Bucks-Heat: Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee make emphatic statement with first-round sweep of Miami

The Milwaukee Bucks advanced to the Eastern Conference semifinals with a 120-103 win in Game 4 on Saturday to complete a four-game sweep against the Miami Heat. They also exacted revenge on the very team that ousted them in the second round of the postseason just eight months ago. It was a series win that likely lifted a huge weight off the Bucks’ shoulders, and showed every other title contender in the playoffs that they’re certainly not the same team that was upset in the postseason last year. 

Miami Heat guard Goran Dragic even said as much after the Bucks took Game 3 of this series, saying this year’s Milwaukee roster is a “lot better” than the one they beat up on in the bubble last season, and he’s definitely not wrong. It wasn’t just better performances from Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton, who were far more efficient against the Heat this time around, but also the additions the Bucks made in the offseason certainly played a significant role in securing this series win, most notably Jrue Holiday. 

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From the start of the series, Holiday showed exactly why Milwaukee was so eager to trade for him with his play on both ends of the floor. On numerous occasions throughout the series, Holiday made tough shots, came up with clutch steals and played lockdown defense on a number of the Heat’s guards to make life difficult on Miami. He finished the first round averaging 15.3 points, 9.8 assists, 6.8 rebounds and 2.3 steals. Holiday has been a significant upgrade to Eric Bledsoe and George Hill on both sides of the ball, and has fit seamlessly alongside Giannis and Middleton through the first round.

Then there was reserve guard Bryn Forbes, who put up 22 points in Game 4, including seven 3-pointers. In Game 2, he also provided a much-needed spark off the bench for the Bucks. Forbes was brought in because of his sharpshooting skills, and he did not disappoint as he finished the series shooting 48.5 percent from deep. Last season, Milwaukee lacked reliable shooters to match up against the Heat, but Forbes stepped into that role perfectly this season, and his hot shooting certainly carried over from the regular season. 

Big man Bobby Portis also came up huge on both ends of the floor. His 3-point shooting was something the Heat really didn’t have the size to contest well with, and his defensive presence in the post made it difficult for guys like Dragic, Bam Adebayo and Jimmy Butler to get any clean looks at the rim. PJ Tucker, who the Bucks acquired before the trade deadline in March, was a pest on Butler as the secondary defender, holding him to 2 of 12 from the field over four games. 

As a whole the Bucks put on a defensive clinic against the Heat, taking Adebayo’s versatility away and forcing him into taking mid-range jumpers as Brook Lopez just lurked in the paint all series, not allowing him to do any damage in post-ups, or off drives to the rim. Antetokounmpo stifled Butler, who could never get into any sort of rhythm on offense at any point in the series, and although Duncan Robinson went on a scoring spree in Game 1, he was virtually invisible in the following three games as Middleton hawked him every time down the floor. 

Miami looked like a well-oiled, cohesive team during its bubble run, and pounded its chest about HEAT culture, and played with a grittiness that stemmed from Butler’s leadership. But the Bucks made the Heat look like a bunch of deers in headlights in this series, a team that lost its identity and struggled to execute its own game plan.

Now it’s onto the second round for the Bucks, who are one step closer to accomplishing their goal of winning a championship. They’ll get some rest while they watch the Brooklyn Nets-Boston Celtics series play out. It will at least go to five games after Boston came away with a home win in Game 3. The Nets are favored to come out of that series on top, which if that happens would pit a high-powered offense in Brooklyn, and a tough-as-nails defense in Milwaukee. The Bucks certainly won’t have as easy of a time stopping the Nets’ superstar trio of Kevin Durant, James Harden and Kyrie Irving as they did against the Heat, but if we learned anything from this Miami series it’s that this Milwaukee team is certainly better than the last iteration, and has a huge chip on its shoulder with something to prove.

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