The Milwaukee Bucks Fell Apart and Now Face Elimination From the NBA Playoffs

Milwaukee has to figure out how to score against the Heat or face another early elimination

Bucks star Giannis looks on during game three against Miami
Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks on the court during the fourth quarter against the Miami Heat in Game Three of the Eastern Conference Second Round during the 2020 NBA Playoffs.
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Through three quarters of a must-win game three against the Miami Heat, the Milwaukee Bucks looked, if not great, then at least like some form of the best team in the NBA. And then, in twelve minutes of hell, Miami outscored the Bucks 40-13, and now that same best team in the NBA faces a historically insurmountable 3-0 deficit and yet another disappointingly early playoff exit.

How did this happen? Credit to Miami, who entered the last quarter down by 12 but rode Jimmy Butler’s 17 points in the fourth while also clamping down on Milwaukee on the other end. The Bucks continued their series-long struggle to get things going against the Miami defense keyed in on stopping soon-to-be MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo, as best shown by the Heat’s 17-1 run to close out the game. And that’s where the problems seem to lie for Milwaukee.

Despite needing to win at all costs to avoid being down three games, something no NBA team has ever come back from in the history of the playoffs, coach Mike Budenholzer only played his star man 34 minutes on Friday. While Antetokounmpo had a solid enough stat line — 21 points, 16 rebounds, and nine assists — his shooting was inefficient, especially from three-point land, where he went 0-for-7. The Greek superstar could not find a rhythm, just as he has failed to do all series, and Miami walled off the paint just enough, particularly late, to stop him from getting some confidence back.

It’s not all on Giannis; the rest of the team shot an alright 42 percent but only 30 percent from three, and as a unit went 6-for-23 in the final, decisive quarter. Whether it’s just because Miami turned up the defense, or because the rotations from Budenholzer left the Bucks with a stagnant offense in the fourth, the reality is that the Heat have been the better, more aggressive team on both ends of the floor, and that Butler has been the better star player this series.

Now, Milwaukee will have to regroup on the fly to figure out both how to stop Miami from raining three-pointers and how to get some semblance of an offense flowing through Antetokounmpo, particularly in crunch time. If not, the best team in the NBA over the regular season will head into the off-season sooner than later.

That fate isn’t as close for the best team in the West, but LeBron James and the Lakers could not take advantage of a longer rest period between series, dropping game one of their series against the Houston Rockets, who just barely won a seven-game series against the Oklahoma City Thunder on Wednesday. The Rockets pulled off a less-dominant version of Miami’s fourth quarter to pull out the 1-0 series lead, beating the Lakers 27-18 in the final frame. Now, the Lakers will have to regroup and get back to what works for them: a healthy dose of Anthony Davis and James working a two-man offense, with just enough role players contributing to not send both number one seeds home early.

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