I’m not sure what caused it, but I felt some sort of feeling before Sunday’s playoff opener for the Milwaukee Bucks.
As I waited what felt like forever for the day games to wrap up and Milwaukee to take the court Sunday evening in Miami, I thought maybe something crazy COULD happen. I was inundated with articles and columns about how focused the Bucks were. How ready they would be. How they had nothing to lose. Living in the city of the team expected by all to possibly challenge for most blown out team in playoff history is an interesting thing.
The long odds are acknowledged, yet everyone’s going through the motions as if there’s a chance. And after enough going through those motions, suddenly you convince yourself, “Hey, maybe this thing could happen. Maybe not a series win, but maybe they could take one down. And why not tonight?”
I guess now I know, “Why not tonight?” Why not? Because the Heat, that’s why. Because LeBron James. Because Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade. And apparently, because Birdman.
From start to finish, the Heat gave a lot of good answers to any questions you, I or anyone else may have had about them, not that we had many to begin with. Miami jumped on the Bucks early, quickly going ahead by 13 before letting off the gas a bit. The Bucks hung around and cut the lead to as little as three points. A seven point halftime deficit felt like a solid accomplishment from the Bucks.
Rather than let Milwaukee build on the modicum of success they had established, the Heat pounced quick in the third and on the heels of a ridiculously complex, yet easy looking dunk from James and a put-back from Birdman Chris Andersen, they put Milwaukee away in the third. Maybe it took longer than many expected, but Miami blew out the Bucks and brought Milwaukee back to reality.
|Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, PF 29 MIN | 2-4 FG | 2-2 FT | 3 REB | 0 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 6 PTS | -15Has to play a lot, isn’t capable of contributing much. You almost have to wonder if it’s not even worth playing Mbah a Moute and Daniels. Are they even capable of slowing down LeBron James at this point? He’s doing what he wants, regardless of who is out there for the Bucks. So why not just put the best players you have out there and deal with the results? I don’t know, that’s probably kind of drastic and reactionary, but Milwaukee’s going to need something drastic to happen, simply to win a game.|
|Ersan Ilyasova, SF 28 MIN | 1-7 FG | 0-0 FT | 6 REB | 0 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 2 PTS | -14Miami is very aware of who is good and who isn’t on the Bucks. They know how efficient Ilyasova can be and how much damage his shooting can do. He had no space to breathe on Sunday, let alone get off a shot. The Heat closed out very hard on Ers and made him put the ball on the ground before he took shots. Also, I always get the feeling that the bright lights aren’t a friend of his. He’s always battling with his confidence and in and out of games mentally – this stage may not be for him.|
|Larry Sanders, C 19 MIN | 3-7 FG | 0-2 FT | 5 REB | 0 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 6 PTS | -22This was more of the Larry Sanders of last season, rather than the one that impressed spectators, scouts and centers across the NBA this season. He fouled LeBron James less than a minutes into the game after turning the ball over after failing to get out on Chris Bosh in the corner. Rough start. He missed some shots around the rim and then picked up his fourth foul very quick in the third quarter. Milwaukee wasn’t great when he was on the court and they were dreadful when he was off too.|
|Monta Ellis, PG 39 MIN | 10-19 FG | 1-6 FT | 4 REB | 3 AST | 4 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 22 PTS | -26The matching 1-for-6 performances from behind the arc and at the line aren’t very fun. This is almost a magnificent win for Ellis though, considering he didn’t even crack double figures on average against the Heat during the regular season. Milwaukee’s going to need heroic performances out of both he and Jennings if they’re going to win a game though. Fittingly, he was a -26 on the night, while Dwyane Wade finished the game a +26.|
|Brandon Jennings, PG 33 MIN | 8-20 FG | 6-7 FT | 1 REB | 2 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 3 TO | 26 PTS | -9After all the hoopla made of his prediction of Bucks in six (and really, what was he supposed to say?), Jennings did his best to backup the tough talk with a solid performance. He doesn’t need to just play well, he has to probably have the best shooting series of his life in order for the Bucks to even challenge. Milwaukee’s going to need five or six threes made a game from Jennings and nights closer to 50% shooting than 30%. This was a good start for him offensively, as he connected on some floaters that are always tough for him. He can spark the team a bit, but they need way more than a spark.|
|Ekpe Udoh, PF 21 MIN | 2-3 FG | 0-0 FT | 3 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 4 PTS | +2The only player with a net positive plus/minus on the night. Of course. He always finds a way, doesn’t he?|
|John Henson, PF 20 MIN | 3-7 FG | 0-0 FT | 5 REB | 0 AST | 2 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 6 PTS | -9His first taste of playoff basketball was a lot more difficult than his first taste of the Miami Heat, when he exploded for 17 points and 18 rebounds back in December. He wasn’t being taken lightly on Sunday. His willingness to be aggressive is admirable, but the two airballs he ended up with were a bummer. Sometimes that’s going to happen, but sometimes he’ll make his short little lefty hooks too, so he’s just got to keep on being aggressive and getting his reps.|
|Mike Dunleavy, SF 17 MIN | 2-4 FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 2 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 5 PTS | -12It was surprising how little he played, but I guess that owes to his inability to be a difference maker on the defensive end. Milwaukee needs as much offense as it does defense though, so there will have to be a better balance of minutes between he, Redick, Mbah a Moute and Daniels going forward for sure.|
|Marquis Daniels, SF 11 MIN | 1-3 FG | 0-0 FT | 2 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 2 PTS | -3I’m not sure he can log more than a few minutes a game if the Bucks are going to challenge for more than 30 minutes.|
|J.J. Redick, SG 16 MIN | 1-6 FG | 3-3 FT | 1 REB | 3 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 6 PTS | -7He’s a pro, so it will never be obvious, but you have to wonder if his mind is starting to wander off towards the summer, when he can find a team that’s a better fit. 16 minutes in a playoff game? I’m not even sure that can be adjusted much with success, the more I think about it. He’s a terrible matchup for the Bucks against the Heat. Unless he took minutes from Ellis, he’s just too small to play the three against Miami very often.|
|Jim BoylanDunleavy and Redick combine for 33 minutes. Mbah a Moute and Daniels combine for 40. That’s something that has to be figured out. Can the Bucks do anything defensively? Can they get creative and maybe hide three offensive perimeter players behind Sanders and maybe Udoh or Henson? Adjustments need to be made. Rapidly. But still, I’m not sure there’s much Boylan can do.|
Three Things We Saw
- The scariest part? It didn’t even seem like the Bucks played particularly poor or that the Heat played particularly well. It just seemed like this was kind of a tablestakes playoff game, where both teams brought their most basic games.
- LeBron’s shot chart, which made its way around the internet on Sunday evening. Whew, this guy, amiright?
- Game two is Tuesday. From a point differential stand point, it can’t get any worse, right? RIGHT!?