Miami Heat, Milwaukee Bucks

3 takeaways as improved Bucks exorcise demons with Heat sweep

The Milwaukee Bucks completed a dominant first-round sweep of the Miami Heat with a Game 4 win. Here are three takeaways from this one-sided series.

Last year, the Milwaukee Bucks were unceremoniously escorted to the offseason by Jimmy Butler and the Miami Heat in the second round of the playoffs. While the Heat enjoyed a magical Finals run, Giannis Antetokounmpo and company had to endure another offseason of questions about his future in Milwaukee and whether this group had enough to win a title.

This year’s Heat team was not as good, and the Bucks’ offseason tweaks clearly made a difference, but the 2021 NBA Playoffs quickly proved to be a major changing of the guard between these two teams. After being bullied in five quick games last year, Milwaukee flipped the script with a vengeance in this year’s first-round sweep.

The Bucks closed things out on Saturday with a 120-103 win in Game 4, led by 25 points and 8 rebounds from Brook Lopez, 22 points off the bench from Bryn Forbes and a 20-point, 15-rebound, 12-assist triple-double from the Greek Freak. The Heat were led by 20 points and 14 rebounds from Bam Adebayo and 18 bench points from Kendrick Nunn, but it wasn’t enough after Milwaukee used a 20-4 run in the third quarter to turn a seven-point halftime deficit into a seven-point lead heading into the final frame.

This series is officially over, and the Bucks are moving on to face the winner of the Brooklyn Nets and Boston Celtics. Meanwhile, the Heat face an offseason filled with big questions after coming up well short of their lofty goals entering the season. Here are three big takeaways from this series.

3. Bryn Forbes was a consistent thorn in Miami’s side

Trying to defend a team that already has Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday is already hard enough, but it becomes downright impossible when Bryn Forbes plays like he did throughout this series.

In Game 1, Forbes was a non-factor off the bench, finishing with 5 points on 2-of-5 shooting in just 14 minutes off the bench. It’s not a coincidence that was the closest of the four games, needing overtime for Milwaukee to pull out the win at home.

But after that, Forbes was an absolute flamethrower for the Bucks, putting up 22 points on 8-of-12 shooting (6-of-9 from deep) in just 20 minutes in Game 2, followed by 11 points on 4-of-8 shooting (3-for-7 from long range) in Game 3. He saved the best for last in Game 4, torching Miami with 22 points on 7-of-14 shooting from downtown.

For the series, the 27-year-old sharpshooter chipped in 15.0 points and 4.0 made triples per game on 52.5 percent shooting, including 48.5 percent from 3-point range. His ability to hit big shots from the perimeter made Milwaukee an impossible cover, and if his superb bench play continues, the Bucks will be an absolute handful to handle.

2. Heat’s bubble run was unsustainable, and now big decisions loom

We’ve covered this at length before, but this series proved the Heat’s bubble run just wasn’t sustainable over the course of a 72-game regular season. That’s not to say their Finals run was a fluke, but with such a shortened offseason between the Finals and the start of the 2020-21 campaign, Miami — and every other conference finalist in Orlando, for that matter — struggled with injuries, COVID concerns and continuity.

This series was more about what the Bucks did than what Miami did wrong, but Tyler Herro’s regression became a big concern. The Heat played almost entirely without Victor Oladipo after finally trading for him, and now the key question is what kind of contract they’ll re-sign him to in free agency as he deals with yet another significant injury.

That’s not all though: Miami also has to make decisions on Goran Dragic’s $19.4 million team option for next season, Andre Iguodala’s 15 million team option, and what to do with all their cap space if they decline those options. And that’s without even mentioning that Trevor Ariza, Nemanja Bjelica and Dewayne Dedmon are unrestricted free agents this summer, or that Duncan Robinson and Kendrick Nunn are restricted free agents. Big decisions are coming, because it’s pretty clear this current version of the Heat — bubble fatigue or no — didn’t have what it takes for another Finals run.

1. Bucks’ new additions made all the difference

This one-sided playoff rematch may really be this simple as this equation: (Bucks + Jrue Holiday) + (Heat – Jae Crowder) = totally different series.

Holiday, on top of Middleton, Giannis and P.J. Tucker, left Jimmy Butler with very few mismatches to exploit like last year. It’s no coincidence Butler struggled for the entirety of this short series, averaging 14.5 points, 7.5 rebounds and 7.0 assists  per game on an abysmal 29.7 percent shooting from the field and 26.7 percent shooting from 3.

It wasn’t just Holiday, however; Tucker was a menace on the defensive end, contributing to Butler’s miserable series. Forbes, as we already mentioned, was a consistent pain in Miami’s ass, and Bobby Portis made the bench unit even stronger, contributing 10.8 points and 5.3 rebounds in just 17.8 minutes per game while shooting a blistering 58.6 percent.

Add in Giannis’ ability to contribute everywhere on the court on both ends and Middleton’s shot-making ability and it’s quite clear this is not the same Bucks team as last year. The bullied became the bullies, and they’re looking strong heading into their second-round matchup.

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