The Miami Heat must have heard the rumblings surrounding this matchup with the Milwaukee Bucks.
From all sides of the NBA community, including back home in Miami, there was the belief that the Heat’s historic winning streak, now alone in third place, would come to an end against one of the few teams who have given the Heat consistent trouble over the past three years.
The Heat won the first meeting at home in overtime, but the most recent meeting came in a 104-89 road loss where Miami was outscored by 21 points in the fourth quarter.
This time there was no Mike Dunleavy hitting three three-pointers. No Larry Sanders making the paint his own personal sanctuary. No Brandon Jennings draining absurd perimeter jumpers.
Most of all, there was no Scott Skiles coaching the sideline. While Skiles may not have gotten the job done for Milwaukee against half of their opponents, he did bring out the worst in Miami, even going back to his days as a coach of the Chicago Bulls.
It was Jim Boylan on the sidelines, and he couldn’t bring out that ugly brand of basketball Skiles was able to evoke out of Miami.
Instead, it was the Heat having another masterful, near perfect performance in the form of a 107-94 win.
Each member of the “Big Three” dropped at least 20 points for the seventh time in their era. LeBron James led the way with 28 points, ten rebounds, seven assists and a block, while leading the way with a number of plays that ended up on this morning’s highlight reel.
LeBron played a pivotal role early on. Dwyane Wade, who finished with 20 points, nine rebounds and seven assists in 33 minutes, took a hard fall after having his head hip-checked by Larry Sanders on a block.
Wade exited early in the first, but James and Chris Bosh kept the Heat afloat. Although Milwaukee ended up scoring 27 in the first, the Heat’s offense was at its usual potent self dropping 26.
The defense would step up the next quarter, allowing the Bucks only 15 points in a second quarter where Miami outscored their opponent by 11.
Wade eventually made his return midway through the second. Naturally, he responded by throwing down a few dunks that brought about memories of the slasher who dominated and owned the paint throughout his career.
Chris Bosh’s jumper was as silky and volatile as it’s ever been. The Prince of the Mid-Range needed only 16 shots to score 28 points, including his first-ever four-point play when he was fouled by Ersan Ilyasova on a made three-pointer.
Bosh converted two three-pointers in a game for the first time this season. He hasn’t had multiple triples in a contest since hitting three in Game 7 against the Boston Celtics.
He also finished with seven rebounds, providing the Heat with a stronger effort on the boards after an abysmal first half. Miami could have had this game decided by halftime, but the Bucks were supported by the relentless activity of Ilyasova and Sanders on the rebounding front.
The Bucks only won the rebounding battle 48-41, but had a staggering 19-8 edge on the offensive boards. Miami actually won the battle on the defensive boards 33-29.
Ilyasova alone finished with seven of those offensive caroms, before finishing with 26 points and a season-high 17 rebounds.
Sanders finished with ten rebounds, but needed nine shots to score six points and only blocked one shot. He played 28 minutes before being ejected for a second consecutive game for arguing calls.
The Heat went into the fourth quarter with a 15-point advantage, but saw that lead quickly fall to six after a J.J. Redick three-pointer and Ilyasova free throw on a four-point play with 8:53 remaining.
They never got any closer.
Shane Battier then hit a desperation three-pointer on the other end to stave off any sort of comeback Milwaukee envisioned. He converted both of his three-pointers on the night.
As for the Bucks’ dynamic backcourt of Jennings, who stated how the Heat would be the preferred team he’d face in the first-round, and Monta Ellis, who put himself in the same company as Dwyane Wade?
Jennings dropped 21 points, but only on 6-of-15 shooting. Seven of those points, however, came in the final four minutes with the game already decided.
Ellis needed 11 shots to score seven points. I forgot he was playing for the most part.
Remember Dunleavy and John Henson from previous match ups? Dunleavy, who hit three deadly threes against Miami in the fourth quarter of Milwaukee’s win, missed both of his perimeter jumpers and had three rebounds in 16 minutes.
Henson, who had 17 points and 18 rebounds in Miami’s overtime win, had two points and four rebounds. But he’ll be most remembered for getting on one of LeBron James’ better poster dunks of his career.
The Heat now move to 50-14 and, thanks to the Indiana Pacers losing to the Los Angeles Lakers, are now 10-and-a-half games ahead of second place.
Miami is 2-0 on the four-game road trip, but face their most daunting portion as they take on a back-to-back featuring the Toronto Raptors and Boston Celtics.