Brandon Jennings' series prediction can finally be put to rest.
After the Miami Heat routed the Milwaukee Bucks, 104-91, inside their own arena, that's probably the least of Milwaukee's concerns.
It was anything but a clean game for Erik Spoelstra's side, yet still resulted in Miami's third double-digit win in this series. This series will stay in Milwaukee for Sunday's Game 4 (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC), and if Thursday night was any indication, that's where it will end, too.
LeBron James put forth another masterful postseason effort, this one a 22-point, six-assist and five-rebound performance in 33 minutes of floor time. Dwyane Wade struggled from the field (four points, 1-of-12), but still flirted with a double-double (11 assists, nine rebounds). Chris Bosh didn't need to flirt, tallying 16 points and 14 rebounds in his 34 minutes.
Ray Allen poured in 23 points off the bench, Chris Andersen added 11 more, and the Heat defenders choked out any offensive presence the Bucks could find.
Milwaukee's potent backcourt duo of Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings stumbled out of the gate for the second straight game, misfiring on four of their first five attempts. But thanks to a 3-for-3 start from Ersan Ilyasova and five boards in six minutes from Larry Sanders, the Bucks carried a 14-9 edge into the first timeout midway through the opening quarter.
The ongoing theme of sloppy Heat starts continued. Miami missed five of its next six shots, turned the ball over twice and the Bucks extended their lead to 21-13 at the 3:05 mark of the first. Milwaukee buried 5-of-10 shots from deep in the opening period (including a pair from J.J. Redick) and finally had compiled a winning first quarter, edging Miami 30-21 in the period.
Partly due to coach Jim Boylan's approach and partly the result of Miami's suffocating defense, it was another very quiet run for Ellis and Jennings. Each player had a scoreless quarter in the first half (Ellis in the first, Jennings in the second), combining for nine points on 3-of-11 shooting and 10 assists after 24 minutes.
Ilyasova (11 points), Redick (11) and Sanders (nine) did most of the heavy lifting on the offensive end over the first 24 minutes.
But Miami was forced to make do without some of its key contributors as well. Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh missed their first 10 combined field-goal attempts, both finally moving the scoreboard off dunks created by James' dishes.
Thanks to another energetic run from their reserves (five points and four boards in eight minutes for Chris Andersen, 15 points with three triples for Ray Allen) the Heat raced out to an 8-2 run to trim the deficit to two with 28 seconds left in the half. An Ilyasova layup pushed it back to four with eight seconds remaining, but James sliced that in half with a buzzer-beating jumper over Sanders' outstretched arms leaving Milwaukee with a 50-48 lead at the break.
The sloppiness carried over to the second half as Miami racked up seven personal fouls and three turnovers in the first five minutes of the third. A 9-0 run fell into Milwaukee's lap, courtesy of seven trips to the charity stripe and a fast-break jam for Sanders.
But Milwaukee showed they weren't immune to careless play, turning the ball over twice during Miami's subsequent 10-1 run to reclaim the lead. With so much defensive attention given to the Heat's perimeter players, Udonis Haslem just hung around the rim waiting for timely feeds and accounted for six of those 10 points.
The Heat outscored the Bucks 23-7 over the final seven minutes of the third to carry a 78-68 lead into the fourth. Clearly the Heat could afford a rough shooting night from several starters (Wade, Bosh and Mario Chalmers combined for 18 points, connecting on 6-of-26 from the field). The same could not be said for the Bucks as they had no answer with Ellis and Jennings struggling mightily as hero ball once again reared its ugly head (7-of-24 from the field, six turnovers on the night).
Milwaukee's early lead looked like nothing but fool's gold as Miami flexed its defensive might. The Heat bullied the Bucks for 20 points in the paint in the third quarter, while Boylan's squad was reduced to desperation attempts out of isolations. After tallying 30 points in the first 12 minutes, the Bucks managed just 61 over the final 36.
If Milwaukee was going to pull off the unlikely upset, it was clear early on that it would have to do so on its own. Perhaps reading the writing on the wall after consecutive double-digit losses to open the season, the Bucks faithful didn't exactly pack the BMO Harris Bradley Center:
Hundreds of empty and apparently unsold seats here in Milwaukee, 13 upper sections almost half empty.— Ira Winderman (@IraHeatBeat) April 25, 2013
Andersen's always been known to attack the floor with reckless abandon. While he's still flooding the floor with energetic effort, there's a far more polished quality to his game since landing in South Beach:
Three games for Chris Andersen: 13-of-15, 31 points.— Ethan J. Skolnick (@EthanJSkolnick) April 26, 2013
Regardless who was on the floor for Miami, Milwaukee just did not have the bodies to compete for 48 minutes:
If the Bucks got to play six people at a time, they'd probably still lose. It doesn't really matter who they have out there. Heat too good.— Jeremy Schmidt (@Bucksketball) April 26, 2013
Short of Allen's venture into the history book, the excitement of this game was sapped before the fourth quarter started:
With guys like Allen, Andersen and Norris Cole contributing off the bench Miami can throttle opponents even when it's not clicking on all cylinders. The Big Three draws the most pub, but the Other Nine are leaving no questions about which team is the favorite to hoist the Larry O'Brien Trophy:
Wade had the worst shooting night of his career (1-12) and the Heat still beat the Bucks by 13. Such is life for Miami.— Tom Haberstroh (@tomhaberstroh) April 26, 2013