of ballhandling duties and still looks like a shell of his former self on defense. Though he had six assists, his five turnovers were just as costly as Holiday’s.
Jae Crowder. Woof. Understandably, people are wringing their hands about Milwaukee’s deadline addition. In 13 minutes, he was 2/4 from the field for 5 points, but they all came in six fourth-quarter minutes with the game out of hand. It seemed that head coach Mike Budenholzer ran him out there to try and get him in some sort of offensive rhythm. Who knows if this will work, but he’s looked unplayable on both ends so far in this series. Like essentially every healthy Buck, he can’t defend Butler effectively and is consistently getting beat by any Heat driver. If Giannis returns, I’m doubtful he’ll continue seeing minutes. There’s nothing right now to suggest he’ll be effective in potential future rounds too, so time is running out for him to reestablish himself in the rotation, or he’ll go the way of Nikola Mirotic. Thankfully, like with Mirotic, the Bucks didn’t pay a price to get him that will really hamper them in the future.
Bonus Bucks Bits
- The Heat buried 12 of their 19 three-point attempts in the first quarter (a franchise playoff record), The Bucks almost matched them at 10/18, but issues fouling Heat shooters and bricklaying inside the arc rendered it moot.
- Losing by double-digits when you’re stroking it so nicely behind the arc is perplexing. How did it happen? They couldn’t score inside despite repeated drives. Miami sent hoards of help defenders, reminiscent of the wall strategy they’ve used on Giannis so many times. This led to turnovers, which killed any offensive flow despite the hot shooting:
Bucks have a 101 ortg despite shooting 12-23 on 3s. Absolutely no impact at the FT line or the offensive glass, while turning it over on 20% of their possessions.— Nate Duncan (@NateDuncanNBA) April 23, 2023
- As Duncan alluded to, a 5-0 Miami advantage on the offensive glass in the first fueled seven early second-chance points. The Bucks cleaned up their early issues on the defensive boards, but couldn’t clean up any of their own misses, with just one offensive rebound in the first half. Sounds like they could use a big Greek guy who averages nearly twelve total rebounds per game.
- They also got to the line a mere four times in the first half to the Heat’s twelve, though that gap narrowed in the second half. I think that Greek fella shoots a lot of free throws too.
- Miami is shooting 51% from distance this series on 94 attempts. That’s not a lot of volume (31.4 per game as opposed to 34.8 in the regular season), a problem for the Bucks’ defense in past seasons, but they aren’t seeing much in the way of contesting. Too many open looks, even on Miami’s more difficult attempts, have them shooting 36% better than their 34.4% regular season mark. Milwaukee went under screens throughout the first half, and though they didn’t change that in the second half, Bud went back to the switching defense that the Heat abused in Game 1. That dropped the Heat to 4/14 on their triples... but the Bucks got even colder at 5/21, and were defensive matadors on Heat penetration.
- Furthermore, Butler has sank six of his nine three-point attempts this series after a perfect 4/4 tonight. I’ve never fully understood why he’s moved away from shooting threes more and more over the years—in Chicago and Minnesota he was a solid 35.2% on just over three per game—but I guess it’s because he’s so dang good at nailing midrange looks. Still, they are playing too far off of him when he’s behind the arc, letting him shoot flat-footed with no contest at all. It looked like shooting practice for him.
- Brook Lopez struggled in the first half, in part due to Miami’s physicality. Unlike in Game 1, the Bucks were finding him inside, but after he bullied the Heat’s small interior in Game 2, Miami coach Erik Spoelstra made a big adjustment. When he got entry passes, the Heat swarmed him with double- or triple-teams much like with any other Buck who managed to penetrate. Still, his touch seemed pretty off, and he only took two shots in the restricted area, unable to muscle through the Miami wall.
- Bobby Portis ran into early foul trouble, then picked up his fourth 30 seconds into the second half. He had just nine points on nine shots, starting again in Giannis’ place. Like many Bucks, he had his share of defensive miscues, but his were perhaps more obvious.
- Victor Oladipo may have sustained a non-contact knee injury driving to the basket in the fourth quarter. He planted poorly on his left and immediately went down clutching it. With his long history of significant knee injuries, you hate to see this. Here’s hoping it’s not as bad as the stretcher that was carted out—though he waved it off in favor of being helped to the locker room by trainers—or Butler’s reaction on the bench made it seem.
- Speaking of, Butler tried to reenter not long after he exited, still with his limp. Spoelstra wisely held him back from checking in. The Heat are calling it a bruised lower back... sound familiar?
- Bud got pretty livid after he felt the refs missed a kicked ball late in the third quarter. That earned him a technical and he kept arguing with an official, but he didn’t earn another. He was probably trying to spark his team, who wasn’t being blown out at that point, but it didn’t work.
- I hate to invoke the Kidd-ism, but the Bucks seriously lacked energy and effort last night, particularly on the defensive end. There was miscommunication at times too—notably between Holiday and Lopez on a switch that led to a Butler dunk. That bucket actually was the one that sparked Miami’s initial 34-8 extended run, which seems fitting.
- This is the first time under Bud that the Bucks have lost a Game 3 when the series was tied. Prior to Saturday, their record in Game 3s was 9-2. The Bucks went on to win eight of the series in which they took Game 3. They went on to lose the series after the two losses, so they’ll have to make sure that doesn’t become a trend.