Giannis Antetokounmpo finished off the Miami Heat in emphatic fashion. The Game 4 victory that completed the sweep saw a vintage performance from the Greek Freak as he had a triple-double of 20 points, 12 rebounds and 15 assists in 36 minutes of play.
The first round series was barely competitive for the Milwaukee Bucks, as Game 1 was the only victory that had anything resembling a competitive scoreline by the end of four quarters. That game, of course, was won by a clutch shot and then block from Khris Middleton.
The Bucks dominated the Heat so badly in the final three games of the series that today’s 120-103 scoreline was the smallest margin of victory in between Game 2 to 4. Let that sink in for a minute, the team that had so badly beaten them 4-1 last year, and took full advantage of Antetokounmpo being hurt, became an insignificant stepping stone on the way to the second round this year.
Swapping Eric Bledsoe for Jrue Holiday has paid off massively. He’s become a real difference-maker for this squad. Now that they’ve got Holiday on board, the game has opened up massively for both Antetokounmpo and Holiday, along with their other key rotation players. Holiday finished the series with the highest plus/minus rating of the entire team at +24.5, ahead of Middleton’s +17.8 and Antetokounmpo’s +11.5.
Bryn Forbes has been something of a revelation as well, as he had a pair of 22-point games while making 48.3% of his three-pointers. More floor spacing is not a good thing for the Bucks’ potential opponents, consider that Antetokounmpo can get to the basket at will if opponents are unable to clog the lane thanks to all of the shooters. There’s also the little tidbit that he outscored Jimmy Butler through the series.
Milwaukee took it Miami as a team instead of having to over-rely on Antetokounmpo like they’ve done in his two MVP seasons. They had six players average double digit points:
- Giannis Antetokounmpo (23.5 PPG, 15 RPG, 7.8 APG, 1.8 SPG)
- Khris Middleton (21.5 PPG, 6.8 RPG, 4.3 APG)
- Brook Lopez (15.8 PPG, 6.8 RPG, 1.3 BPG)
- Jrue Holiday (15.3 PPG, 6.8 RPG, 9.8 APG, 2.3 SPG)
- Bryn Forbes (15 PPG, 2.8 RPG)
- Bobby Portis (10.8 PPG, 5.3 RPG)
The sweep now gives the Bucks some extra time to rest and plan for their next opponent. Their second round foe will be either the Boston Celtics or the Brooklyn Nets, and though Boston have shown that they won’t give up without a fight, Brooklyn’s overwhelming advantage in talent should carry them through to the series. The Bucks won the season series 2-1 but never faced the full trio of James Harden, Kyrie Irving, and Kevin Durant.
To be fair to the Bucks, though, their own Big Three of Antetokounmpo, Middleton and Holiday look like they’re ready to take all comers. That will be an exciting series.
Defeating the Nets would then set themselves up with a potential date with the Philadelphia 76ers, who are on their way to dominating the Wizards en-route to the second round. Milwaukee swept the season series but they never actually saw the duo of Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid take to the court together in the regular season either.
The Bucks will be happy to be the first team to officially enter the second round this year, but they’ll know the road to the NBA Finals is still long. They look like they’re firing on all cylinders at the moment, though, and they’ve got a legitimate chance of getting through the Eastern Conference this season.
After defeating one demon, Antetokounmpo will now look toward the NBA Finals berth that has eluded him for so long. It’s not an easy path, but it feels like this might be the year they do it. The Nets and Sixers will have something to say about that before the end, though.