Fans got a healthy dose of relief when it was announced on Monday morning that the Milwaukee Bucks would be able to return Giannis Antetokounmpo from his busted behind suffered in Game One. They absolutely looked like they needed him after the Miami Heat trounced them in Game Three, and while Game Four looked like it was going to be a triumphant return to form for the Bucks...instead it turned into a heartbreaker of a loss.
It was, quite possibly (and still depending on the final outcome of this series), the worst loss in franchise history.
To be clear...— Mitchell Maurer (@Mitchell_NBA) April 25, 2023
This is worse than the Bubble.
Way, way, way worse.
All night long, Miami absorbed every blow that the Bucks could dish out; every time Milwaukee would hit a big shot or go on a run, the Heat found ways to respond and keep the momentum from getting too far out of control. There would be no knockout punches in this game until the very end, where a 101-89 Bucks lead at the 6:09 mark of the fourth quarter morphed into a 102-101 Miami advantage with 3:17 left... and a kill-shot came on a Jimmy Butler three-pointer with just over a minute remaining.
The series isn’t over yet...but I would bet some of us feel like it is.
Giannis’ back? Giannis is back.
Giannis already in beast mode. pic.twitter.com/iXA9ty1goF— Milwaukee Bucks (@Bucks) April 24, 2023
As we saw in Games One and Three, the Bucks can’t beat the Heat without the aid of historically-hot shooting or Giannis Antetokounmpo. Giannis was all the way back in this one, though Miami’s discipline and his teammates’ gaffes muted the impact of his return. Giannis notched a triple-double and played most of the game with full control, on both ends of the court, and he continues to be a bright spot on an otherwise dark night for Milwaukee.
But really, the biggest Buck was Brook Lopez. With a massive (pun intended) size advantage, Brook bullied his way to 36 points and 11 rebounds, along with 3 blocks, and generally was the main reason Milwaukee had a lead in this game. It would be an awful shame for Lopez’s campaign to end in the first round of the playoffs, considering how impactful and reliable he has been.
Change is needed. Take that however you will, but it’s obvious that something needs to change. There is no way that the team with the top seed in the conference and the best record in the entire league should be completely and utterly pantsed in the first round against an opponent that struggled to stay above 0.500. Injuries happen, bad luck exists, questionable officiating can sway things, but by and large the draw of a best-of-seven series is that talent wins out. The Bucks are the most talented team in the series...right?
Bonus Bucks Bits
- Not today. No bullet points today. There is no joy in the minutiae of this tremendous disappointment. Perhaps there will be something to take away on another day...but not today.
From this point, there are two ways that this series can go. On the one hand, Milwaukee might simply not have the answers needed to solve the questions posed by the Miami Heat. We’ve seen that before, in the 2020 playoffs in the Bubble, when Jimmy Butler and the Heat beat the Bucks 4-1. That story is well-known around these parts, and the odds are very much pointing towards that outcome as the most likely.
On the other hand, the series can also go the way of the 2021 playoffs, also in the semifinal round, where the Bucks were outclassed enough times to sow serious doubt and faced elimination against an opponent that had no reason to fear them. These Heat are not those Nets, and however disastrous a first round exit might be, the fact of the matter is that the Bucks can’t afford to think about how much else might be in front of them. No, the only thing that matters from this point on is what’s right in front of their face, one game, one quarter, one possession at a time.
Maybe they’ll falter. They’ll probably falter, there has not been any indication that the team can actually get its act together in time. But there’s still a chance, and if this team takes any pride whatsoever in what they do, they’ll seize that chance and give it all they’ve got.