New on Sports Illustrated: There's a Lot of Blame to Share for Milwaukee's Historic Collapse

September 05, 2020 at 07:57AM

Three thoughts on Miami's shocking Game 3 win over the Bucks that all but guarantees Milwaukee's early elimination.

The Heat put up a historic final 12 minutes en route to taking a 3–0 lead over the No. 1 seed Bucks on Friday, outscoring Milwaukee by a playoff-record 27 points in the fourth quarter before securing a 115–100 win. Jimmy Butler was spectacular, pouring in 30 points by willing himself to the free-throw line. 

For the third straight game, presumptive MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo couldn’t take control, scoring a disappointing 21 points while shooting a subpar 7-of-21 from the floor. Here are three thoughts on Miami‘s shocking win.

Mike Budenholzer Didn’t Do Enough

Milwaukee’s head coach made some important adjustments in Game 3. Budenholzer tightened his rotation, excising most of Pat Connaughton’s and Kyle Korver’s minutes while boosting Donte Divencenzo’s. He gave Giannis more minutes at center. And he even let Antetokounmpo guard Butler in the fourth. The efficacy of those moves varied, but altogether, they simply weren’t enough. 

In a must-win, do-or-die game, Giannis and Khris Middleton didn’t play enough. Why is Middleton playing only 9 minutes in the fourth? Why is Giannis playing only 10? Bud looked especially stubborn when he removed Antetokounmpo in the fourth at the 8:41 mark—right after Miami had scored seven straight points to cut the lead to four. Your team is reeling, the opponent is making a run, you’re down 2–0, and you take out your best player in that situation? It makes no sense. Even if Middleton and Giannis both played the entire fourth, they still wouldn’t have reached 40 minutes for the night. 

It’s coaching malpractice. It may have cost the Bucks their season. And it may end up costing Budenholzer his job.

Giannis Antetokounmpo Didn’t Do Enough

The Greek Freak was held in check again on Friday. His averages in this series are well below where they were in the regular season. And while it’s possible Antetokounmpo was slowed by a right ankle tweak suffered in the first half (he said after the game that he wasn’t), his performance was still incredibly disappointing. 

Antetokounmpo bailed out the Heat by shooting a whopping seven threes. He missed all of them (though in fairness, one was a desperation heave with seconds left). 21 points, 16 rebounds and nine assists is hardly a line to scoff at, but Giannis never looked comfortable in Game 3. Whatever better offense Milwaukee earned when Antetokounmpo was stationed at the free-throw line was canceled out by his inability to consistently get in the paint, as well as shooters who couldn’t capitalize on the looks they got in the fourth.

It”s unfair to put this series all at Giannis’s feet. The Heat are uniquely equipped to slow him down thanks to their cadre of disciplined wing defenders and brilliance in execution. Still, in both Games 2 and 3, Antetokounmpo failed to take over in the manner you would expect from a player of his caliber facing adversity. All the great ones have to go through some tough losses in the postseason. But you would like to see someone as talented as Giannis put up more of a fight with his back against the wall. 

At no point in this matchup has Antetokounmpo overwhelmed Miami as he did practically everyone during the regular season. It’s a baffling performance, and one that typically invites questions and speculation.

Playoff Jimmy Buckets

The Bucks scored 13 points in the fourth quarter. Jimmy Butler scored 17.

Jimmy shot 4-of-7 from the field and 9-of-11 from the line. With Giannis picking him up for the final few minutes, Butler still took advantage, forcing Antetokounmpo into pick-and-rolls and rather effortlessly driving into the lane. On a play that would eventually feel like the dagger, Butler called for Goran Dragic to screen Giannis, collapsed the defense into the paint by quickly turning the corner on the pick, and found Jae Crowder for a wide-open three on the left wing. It was a backbreaking shot—Crowder sank the three (his fifth of the night) to give Miami a seven-point lead with just over two minutes to go. 

The Heat would only need to make some free throws the rest of the way to ice the win. Milwaukee never scored again.

Time and time again, Butler is making the right play. When the Heat are desperate for offense, he can end runs by finding his way to the free-throw line. His jumpshot, absent for all of the regular season, has magically come to life this series. And he’s also a willing distributor. The Heat are a well-oiled machine greater than the sum of their parts. They have several important pieces. But after years of consternation about his abilities as a teammate, Butler is now on the verge of spearheading one of the best upsets in playoff history. Jimmy certainly has bigger goals, but this series could go a long way in vindicating the last few years of his career. 

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