Seven months after suffering a devastating defeat in the 2020 conference semifinals to the Miami Heat as a No. 1 seed, the Milwaukee Bucks on Saturday avenged that loss with a 120-103 win, clinching their first-round series over the Heat in a sweep.
"It's a great moment for us, winning 4-0, and beating the team that beat us last year," Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo said. "But at the end of the day we have a long way to go."
Though his performance wasn't particularly efficient through the first three quarters, Antetokounmpo tied a career high -- and set a new personal playoff best -- with 15 assists. He found teammates by threading the needle from the perimeter and with skillful interior passes in the paint.
"Being able to affect the game in multiple ways, and not just getting into the paint and dunking," Antetokounmpo said. "Don't get me wrong. If I could dunk every single play, I'd try to dunk every single play. But just being mature, having my head up and looking for guys when they're open was big for us."
After trailing for the entire first half, Milwaukee put together a 24-4 run in the third quarter to erase a nine-point deficit and build a double-digit lead. Forward Khris Middleton, who hit the tiebreaking basket with less than a second left in Game 1, led the charge with 12 points, including a pair of 3-pointers. Bryn Forbes, whose sharpshooting exploits fueled the Bucks' blowout victory in Game 3, added a couple of his own in the quarter, and finished 7-for-14 from distance overall.
Four Bucks players finished with 20 or more points -- including Middleton and Forbes -- with center Brook Lopez leading the way with 25, on 11-for-15 shooting. Though Lopez has extended his range in Milwaukee and typically spends many possessions out on the perimeter, he didn't attempt a single shot from beyond the arc on Saturday. Instead, he exacted his damage inside against a Miami defense that had no answer for Milwaukee's inside game throughout the series. Lopez finished 9-for-9 from the field inside of 10 feet in Game 4.
The Bucks distinguished themselves defensively in the series, and again in the second half in the clincher on Saturday. Miami managed only a 95.4 offensive rating over the four games, the lowest total for a playoff team in six postseasons.
Antetokounmpo accepted the assignment of defending the Heat's most prolific offensive player, Heat wingman Jimmy Butler. Though he matched Antetokounmpo's triple-double in Game 4, Butler shot only 4-for-15 from the field and posted an abysmal true shooting percentage (39.4) for the series.
"Giannis has unique defensive talent, and Butler is such a great talent, scorer, passer," Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said. "It takes a lot of discipline to guard a guy like Jimmy Butler. For Giannis to have that discipline with the competitiveness makes him special."
In addition to Antetokounmpo's work on Butler, Lopez served as an indomitable presence in the paint for Milwaukee defensively. He contested 76 shots in the series, and Miami shot just 32% on those attempts, according to ESPN Stats & Information research.
Milwaukee's dominance on the glass was another decisive factor in its sweep of the Heat. The Bucks collected more than a third of their missed shot attempts -- their 33.6% offensive rebounding rate during the series would have led the NBA during the regular season by a considerable margin. Likewise, their 78.8% defensive rebounding rate against Miami would have also led the league during the regular season.
"When you look back on this series, we definitely controlled the boards, which was a huge part of getting out in transition and giving us second-chance points," Middleton said. "Everybody had a part controlling the boards for us. We were able to limit them to one shot."
The sweep concluded the Heat's season, which included 20 missed games for Butler as Miami earned the No. 6 seed in the East.
The Heat enter the offseason with salary cap flexibility, which will enable them to bolster the roster if they so choose. Only Butler, Adebayo, Tyler Herro, Precious Achiuwa and KZ Okpala carry guaranteed contracts into the 2021-22 season.
"We can be better," Butler said. "We'll get better."
"Peaking at the right moment -- we really feel we're doing that," Lopez said. "And we still feel like we're getting better each and every single night."