If the Bucks were to lose because of the play of LeBron James, Dwayne Wade or Chris Bosh, then that would be an issue. But when the Bucks lose a game because of the play of Chris Andersen and Ish Smith, then it’s a matter of an entirely different magnitude.
The Bucks played on par with the Heat for three quarters. Then in a two-and-a-half minute blink, it was over. The Heat ran off twelve straight points and lapped Milwaukee in what had previously been a back-and-forth affair.
Desperate to buy a breather for his starting guards, coach Jim Boylan turned to Smith to run the point at the start the fourth quarter. In fact, the full five-man lineup was Smith/Brandon Jennings/Mike Dunleavy/Marquis Daniels/Ekpe Udoh. Where do we begin with the problems here?
Let’s start with REBOUNDING. Ekpe Udoh defends well, rebounds poorly. He’ll box out and help his team get rebounds in other ways, but he himself won’t chase many rebounds down. Chris Andersen, on the other hand, will pummel the offensive glass.
Daniels can do marvelous things as a defender. He can match up with any small forward in the league and do it well. But asking him to play power forward, and having him guard the best player in the league AND asking him to rebound might be a bit much.
Throw in the fact that LeBron was allowed to do this to him, and getting rebounds got that much more difficult.
Dunleavy had rebounded well all game, but when he’s out guarding Battier at the three-point line, he’s not in position to get defensive rebounds. Smith and Jennings aren’t noted rebounders either.
The net result? Miami got the first 12 points of the fourth quarter, but they got them in large part because they got the first seven rebounds of the quarter over that same stretch.
On the other end of the floor, Ish Smith failed. He directed a directionless offense that lacked structure and rhythm. His missed floater turned into one Miami fast break. His turnover and subsequent foul stopped another potential fast break and gave the Heat two free throws. Any potential rest Monta Ellis might have gained was completely negated by the fact that his team now needed to come back from a 15-point deficit and not a three-point one.
Where was J.J. Redick? Who knows. He didn’t play in the second half. Aside from the obvious loss of trade Tobias Harris, getting Redick was doubly damaging because he needed to plug the hole in the guard rotation left by Beno Udrih. Without Udrih, and unwilling to use much of Redick, Jim Boylan only had three guards to turn to. And one of them clearly wasn’t ready for the big stage.
All the foibles of 150 seconds of bad basketball masked the amazing achievements that the Bucks’ starters put together for the first three quarters. They made the extra pass to find the open man — both for layups and jump shots. They double-teamed on defense when it was needed, and they charged out fiercely to contest corner three-pointers. They rotated to stop shots at the rim, including an amazing rejection of LeBron by Larry Sanders. Seriously, watch the developments on that block. LeBron did everything he could on that play: squared himself up, leapt off two feet, double-clutched to make space. Sanders still blocked it.
Most importantly, the Bucks looked like they belonged in the series, as if they were a worthy opponent for a defending champ. Suddenly and for the first time in months, the season was worth prolonging. And yet, the result put the Bucks that much closer to their summer vacation.
Ersan Ilyasova found his jump shot on his way to a team-high 21 points. On one fourth quarter sequence, he caught an offensive rebound on the baseline that had fallen behind the backboard, dribbled out to the corner, and nailed a three-point shot. He also made a number of crisp defensive reads, even though he isn’t always skilled enough to contest shots on those rotations.
Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis combined to make 5-of-22 field goals. Normally, that level of success carries the lede in a Bucks’ loss, but the team played well and few of those shots felt forced. They just didn’t go in. Ellis, in particular, defended well in the first half before tailing off a bit in the second.
Larry Sanders gave the Bucks the rim protector that they didn’t have in Game 1. He picked up five fouls and only blocked one shot, but his challenges influenced a number of other misses. He also made 6-of-7 shots — a few finishes near the rim and a few short and smooth jumpers. Sanders also “contributed” five turnovers, including two horrific entry passes. He needs to handle the ball less.
In the fourth quarter, Sanders fell and twisted his leg under Shane Battier in a scary collision. But Larry re-entered the game moments later and noted in his post-game press conference that he thought he would be fine with nothing more than “ice and treatment”.
The two teams meet again Thursday in Milwaukee.