Grant Green – 23 Sports

A new face for Miami is working out to plan, the Miami Heat are going to the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time in six years, dating back to when the Heatles were ruling the NBA. On the other hand, Milwaukee once again disappoints in the playoffs, leaving a lot of questions about what changes need to be made. 

Neither team went through anything challenging in the first round. Miami cruised past Indiana, winning by an average of 11 points per game. And Milwaukee, on the other hand, cruised past Orlando the last four games after a Game 1 upset, winning by an average of 15 points there. So now sets up a #1 vs. #5 seed matchup with home-court advantage meaning absolutely nothing.

 Game 1 it was the Jimmy Butler show for the Heat with a personal playoff high, 40 points. Goran Dragic also had quite a game himself, putting up 27 points on 9-15 shooting. But the big thing about this game was Giannis Antetokounmpo’s failure to be a key factor, only 18 points on 6-12 shooting while Khris Middleton and Brook Lopez kept the Bucks in reach, scoring 28 and 24, respectively. Not to mention free throw shooting holding the Bucks back as Milwaukee shot 54% while Miami did their job shooting 93% and pulling off the upset win 115-104.

Game 2, Milwaukee seemed to be back with a little more focus, but Miami jumped to a lead early and never let go until the waning minutes of the game when things started to get dicey. Miami up 9 with 1:56 remaining in the fourth, Giannis scored seven straight for Milwaukee leading a 9-2 run to the 8.5 mark. Now it’s 113-111 Miami. Miami’s Butler proceeded to split the next set of free throws, and after the first controversial call by referee Marc Davis, Middleton, who was fouled by Dragic behind the line, would sink all three free throws, tying the game at 114. Following a timeout, the very next play, Giannis is called for a foul on a second controversial call with 0.0 remaining. Butler was the one to go to the line where he would make both free throws leaving the Bucks with their hands tied, giving Miami a 116-114 win. Milwaukee shot poorly from the three, only 28%, although Giannis did step up with 29 points and 14 rebounds. But a -7 +/- following being a -14 in Game 1 which was the worst on the team, continued to hurt Milwaukee. Miami now up 2-0 in the series.

In Game 3, Milwaukee had everything set for a win, up 12, 87-75 at the end of the third, it was their game to lose. However, failing to close out a game once again, they were outscored in the fourth by 27 and went scoreless for nearly 3 minutes. Giannis was a no-show as well, with only 2 points in the final quarter, similar to Game 1 with only one point then. Jimmy Buckets had another big game with 30 points. Neither Giannis nor Middleton shot well at all, 7-21 and 7-16, respectively. For a second straight game, Miami outshot Milwaukee from inside and outside the arc, and now the same team that some said wouldn’t even make the playoffs, is up 3-0, final score 115-100 Miami.

Desperation time for Milwaukee as they head into Game 4 looking to avoid a sweep, things soon got worse if the series itself wasn’t already bad enough. Early in the second quarter, Giannis suffered an ankle sprain that kept him out for the rest of the game, leaving Middleton to be the leader, and did he ever prove he could be one. After going into overtime tied at 107, Middleton had 7 overtime points including a big three to put the Bucks up four with 6.9 remaining. His effort was enough to get a 118-115 win despite a couple of big threes late from Tyler Herro, saving Milwaukee from a humiliating sweep, but now forced to try to come out of a 3-0 hole without their likely back to back reigning MVP.

Only three teams have come back from a 3-0 deficit in NBA history, New York Knicks back in 1951, the Nuggets in 1994, and the Trail Blazers as recently as 2003. The only problem is that all of these teams fell short in Game 7, but the Bucks looked to defy the odds and make a little history of their own. Milwaukee needed a spark to get them through another game of this treacherous comeback, especially after Giannis was declared out a little less than an hour before tip-off, and where was this spark going to come from? Well, nobody, and that was the problem. Despite Miami’s very sloppy play with 22 turnovers, the Bucks could not take advantage. Milwaukee’s last lead came four minutes into the second quarter, they failed to retain another one again. The Bucks once again shot poorly from 3, only 27%. Nobody in particular stood out. Middleton put up 23 points, 7 rebounds and 6 assists; Lopez had 15 points and 14 rebounds, but nobody was there to take over. Miami won by nine (103-94) despite no Heat player scoring over 20 and their leading scorers, Dragic and Butler, putting up only 17 each, but still enough for a series win.

Outlook:

Miami now waits for the winner of the Raptors v Celtics series (3-3), becoming the first five seed to make the conference finals since Memphis back in 2013, and the Bucks leave the bubble with another season disappointment, and now the trade rumors have officially begun. Giannis recently shared his thoughts about his situation, “That’s not happening. Some see a wall and go in [another direction]. I plow through it.” But many teams are ready to be dynasties, teams like Toronto, Miami and Golden State are being thrown around. How those teams handle their offseason remains to be seen. However, maybe it’s not Giannis leaving. Chris Paul’s name is starting to get thrown around as an option as well. If the Bucks want to keep Giannis, they need to bring someone in, a 1a for Giannis’ 1, a Kobe for his Shaq, if not, do not be surprised to see Giannis do what Lebron James did back in 2010.

This series was a tale of two stories, the Heat are 8-1 in the playoffs. Yet, the Bucks fail to capitalize on what was supposed to be a championship roster, certainly after attaining the overall #1 seed a month ago. Many people will look back to the 2019 Eastern Conference Finals when Milwaukee led 2-0 and proceeded to lose four straight to the champions of that year, the Toronto Raptors. But looking back even to 2018 when Milwaukee gassed Giannis, playing him an average 40 minutes a game and failing to finish a seven game series against a very depleted Boston team.

Miami, on the other hand, will only see tougher games ahead, whomever they face, may it be Toronto or Boston, they will be matched. Boston and Toronto were both top two in points per game allowed. Miami will need Butler at the top of his game in every game, and need everybody who stepped up in the Semifinals; Herro, Dragic, Adebayo, everybody, to continue playing at a high level. They have reached the point where their depth and team chemistry is not enough of a factor alone, but there are no signs that say Miami can’t be the team to come out of the East.

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