By Shawn Dennis
The Milwaukee Bucks got their revenge on the Miami Heat after they were knocked out by them in the Eastern Conference Finals of the playoffs in the bubble last season. All it took for the Bucks was four games of total domination, bringing out the brooms, and moving to the next round playoffs with vengeance satisfied. The Bucks were seemingly the lopsided favorites in this series, but what Milwaukee was able to accomplish on the court and do against the team that outplayed them all-around last season was a long shot prediction.
What changed in Milwaukee, or better yet in Miami, for this series to already be over in a matter of four games? Well, the obvious answer is that the Bucks made the right additions to become the better team and Miami didn’t, but there’s so much more to it.
For starters, Tyler Herro simply added to the conspiracy that NBA players in their second year always have an off year. Yes, he did have better numbers all around in the regular season this year in comparison to last, but his playoff performance was a real disappointment to the standards he was given.
In Game 1, Herro shot an atrocious 2/10 from the field in 19 minutes of play, which made Miami head coach Erik Spolestra speculate on how many minutes he should be handing him. Although I understand the reasoning for Spolestra not giving Herro more than 25 minutes, he didn’t have the depth that he did on this squad in comparison to last year. Likewise, I think the addition of Trevor Ariza, who took the majority of playing time away from Herro, actually put more of a damper on the Heat than firing them up.
Ariza was arguably less productive on the floor than Herro was, scoring a dismal 19 points over the four-game stretch and not scoring any points in either game 2 or 3. For whatever reason, Spolestra stuck to the veterans getting minutes and relied on experience to get the job done, which was the polar opposite game plan as to what went on in the bubble last season.
Aside from the absence of Herro, the Heat would’ve loved to have Victor Oladipo in their backcourt to keep that small-ball style of play that exposed the Bucks bigs last year. Jimmy Butler plays so much better when he has more scorers on the court and with the Bucks bringing on PJ Tucker and Bobby Portis, the Heat had to keep at least three forwards on the floor at all times to guard both those players, as well as Giannis Antetokounmpo and Brook Lopez.
Another matchup nightmare for the Heat was two-way guard Jrue Holiday. It didn’t matter what guard was on the court for the Heat, Holiday was going to shut them down. For example, between the five guards that played in Game 4, they combined for a total of 25 points. Holiday playing the most minutes on the floor for the Bucks (38 in Game 4) was crucial, as he didn’t allow any of Miami’s three-point shooters to get hot at all in any of the four games. Regardless of Holiday’s defensive dominance, Miami was atrocious on the offensive side, averaging under 100-points per contest (98) and after the only close game being Game 1, the Heat couldn’t get their three-point shots going.
Lastly, and most importantly, the Heat weren’t playing in the bubble. Meaning, every game wasn’t played in Florida, there were fans to alter the atmosphere of the game, and Miami was certainly nowhere near the underdog in this series as they were last year. This time, the expectations were far greater than the reality of what the Miami roster consisted of. Players like Tyler Herro, Duncan Robinson, and Kendrick Nunn were all given high hopes to take their games to the next level, which injuries, a shortened season, and the absence of a few key players held them back from doing. Unless they have hit their peaks and met their highest potential, which I don’t believe to be the case, these three guards still have a ton left in the tank for many seasons to come.
So, what’s next for the Heat? Should we expect there to be a total change in roster? Will Pat Reilly do whatever it takes to create another “Big Three” like he had back in the early 2010’s? The answer lies with the current Dallas Maverick, Los Angeles Clippers series, as I believe the fate of where Kawhi Leonard ends up this offseason is determined on the victor (LA or Miami).