The 2013 Milwaukee Bucks weren’t exactly known for their efficiency, but they sure made quick work of the playoffs. The Bucks became the first team eliminated from the 2013 NBA Playoffs after their fourth straight convincing loss to the Miami Heat.
Game 4 followed a similar trend to the previous three contests. Milwaukee managed to hang around for three and a half quarters – never leading, but never trailing by more than 11. The Heat eventually pulled away in the fourth quarter to secure a 88-77 win , thanks to a 19-5 run that finally sealed Milwaukee’s playoff fate.
“The Heat know their strength,” Bucks guard Monta Ellis said. “They know when to turn it on, and that’s what they did the whole series. We’ve been playing close, playing hard – they’re just a better team.”
Demoralized by its team’s inconsistent play and 3-0 deficit, the sellout crowd failed to generate a playoff atmosphere. When the Bucks would make a mini-run, Ray Allen and Udonis Haslem were there to answer with wide-open corner threes and uncontested midrange jumpers, respectively.
“It seemed like every time we were making some sort of move, the Heat would make a big play or we would commit a turnover,” Bucks coach Jim Boylan said. “When you’re playing against a quality team like Miami, and you makes some mistakes, they usually capitalize.”
The Heat didn’t even need star shooting guard Dwyane Wade, who sat out with a sore right knee. Wade received treatment in the locker room prior to the game and was suited up on the bench, but Heat coach Erik Spoelstra never intended on using him Sunday afternoon. Mike Miller replaced Wade in the starting lineup.
Bucks forward Luc Mbah a Moute was tasked with chasing around LeBron James for 40 minutes and received high praise from the reigning MVP after the game.
“Mbah a Moute is a very disciplined, strong defender,” James said. “He tries to keep you off balance, and if you’re not strong with the ball, he can cause turnovers. I watched a lot of film on him throughout the year on who he guarded – some of the best offensive players that we have in our game – and how he approached that matchup.”
Despite Mbah a Moute’s defensive effort, James led the Heat with 30 points on an efficient 13-20 shooting from the field. He added eight rebounds, seven assists and three steals to his line.
The only other Heat players in double figures were Haslem (13 points, 6-9 fg, 5 rebounds, 2 blocks), Allen (16 points, 5-10 fg, 4-7 3p, 7 rebounds) and Chris Bosh (10 points, 5 rebounds, 4 blocks). Milwaukee’s perimeter players were guilty of sagging in too far when James penetrated and not fighting through screens, which resulted in no shortage of open looks for Allen, Shane Battier, Mike Miller and Mario Chalmers.
Monta Ellis (20 points, 10-20 fg, 5 rebounds, 8 assists, 6 turnovers), Mike Dunleavy (17 points, 5-9 fg, 3-6 3p, 5 rebounds) and J.J. Redick (10 points, 5-11 fg, 0-3 3p) kept Milwaukee alive offensively. All other Bucks combined to shoot just 24.4 percent (10-41) from the field.
After the game, Milwaukee’s players and head coach were left to address the future and reminisce about this season — one that can be viewed as both a success or failure depending on the standard.
“Our goal coming into this season was to make the playoffs,” Bucks head coach Jim Boylan said. “We have a young team that is inexperienced in a lot of ways. The opportunity for them to play against the world champions in a four game series and compete well – and I know they swept us 4-0 — is going to pay dividends down the road for all of our guys.”
Bucks guard Brandon Jennings sat out the entire fourth quarter and played only 22 minutes. Boylan opted to go with Ellis at point guard in the final frame, with shooters J.J. Redick and Mike Dunleavy surrounding him. Jennings finished with just three points on 1-7 shooting, one assist and one steal.
“With some matchups out there, I just felt that we needed to stay with the guys that were out there, who were giving us a little offense,” Boylan said.
Apparently, that explanation never trickled down to his starting point guard.
“I have no idea,” said Jennings, when asked why he was benched in the fourth quarter. “I just play the game to play. It’s something I can’t really dwell on, because I don’t know and I don’t really have an answer.”
Jennings’ benching came under severe scrutiny given his hazy future with the team. Jennings, whom the Bucks failed to reach an agreement with on an extension, will have big decisions to make this summer. He can either enter into restricted free agency this summer or force Milwaukee’s hand by accepting a one-year qualifying offer (worth around $4.5 million), after which he would become an unrestricted free agent.
When directly asked if he wants to stay in Milwaukee, Jennings gave an ambiguous response.
“I don’t know,” he said. “I can’t really answer that right now. You’ll know July 1.”
Boylan, whose own status with the team remains unclear, is hoping Jennings will be back in a Bucks uniform next season and beyond.
“I think he’ll be back,” Boylan said. “Brandon is a big part of our franchise. He’s been here with me the whole time. I’ve watched him develop, and he’s done some great things for our team in a lot of different ways – both on the floor and off the floor.”
Jennings isn’t the only starting guard with contract decisions awaiting. Ellis’ future with the team is equally murky, but he took time after the game to reflect on the positives of this season.
“There are always great things,” Ellis said. “I love my teammates. I love the situation that we were in. We just have to get better, and that’s the biggest thing.”
Yet, he shied away from speculating on his future with the Bucks. Ellis, 27, holds an $11 million player option for next season and could opt out to pursue another long-term contract.
“That’s a decision I have to make,” Ellis said. “I still haven’t had time to sit down and think about it yet.”
Those words also ring true for many other members of the Milwaukee Bucks. Dunleavy and Redick, who are both set to become unrestricted free agents, will have to consider whether Milwaukee is the best place to extend their careers. Marquis Daniels and Samuel Dalembert will join them in free agency. The Bucks hold a team option on Gustavo Ayon for $1.5 million. Joel Przybilla will likely contemplate retirement. Larry Sanders and Ekpe Udoh may have to mull over a potential contract extension offers. Bucks GM John Hammond will have to decide whether to retain Boylan and his staff.
But more importantly, Milwaukee’s front office will have to commit to a vision for the future.
The only question is, will it still be “playoffs or bust”?