Jimmy Butler 17, Milwaukee Bucks 13.
Giannis Antetokounmpo 4, Miami Heat 40.
Those are the fourth-quarter scoring numbers from Friday night. That was the ballgame. That is the series.
Those numbers above just scratch the surface of Miami’s fourth-quarter domination — the Heat trailed by 12 entering the quarter and won by 15. Milwaukee scored 3 points in the final 5 minutes. In the final 4:20 of the game, the Bucks shot 0-of-10 from the floor, with seven of those misses from three.
Miami won the fourth 40-13 — the largest fourth-quarter margin in NBA playoff history — and came from behind Friday night to win 115-100, giving them a commanding 3-0 series lead over the Bucks. No team in NBA history has ever come back from 3-0 down. Game 4 is Sunday.
This game may have been decided in the first quarter when Antetokounmpo tweaked his ankle. He stayed in the game and had a medical clearance form the Milwaukee training staff, but he did not move the same way, getting blown by on defense and settling for more jumpers on offense.
Antetokounmpo once again played fewer than 35 minutes — in a must-win game for Milwaukee — and after the game Bucks’ coach Mike Budenholzer said the injury did not impact the way he used the reigning (and soon to be two-time) MVP. That’s a problem. Khris Middleton, the other Bucks’ All-Star, played 36 minutes.
“If you’re going as hard as these guys are in a playoff game, 35-36 [minutes] I think that’s pushing the ceiling,” Budenholzer said postgame.
That’s going to be gasoline on the fire for Milwaukee and Budenholzer critics. Budenholzer told James Herbert of CBS Sports, when asked about playoff adjustments earlier in the season, “We kind of do what we do, and hopefully that’s good enough.” What the Bucks do undoubtedly good, the Bucks have been the best team in the NBA for two-straight regular seasons playing their style. Budenholzer noted the Bucks had won six quarters in a row before the fourth quarter of Game 3.
But when you lose the fourth quarter by 27, none of the rest of it matters. It seems there is no “Plan B” with Milwaukee, even when it is clear Plan A is failing.
Milwaukee’s problems go beyond a coach unwilling to adjust (something he got from Gregg Popovich, who is not a guy to make radical playoff adjustments either).
The Bucks have not been efficient scorers against the athletic, swarming Heat defense. Antetokounmpo had 21 points but needed 21 shots to get there; Miami continues to do a great job building a wall in front of him. Middleton had 18 points on 16 shots. Eric Bledsoe had just 9 points. The only Milwaukee player knocking it down most of the game was Brook Lopez, who had 22. The Bucks players are not stepping up.
Jimmy Butler is, he had 30 points. Bam Adebayo had 20 points on 7-of-8 shooting. Jae Crowder had 17 and hit five threes. The Heat put up an offensive rating of 116.2 against the best defense in the NBA.
The Bucks offensive rating in Game 3 was 102, which is 9.9 behind their season average.
This series is all but over, and the autopsy of the Bucks season — and the speculation about the future of Antetokounmpo, who can sign a supermax contract extension with Milwaukee this offseason — is just beginning.
But there is one more game Sunday between these two teams. At this point, it looks to be the Bucks’ final game of the playoffs. Miami has been clearly the better team this season and is headed to the conference finals.