The Miami Heat have taken a 3-0 lead over the Milwaukee Bucks after defeating the Eastern Conference's No. 1 seed 115-100 on Friday at ESPN's Wide World of Sports Complex near Orlando, Florida.
Heat forward Jimmy Butler outscored Milwaukee 17-13 by himself in the fourth quarter.
Butler's teammates added 23 more points of their own in the fourth, and the Heat were able to easily erase an 87-75 deficit going into the quarter. In addition, Miami ended the game on a 17-1 run.
The Heat remain the only undefeated team in this year's playoffs after sweeping the Indiana Pacers in the first round before taking a 3-0 series lead against Milwaukee.
Heat F Jimmy Butler: 28 points, 7 rebounds, 6 assists
Heat C Bam Adebayo: 20 points, 16 rebounds, 2 blocks
Heat PG Goran Dragic: 15 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists
Bucks F Giannis Antetokounmpo: 21 points, 16 rebounds, 9 assists
Bucks G/F Khris Middleton: 18 points, 7 assists, 2 steals
Bucks C Brook Lopez: 22 points, 6 rebounds
Jimmy Butler Sends Bucks to the Brink
Jimmy Butler came off the bench early in the fourth quarter with his team down 91-81 after teammate Bam Adebayo made a free throw.
By the time Butler left the court with 15.9 seconds remaining, the Heat had outscored the Bucks 33-9, with Butler notching 17 of those points.
Butler consistently found himself in the right place at the right time, like when he got this steal off Brook Lopez and leaked out for this easy dunk to pull the Heat within one:
When he wasn't scoring, he was grabbing clutch rebounds, making key defensive plays and finding his teammates for buckets, like when he curled around Bucks defenders and fired a bounce pass to Jae Crowder for a back-breaking three:
You can find a collection of Jimmy Buckets' best work here, including a putback and a nifty cut to the rim for two:
Butler is crafting a reputation as a cold-blooded assassin in this year's playoffs. He can make a significant impact on the game regardless of whether he's scoring points in bunches (like he did in Game 1 and the third quarter of Game 3) or not (like in Game 2, when he scored only 13 but drew the game-winning foul and had six assists and three steals).
It helps that his teammates have largely been excellent, whether it's Adebayo doing work down low, Duncan Robinson and Tyler Herro raining threes or Goran Dragic and Jae Crowder offering steady veteran presences in this year's playoffs.
But Butler is the playoff MVP at this point, and he's one step away from knocking out the presumptive back-to-back NBA MVP in Antetokounmpo and the Bucks out.
Bucks' Bubble Struggles Reach Fever Pitch
The Milwaukee Bucks went 53-12 before the COVID-19 pandemic forced the NBA season to be suspended for four-and-a-half months. They were cruising toward home-court advantage throughout the playoffs and looked like the clear favorite to represent the East in the NBA Finals.
However, little has gone right for the Bucks since the season restarted at Walt Disney World.
Milwaukee went only 3-5 in the seeding-game portion of the schedule. The Bucks had little to play for with the No. 1 seed all but wrapped up even before they got to Florida, but their normally stingy defense allowed 112 or more points in each of those matchups.
The Bucks also inexplicably lost to a Brooklyn Nets team that came into the bubble woefully shorthanded sans Kyrie Irving, Spencer Dinwiddie, Taurean Prince, DeAndre Jordan, Wilson Chandler and Nic Claxton.
Those Nets were even more depleted during the win against the Bucks, with Caris LeVert and Joe Harris sitting a game in which the Bucks' Big Three of Antetokounmpo, Middleton and Bledsoe played the first half yet still found themselves losing 73-65 at halftime.
The playoffs figured to showcase a more cohesive Bucks team that closely resembled the one from the first 65 games of the season, but that didn't happen in Game 1 of their first-round playoff series with the Orlando Magic. The No. 8 seed in the Eastern Conference demolished them on defense en route to an 122-110 win.
The Bucks bounced back from that point forward and took the next four games, but their seeding-game struggles and a bad opening game versus the Magic left cause for concern heading into the Heat series.
Milwaukee has now apparently run into a buzzsaw at the worst possible time.
The Bucks have scored 59 total points in the fourth quarters of their three games versus Miami. They allowed 67 combined points from Butler and Dragic in an 11-point loss in Game 1, and seven Heat players scored in double digits in a Game 2 defeat that was decided by a Butler free throw with no time left.
On Friday, it was the Bam and Butler show, with the former going off for 20 points and 16 rebounds and the latter scoring 17 points in the fourth quarter, which has become a house of horrors for Milwaukee.
Everything that could go wrong has gone wrong for the Bucks. To advance to the conference finals, they'll need to make history and become the first team ever to come back from a 3-0 playoff series deficit.
Game 4 will take place on Sunday at 3:30 p.m. ET on ABC. A win there will close out a 4-0 series sweep for the Miami Heat, who would be headed to the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time since 2014.