After escaping with an overtime victory in Game 1, the Milwaukee Bucks promptly took the Miami Heat behind the woodshed. The Bucks dominated the next three games and completed their first-round sweep with a 120–103 triumph in Game 4. They did it despite Giannis Antetokounmpo playing merely like a superstar rather than the two-time reigning NBA MVP.
Some will claim the win “avenges” Milwaukee’s loss to the Heat in last season’s Eastern Conference semifinals. Those claims always seem silly. Winning today does not undo losing yesterday. However, the big question is whether the Bucks’ sweep is a sign of better things to come?
Milwaukee Bucks took apart the Miami Heat by disarming Jimmy Butler
In last year’s playoffs, the Miami Heat won the first three games against the Milwaukee Bucks and advanced in five games. They even won all three “road” games. However, it’s worth remembering that being on the road inside the Orlando bubble just meant the other team’s logo was on the floor.
In last year’s victory, Jimmy Butler paced the Miami Heat, shooting 53.2 percent overall, going 5-of-11 from 3-point range, and making 85.2% from the line while attempting more than 10 free throws per game. He averaged 23.4 points, 5.8 rebounds, 4.4 assists, 1.8 steals, and 17.7 scowls (an estimate, of course) per game.
This year, Butler wasn’t Miami’s leading scorer. He wasn’t their second-leading scorer. He couldn’t outscore Milwaukee reserve Bryn Forbes, who finished the series with 60 points in 80 minutes. Butler dropped 58 in 154 minutes. Once upon a time, one would conclude Butler had been legit pwned.
Butler averaged 14.5 points per game, nine or so less than 2020, and he did it on more volume. In the five-game win last year, Butler took 62 shots. He hoisted 64 attempts while being swept this time around. But Butler shot a chilly 29.7% overall, made 4-of-15 from range, and hit 72.7% from the line. He got only 5.5 attempts per game this time around.
What does it mean for the Bucks moving forward?
The Milwaukee Bucks entered this year’s NBA Playoffs as the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference. That comes after being the top seed each of the last two years. Those two No. 1 spots netted the Bucks precisely zero trips to the NBA Finals.
They were dominant in the first round in 2019, sweeping the overmatched Detroit Pistons. Milwaukee continued their roll, bouncing back from a Game 1 loss in the Eastern Conference semifinals to bounce the Boston Celtics in five games. But after winning by eight and 22 points in the first two games of the conference finals, the Toronto Raptors figured things out, taking four games straight.
In the bubble last fall, the Bucks lost Game 1 to the Orlando Magic. Four straight double-digit wins followed that. Then they were blown out by Miami.
This year, Milwaukee will either get the Celtics or the star-studded Brooklyn Nets. Surprisingly, the Bucks went 1-2 against Boston, losing on the road and splitting two games at Fiserv Forum. The home team won all three games of the series between the Nets and Milwaukee (where the teams played twice). It’s worth noting James Harden missed Brooklyn’s losses.
Giannis Antetokounmpo was still dominant against Miami
Giannis Antetokounmpo didn’t have an MVP-level series against the Miami Heat. But make no mistake, he was very much what made the Milwaukee Bucks go. He struggled from 3-point range, going 1-of-16, but in fairness, the guy is a 28.7% career shooter from out there. It’s possible that after eight seasons, we might have to face the fact that being a long-range threat is not everyone’s destiny.
But inside the arc? Antetokounmpo hit 54.7% of his shots while also averaging 15.0 rebounds, 7.8 assists, and 1.8 steals per game. The Bucks went six-deep with double-digit scorers in the series, so the big man had help.
Milwaukee does have a hole in the rotation moving forward. Guard Donte DiVincenzo tore a ligament in his left ankle in Game 3. He’s out for the playoffs.
The Bucks started Pat Connaughton in Game 4, and he did not respond well. Connaughton had two points on 1-of-5 shooting, missing all four of his deep tries. He was 8-of-15 from range off the bench in the first three games, scoring 41 points in the process.
The Milwaukee Bucks have a lot of recent history hanging over their heads and are 50 years removed from the franchise’s only title. So it’s easy to view their first-round sweep with at least a bit of skepticism.
Statistics courtesy of Basketball Reference.