The Miami Heat did exactly what I thought they would: shut down the Milwaukee Bucks. Game 1 of their Eastern Semifinals series, was every bit of the challenge for the Bucks, I said it would be in this very space. It wasn’t for the reason most people thought, though.
Coming into this matchup, the overarching theme you’d hear was: three point shooting. I’ve mentioned this before myself, but I also knew this wouldn’t be the deciding factor in this series. The Bucks shot a higher percentage from three (45.7 percent), than did the Heat (38.7 percent). Milwaukee attempted and made more threes than Miami as well. So how did Miami pull off the Game 1 victory?
Miami didn’t need to make many threes because they were able to use Milwaukee’s aggressive rim protection defense, against them. Usually this would result in more threes made, but the Heat did a great job mixing their offense. Some possessions would lead to a three made solely on the Heat faking the drive and sidestepping for the three. Other possessions would see the Heat blowing by defenders to score in the paint, which was the REAL story.
Miami outscored Milwaukee in the paint, 42-24. You read that correctly. A team with Giannis, whose ability to score in the paint is Shaq like, was held to 24 points in that area. Miami limited Giannis and the Bucks’ ability to get to the cup and it paid dividends. (Like it or not, Eric Bledsoe was missed.)
One could argue had Khris Middleton and Brook Lopez stayed hot from the outside, the Bucks could have held on to the 11-point lead they amassed in the first half. Thing is; they didn’t, and you have to live with the fact they couldn’t (or wouldn’t) throw the ball into Lake Michigan, standing on Bradford Beach, in the second half. (Yes, Brook only missed 2 shots all game and Middleton shot 50 percent from the field, but it was VASTLY different halves for them both.)
Factor in Jimmy Butler going off and closing this game (40 points), factor in the Bucks shooting just 53 percent from the line, factor in some mind-boggling personnel decisions by Mike Budenholzer down the stretch (like sitting Wesley Matthews the last 5 minutes of the game, when he was doing a phenomenal job of defending Butler) and you’re left with a Game 1 loss.
As frustrating as this loss is, it’s only Game 1. It’s not as if Milwaukee didn’t do some things well in this game, they did. When the screws tightened, as they did in last season’s Eastern Conference Finals, against an elite defense, they STILL had no answers down the stretch. The team is going to have to do this together and for TWO sustainable halves.
Game 2 is an opportunity for Milwaukee to be consistent in both halves. The screws tighten even more in a 0-2 deficit. This is not a hole the Bucks can afford to get into. The Bucks must seize the opportunity and prove to themselves they’ve learned from battles past.