Bucks put Heat on brink, win 113-84 for 3-0 series lead

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Mike Budenholzer, Brook Lopez

Milwaukee Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer talks to center Brook Lopez (11) during the second half of Game 3 of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series against the Miami Heat, Thursday, May 27, 2021, in Miami. (AP Photo/Marta Lavandier)

MIAMI (AP) — Another game. Another blowout.

The Milwaukee Bucks have a chance to sweep the Miami Heat out of the playoffs, and they’re making the task of dispatching the reigning Eastern Conference champions look very simple.

Khris Middleton scored 22 points, Jrue Holiday added 19 points and 12 assists and the Bucks took a 3-0 lead in their East first-round series with a 113-84 victory in Miami on Thursday night.

Giannis Antetokounmpo finished with 17 points and 17 rebounds for Milwaukee, which can finish the sweep and move into the East semifinals with a win Saturday afternoon.

“The last two games haven’t been easy,” Antetokounmpo said. “Obviously, we were up 30, but it’s not easy. … I’ll say this: I’ll say by us doing our job, I’m not surprised that we’re able to win a game because once we focus on ourselves, play together, have fun and be tough, good things are going to happen. And in these three games, good things have happened for us.”

Miami has lost three games by 29 points or more this season — all against Milwaukee, two of them in the last two games of this series. The Bucks held leads of 51 and 36 points against Miami in games earlier this season; the margin got to 32 on Thursday night.

And as if Milwaukee needed another edge, there’s this: No team in NBA history has ever squandered a 3-0 series lead.

“We’re not worried about that. We control what we can control, and that’s how we play, that’s how we prepare, how we compete,” Miami forward Jimmy Butler said. “Not too worried about what history says and all of that good stuff, but we’ve got our work cut out for us.”

Butler scored 19 points and Bam Adebayo had 17 for Miami. Nemanja Bjelica — little-used by Miami this season, then called upon Thursday out of desperation for any sort of outside shooting — scored 14 points.

Milwaukee outrebounded Miami 56-41, held the Heat to 38% shooting and became the first team to top Miami by at least 29 points twice in the same playoff series. And that’s after the Bucks beat Miami by 47, in Miami, back in December.

“We’ve got to continue to work,” Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said. “They have so many weapons on the other side. They do a lot of things that are hard to guard. Defensively, our focus, our attention to detail has got to stay high.”

The biggest Miami crowd of the season, by far — 17,000 in a building that in pre-pandemic times called 19,600 a sellout — showed up, most of them in their seats by tip-off, hoping that they would see the start of a turnaround.

Instead, in the biggest game of the season, they saw Miami’s slowest start of the season.

The Heat managed only eight points in the game’s first nine minutes, the fewest they managed in such a game-opening span since last August and the fewest to open a game on their home floor since Nov. 14, 2018.

It was 26-14 Milwaukee after one quarter, then the lead swelled to as much as 19 — 44-25 late in the second before got to 49-36 at the half. That matched the fewest points allowed by the Bucks in a first half in more than three years.

“They’re making shots and they’re making tough ones,” Adebayo said. “And the ball won’t go in for us.”

The margin swelled to 27 in the third quarter. More than a few of those 17,000 fans didn’t stick around too much longer.

TIP-INS

Bucks: Donte DiVencenzo (left foot contusion) played nine minutes and was ruled out for the rest of the game. He missed all four of his shots. … The last time Milwaukee allowed fewer than 36 points in a first half was April 22, 2018, when it gave up 35 in a playoff game against Boston. The Bucks gave up 36 at Indiana on Nov. 16, 2019.

Heat: NBA deputy commissioner Mark Tatum and rapper Flo Rida were part of the crowd. … Not only were the Heat offering fans the chance to get their first dose of the Moderna vaccine at the game, but further incentivized it by giving 10% off purchases at the team store. … Heat fans, mindful that Antetokounmpo was called for a 10-second violation on a free throw in Game 1, screamed out a seconds count on his foul shots in the fourth quarter.

ONE-SIDED

Miami led more of Game 1 than Milwaukee did; the Heat were ahead for just over 22 minutes, the Bucks just over 21 minutes. Since then, it’s been all Milwaukee. Out of a possible 96 minutes in Games 2 and 3, Milwaukee has led for 93 minutes, 49 seconds; it’s been tied for 1:54 and the Heat have led for a total of 17 seconds.

SWEEPAGE

This is Miami’s first 3-0 series deficit since a first-round matchup against Boston in 2010. The Heat lost that series in five games and haven’t been swept since the 2007 first round against Chicago. Milwaukee is up 3-0 for the first time since sweeping Detroit in Round 1 of the 2019 playoffs.

FIVE-SHOT TRIP

No possession saw Milwaukee’s rebounding dominance more apparent that one late in the first quarter, one in which the Bucks got four offensive boards before scoring. Portis and P.J. Tucker each had two offensive rebounds on the possession, which ended with a Portis putback.

LONG TIME

Miami’s last postseason win on its home floor was May 13, 2016. Of the current Heat players, only Goran Dragic and Udonis Haslem remain from that team. Dragic scored 30 points in that win over Toronto; Haslem didn’t play. They didn’t make the playoffs in 2017 or 2019, were 0-2 at home in the 2018 playoffs and weren’t at home for last year’s run to the NBA Finals.

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