In a 110-87 Miami win, LeBron James put a stranglehold on the game and somehow let it breathe all at the same time. James scored 27 points, grabbed 10 rebounds, and shared eight assist with his teammates — all while taking just 11 field goal attempts. The Heat attack was spread all over the floor. Ray Allen and Chris Bosh started the damage on long, open jump shots, and Chris Andersen finished it by diving to the rim for dunks. In the end, though, it was James, and the Bucks’ attention to him, that made it all work.
And despite that attention, James took nine of his 11 shots at the rim and made eight of them.
On the other end, the Bucks got a lot of offense from Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis and next to nothing from anyone else. Jennings scored 26 points on 8-for-20 shooting, Ellis had 22 points on 10-for-19 shooting, and no other Buck scored more than six points. Jennings had two assists, partly because he dominated the ball and partly because his teammates couldn’t make shots.
The players that the Bucks count on for wing scoring — Ersan Ilyasova, Mike Dunleavy, Marquis Daniels, Luc Mbah a Moute, and J.J. Redick — made seven of their 24 shots. Only three of those seven makes were jump shots.
Another factor: the Heat bullied the Bucks on the glass, outrebounding them by a 46-31 margin.
The game could not have started worse for the Bucks. The Heat shellshocked Milwaukee with a 7-0 run to start the game, then a Chris Bosh three-pointer made the score 10-2. By making his jump shots early, Bosh drew Larry Sanders out to the perimeter and out of his comfort zone protecting the paint. In his post-game press conference, Jim Boylan noted that he made the switch to guard Bosh with Ilyasova early in the game, but by then it was too late. Miami already had a lead they wouldn’t relinquish and an offensive rhythm that couldn’t be disrupted.
The Bucks fell behind early by a 21-8 margin, but they rallied behind Jennings and Sanders to pull within 26-24 at the end of the first quarter. Unfortunately for Sanders, he fell into foul trouble for much of the game and never recovered. Of the four fouls he had accumulated by the third quarter, three were lamentable for a shot-blocking center: one was an offensive foul, another was a pointless reach-in, and the third came on a Shane Battier drive (and it was a bad call too).
After the game, LeBron said, “We know we can play a better game.” Given that the Bucks forced 19 turnovers, maybe he’s right. But the person who can most easily play a better game is Larry Sanders. The Bucks need him protecting the paint. He needs to guard whoever sits closest to the rim, whether it’s Udonis Haslem, Bosh, or Andersen.
Case in point:
Here’s Dwayne Wade’s shot chart for the game
How badly do the Bucks need their rim-protector back? Despite the fact that the Bucks focused on defensive help inside and allowed the Heat nearly any shot they wanted from the corner, LeBron and Wade combined to score 43 points. How did they get those points? They made 13-of-14 field goals at the rim, and just 1-of-8 everywhere else.
The Bucks need their bigs to not be terrible. They need rebounds and they need defense. If they don’t get it, they’re getting swept.