[caption id="attachment_313726" align="aligncenter" width="1920"] (@MiamiHEAT)
Good afternoon, folks. Are the Bucks this bad? Or are the Heat this good? Let's talk NBA Bubble.
The Bucks are bad, the Heat are good
Before we get into this epic collapse from the Milwaukee Bucks, I want to give some credit to head coach Mike Budenholzer, who would seemingly rather die as the captain of a sinking ship rather than change course to avoid the giant iceberg staring them right in the eyes. His tunnel vision is almost admirable...
Milwaukee drove straight into the iceberg on Friday, apparently believing they could power right through it and come out on the other side unscathed. The Miami Heat outscored the Bucks 40-13 in the fourth quarter-- THE LARGEST FOURTH QUARTER MARGIN IN NBA HISTORY--to secure a 115-100 Game 3 win that has all but put this series to bed. Milwaukee led by 12 points with 12 minutes left and lost by 15. To say the Bucks simply fell apart would be an understatement. They were ripped limb by limb.
I'm not sure which is more indicative of how this series should be described: are the Bucks just not that good, or ar the Heat just that
undervalued? Well, we're now three games into the Eastern Conference Semifinals, and Milwaukee has yet to show that they can even pretend to hang with the absurd energy that radiates from the Miami roster. The Heat took a commanding 3-0 lead in the series on Friday night, an advantage that no NBA team in history has ever been able to overcome. The hot button topics that have consumed the news waves through the first two games were back again in Game 3; why aren't the Bucks best players playing the most minutes possible?
Giannis Antetokounmpo (35 minutes played) and Khris Middleton (36 minutes) are, without a sliver of doubt, the two best players on the Milwaukee sideline. For the third consecutive game, they both failed to play more than 75 percent of the actual game--including head-scratching breaks during the middle of the fourth quarter with the Bucks' postseason lives on the line. Middleton sat for 30 seconds around the 4-minute mark while Giannis sat out nearly two minutes starting at around the 8-minute mark, all in the fourth quarter of a must-win Game 3. I can understand doing something like this during the regular season--and it clearly yielded positive results at the time--but this is becoming inexcusable. It's likely going to cost Budenholzer (the 2019 NBA Coach of the Year) his job once the Heat does manage to polish this series off. If Giannis doesn't play at least 40 minutes in Game 4, just go ahead and pack it up.
The clock on Giannis' free agency in the summer of 2021 has been ticking for a while, and back-to-back exits in the conference semifinals after finishing the regular season with the NBA's best overall record brings back 2010 Cleveland Cavaliers vibes. And we all know what LeBron James did that following summer...
*Did Giannis most likely injury his ankle in the first quarter? Yes. But then what is the excuse for limited minutes in Games 1 and 2?*
But it's not just Giannis' poor shooting display (he is 15.4 percent from 3 and 54.1 percent from the free-throw line through the first three games) or Budenholzer's poorly timed distribution of his best player's minutes, the Bucks just looked outmatched from top to bottom. Miami might just be the better team, and right now, it would be hard to argue against that theory.
Jimmy Butler and Goran Dragic have been the two best players on the floor throughout the entire series, regardless of team. Butler, specifically, has been the do-it-all man for the Heat, scoring when he needs to (he dropped 30 last night with 17 of them coming in the fourth quarter) and always playing with a relentless amount of energy that influences every single one of his teammates. Bam Adebayo
has been a consistent centerpiece for the Miami offense and he was firing on all cylinders Friday night, adding 20 points, 16 rebounds, three assists, and two blocks while shooting 7-8 from the field. He also played some pretty damn good defense on the soon-to-be two-time NBA MVP, including this excellent display of how to guard Giannis (and Middleton) on the ball.
win a Defensive Player of the Year award one day.
continues to play big minutes down the stretch for Miami but struggled with his shot a bit on Friday, going just 3-11 from the floor for 11 points.
Lastly, we need to have a brief discussion about Bucks guard Eric Bledsoe
, and whether or not Milwaukee made the correct decision when choosing the former Wildcat over Malcolm Brogdon (in hindsight, the answer is probably no). Something about the playoff atmosphere must get inside Bledsoe's head because he's played poorly in the two games he's been out there for this series. He's coming off a minor hamstring injury that could surely still be nagging him, but this is the third year in a row that Bledsoe has been inefficient in the postseason. At some point, you have to produce on the floor in the same way your contract reflects your value. Bledsoe hasn't done that yet and it's hurting his team's chances.
Rockets shock Lakers in Game 1
At this point, trying to predict what will happen in the second round of these playoffs feels pointless, and that was even more true after the Houston Rockets thrashed the top-seeded Los Angeles Lakers by a final score of 112-97 in Game 1. I would have expected some sort of fatigue out of Houston after an exhausting seven-game series against the Oklahoma City Thunder, but then I remembered that James Harden doesn't really move at all on offense or defense, and Russell Westbrook is built to run forever. That duo combined for 60 of the Rockets' points.
From the early stages of the night, Houston looked like the better team. They took an eight-point lead into the intermission and outscored L.A. 27-18 in the final period to run away with the win. The Lakers did not lead during any point in the game after the first quarter. Houston used small-ball tactics to their advantage, as they've done for two seasons now, and it mucked up any offensive rhythm for the Lakers, who turned the ball over 17 times and shot 42 percent from the floor.
The lone bright spot for L.A. was Anthony Davis
posting 25 points, 14 rebounds, three steals, and three blocks while shooting 10-16 from the field. But the Lakers were simply outhustled, there's no other way to slice it. Rajon Rondo
also made his Bubble debut in this outing, but I don't have many positives to add about his performance. He did knock down two triples, but was a liability on defense, went 3-9 from the floor, turned the ball over four times, and bogged down the Lakers offense. Alex Caruso played only 16 minutes while Rondo was in for 24; those should be reversed going forward.
I'm not worried about the Lakers quite yet, considering they hadn't played a game in six days before Friday night, but there were definitely causes for concern. The Rockets are playing legitimately good defense, and their smaller "centers" have no problem bodying up actual seven-footers such as Dwight Howard and JaVale McGee. The Lakers don't have a Lu Dort-type much like the Oklahoma City Thunder did in the previous round. Unless LeBron wants to take on full-time duties of defending James Harden, there isn't anything they can do to stop him without double-teaming and forcing someone else to beat them.
But let's not forget, the Portland Trail Blazers beat the Lakers in Game 1 of the opening round and then went on to win four straight. It's a long series.
Series standings from Friday
EASTERN CONFERENCE SEMIFINALS
(5) Heat lead (1) Bucks 3-0
WESTERN CONFERENCE SEMIFINALS
(4) Rockets lead (1) Lakers 1-0
[table id=580 /]
TONIGHT IN THE BUBBLE
6:30 (TNT): Raptors @ Celtics (Kanter) [BOS leads 2-1]
9:00 (TNT): Nuggets (Murray)
@ Clippers (Patterson) [LAC leads 1-0]