The Milwaukee Bucks extinguished the Miami Heat, 120-103, to complete the (satisfying) sweep in the first-round of the NBA Playoffs. The sweep was shocking to most, but the series victory was less so. The talent and play were far better for the Bucks this postseason.
Let’s talk about the talent. A 4-1 series loss in last postseason’s matchup, set a roster overhaul in motion for Milwaukee. They knew they had to acquire more consistent shooting, a smarter offensive presence at the point, as well as more versatile and physical defensive players. Enter Jrue Holiday, Bryn Forbes, Bobby Portis, and during the season P.J. Tucker.
Holiday has been a difference maker over his predecessor Eric Bledsoe. No, this isn’t a knock on Bledsoe, I appreciate what he did for the Bucks. But this team is judged by what they do in postseason. Bledsoe hoisting up threes at inopportune times and not displaying a higher basketball IQ in clutch time moments, were a big problem.
Holiday’s defensive prowess, strength, and versatility has caused fits for teams all season. His more consistent shooting, drive ability, and high IQ passing, has unlocked another facet of this offense: Giannis and Brook in the post. Bucks have been able to get easy baskets down low and from distance as a result.
Forbes shot a career-high 45 percent from 3 in the regular season and was a flamethrower this series. A robust 48.5 percent from distance, helped to stretch Miami’s defense with devastating results.
Portis was (and is) an important piece off the bench for the Bucks. A good regular season which saw Portis average 11.4 points, 7.1 rebounds, and career-high 47 percent from three, has been followed up with a solid first-round series. (10.8 points, 5.3 rebounds, 46 percent from three, solid defense and invaluable hustle plays.)
The mid-season acquisition of P.J. Tucker, was always meant to pay dividends in postseason. Most were quick to judge Tucker in the regular season, not truly understanding why the move was made and how much it would eventually pay off. His veteran presence, hard-nosed defense, and toughness has added an edge that is immeasurable on a team such as this.
The biggest change, at least for me, has been Giannis. (I can see the puzzles looks and furrowed brows. Allow me to make it make sense.) the last two postseasons, Giannis has run into two teams that have the personnel to deploy an effective wall against him, in the Toronto Raptors and the Miami Heat. He didn’t fair very well. Neither did the team as a result. (Both series ended up as losses for the Bucks.)
In those series, Giannis would get frustrated because of the wall. Frustrated to the point of getting cheap fouls, turning the ball over, etc. The Heat did put up a decent wall this series, but Giannis didn’t panic. He trusted his teammates to make shots, (something they didn’t do consistently enough in the aforementioned series) and displayed far more patience. A triple-double to close out the series and complete the sweep, showcased the increased maturity of his game.
This series wasn’t about revenge for the Bucks, but they understood the moment. A chance to finish off the defending Eastern Conference Champions in 4 games and not give them an ounce of hope. “Don’t play with your food.”, said Giannis after the victory.
That statement and their play on the floor proves this edition of the Milwaukee Bucks isn’t like years past. There is a killer instinct that wasn’t present in previous seasons. It may be time the rest of the league takes heed and Fear the Deer.