The Milwaukee Bucks didn’t have a warm-up act, no time to build confidence against a lower-tier piñata, marching right into the fire against the team that exposed them last summer.
And instead of curling up or falling into old ways, the Bucks quickly pooped the Miami Heat, perhaps the first step in changing the narrative – or at the very least, returning the favor by exposing the loopholes. from Miami’s list, creating questions for the future.
The first team to sweep their opponent in this year’s playoffs can sit for a week and, if they so choose, bask in the resounding questions that have been resoundingly answered before tackling Brooklyn or Boston.
It wasn’t quite the coming-of-age tales we saw in the ’80s and’ 90s, where rivalries developed and turned into bitterness and determination to overcome the bump, but Miami was Milwaukee‘s boogeyman, his worst philosophical nightmare.
Can you handle the physical game against a team with crafty veterans? The Bucks have kept their cool when the going gets tough on several occasions over the past three games, playing above the scrum once they’ve been pushed, tripped, or provoked.
Can you stop the catalysts for last year’s unlikely Miami finale? Jimmy Butler certainly didn’t look good, but Giannis Antetokounmpo cast a long shadow over the Miami frontman, creating for a miserable week only matched by Bam Adebayo who looked as bad as since he became a prime-time player by … Brook Lopez.
And the biggest question of all: Can Giannis handle the defensive looks that have blocked him in the last two playoffs?
Oh, there’s another base fadeaway from the midrange, a newly developed weapon that he seems to trust more of, one that takes out stifling doubles, one that takes the pressure off him against five pairs of eyes trying to intimidate him from 30 feet to the basket.
When that adds up, it presents a picture of a team that has just as much a chance as any to come out not only of the Eastern Conference, but also as champions. Vision was probably the reason so much hangs on this playoff series, as not only is the potential there, but maturity should be.
They will be outsiders in the court of public opinion, but they don’t want to.
Antetokounmpo had a triple-double in the Game 4 clincher (20 points, 15 assists, 12 rebounds), but he didn’t force the action, not even when the Heat reversed the streak’s tide of play. from behind and take a double digit. lead in the first half.
“It’s the growth of basketball, you know, I’ve tried to influence the game in every way I can,” Antetokounmpo said. “And I’m lucky enough to – I can affect the game defensively, I can pass the ball, there will be days when I’m going to be dominant. And I’m mature enough to understand that there will be days when I will be able to do it and in a few days I won’t be able to do it [dominate]. “
Led by Antetokounmpo, the Bucks played the most impressive defense in the first round, and that includes the Los Angeles Lakers. So even in the face of a deficit, the game was there for the taking – it only took a few minutes of concentration.
Keeping the Heat at just 38% shots in the first three games gave them a lot of confidence that a quick flash would put things aside, a formula that can be duplicated in the next three rounds. This is why Game 1 was so important, when many mistakenly believed Miami was getting close to stealing Game 1 in overtime while playing so terribly was a good sign. The omen was for the Bucks, who saw a game that shouldn’t have been close but won when it shouldn’t have.
Khris Middleton’s match winner didn’t exactly seal the sweep at the time, but gave the team a boost of confidence.
Middleton continued his assault once things got going in South Florida, scoring 16 points in Saturday’s third quarter in a way that’s easy to forget in the regular season but impossible to ignore now. It seems to be in the right place without attracting too much attention, but a perfect addition to Antetokounmpo.
Not even tangling with Goran Dragic twice in the four games could throw Middleton out of his rhythm, finishing the series within 50% of the field and 41% of the three-point range.
“Every year you find experience. Learn from it, ”Middleton said. “But you don’t bring the past to lose or to avenge. This series had nothing to do with last year at all. They were the best team last year, this year I think we were the best team.
The game was still technically close with 12 minutes left, but the streak was over. The loose balls hung up by Lopez, PJ Tucker and Bobby Portis were demoralizing, simple as it sounds, as this team is tougher than the last two editions.
“I thought the balance was great, you know, Khris and Giannis and Jrue [Holiday] and Brook is leading the way, ”Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said. “And then just the defense, I think, really, for the whole series, gave us a great opportunity.”
Perhaps the biggest compliment to the Bucks: On several occasions in Games 3 and 4, Miami seemed to be doing everything right. He played with energy and intention, performing and displaying playing discipline, and scoring effectively.
But somehow, the Bucks’ lead continued to grow without them doing anything spectacular, reaching three corners and not giving much importance to the Heat’s strength.
It’s devastating even for a proud and accomplished team like the Miami Heat. It’s potentially devastating for the Brooklyn Nets, the expected game in the next series if they go about business against the under-equipped Celtics.
“Both teams have a lot of firepower, they’re really exciting,” said Middleton. “But also, a great opportunity.”
An opportunity to take another test following this first, a direct-A exam that came easier than expected.
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