No detail can be deemed too small for the Milwaukee Bucks to address heading into Game 3 of their first round playoff series with the Miami Heat, and it’s something they did Wednesday afternoon at the Cousins Center once they returned from Florida.
Do you step out off a screen, or do you roll?
Do you make that extra pass around the perimeter, even if you have a sliver of daylight to shoot?
Do you wait on a shot longer than normal to see if you can grab a rebound, or keep the ball alive with a tap out?
“It’s the small details,” Bucks forward Ersan Ilyasova said. “Everybody has to give something.”
For the most part, it seems like the Bucks know what to do in order to extend the series back to Miami.
“As a team we have some but as an individual you should have some too,” center Ekpe Udoh said. “Mine is being able to match ‘Birdman’s’ energy. He really boosted them. I’m at fault with that one. He gets going and I have to take that upon myself to do it.”
Larry Sanders found some faults in his game as well following two games in which he combined for 20 points, 11 rebounds and just one blocked shot.
“You have a lot of things you have to cover,” Sanders said of the Heat roster. “That’s when you have to make second and third efforts, get them scrambling on defense, don’t settle for shots and attack them, wear them down a little bit like they’re wearing us down.”
The Bucks were indeed worn down by the Heat, which won Game 1 in the third quarter and Game 2 in the fourth by, as Sanders described it, turning up their aggression on both ends of the court.
In Game 1, Monta Ellis started the second half with a 3-pointer for the Bucks to cut the deficit to four, but then the Heat went on an 11-1 run over a nearly four minute period to go up 14 and never looked back.
The Bucks did not make a shot between Ellis’ 3-pointer at the 11:35 mark and a layup at the 7:38 mark, with only a single Jennings free throw adding to the Bucks side of the ledger. In between, the Bucks missed three, 3-pointers and a layup while turning it over one time.
“You’re going to have spurts in a game where you’re not doing everything right and everything is not going your way,” Ellis said. “We’ve just got to keep our composure at times like that and come down and get into our offense and execute the right way.”
In Game 2, the Bucks trailed 68-65 heading into the fourth quarter but allowed the Heat to collect three offensive rebounds on its first possession, leading to a Chris Andersen 3-point play and a 6-point lead.
“That’s what he does,” Udoh said of Andersen scrapping around for easy baskets. “He’s on the best team, record-wise, in the NBA and he has LeBron, Dwyane Wade and when he subs in he’s diving and dunking and do whatever, he flaps his wings or whatever. You gotta be ready to do a better job on him.”
Ish Smith then missed a shot, leading to a LeBron James basket. Smith then turned it over, leading to two Norris Cole Free throws. An Ellis turnover and two more Heat offensive rebounds led to another easy basket for Andersen. Jennings missed a 6-footer, which led to a Cole 3-pointer.
In a span of two and a half minutes, the Bucks went from being down three to down 15. Game over. In that 12-0 Heat run, the Bucks only managed two shots and had two turnovers. The scoring drought ended at the 9:17 mark when Ellis hit a long jumper.
The Bucks then “won” those final nine minutes, outscoring the Heat by three points – the same margin they trailed by at the start of the quarter.
“The NBA is all about runs, so we know they’re going to make a run,” Ellis said. “We’ve just got to be ready to counter their run, keep our poise and play together. But the biggest thing is that we just gotta play better going into the fourth quarter and have a better mindset.”
The players are looking to some of the strides they made through two games, like holding James, Wade and Chris Bosh to just 53 percent of the Heat offense in Game 1 and 54 percent of the offense in Game 2 – as opposed to the 70 percent or so the trio averaged in the regular season.
The Bucks are also winning the turnover battle through two games (plus 5), and limited James to 42 percent shooting in Game 2 after converted 82 percent of his attempts in Game 1.
There was progress, but team knows baby steps won’t check the Heat.
“There are steps forward but you’re still losing by 15 to 20. So, what do you do then?,” Udoh said. “They always go on a key run in the second half which hurts us. We gotta match their energy because they’re going out and winning that second half, in the first game as well as the second game. It was a 12-0 run. We just gotta be prepared for that and sustain our energy throughout the game.”