We meet again.
The Milwaukee Bucks will face off against the Miami Heat in the playoffs for the second-consecutive season, one year removed from the Heat's shocking five-game gentleman's sweep of the No. 1 seed in the East.
Can the Bucks take revenge against the team that cut their season well short of expectations a season ago?
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The 2021 NBA Playoffs will begin on Saturday, May 22. The schedule has not been released yet.
- Game 1 - Saturday, May 22 at 2:00 p.m. ET
- Game 2 - Monday, May 24 at 7:30 p.m. ET
- Game 3 - Thursday, May 27 at 7:30 p.m. ET
- Game 4 - Saturday, May 29 at 1:30 p.m. ET
- Game 5 (if necessary) - Tuesday, June 1 (Time TBD)
- Game 6 (if necessary) - Thursday, June 3 (Time TBD)
- Game 7 (if necessary) - Saturday, June 5 (Time TBD)
Result: Bucks won 2-1
Best game: Dec. 30, 2020 - Heat 119, Bucks 108
Best performance: Giannis Antetokounmpo (Dec. 30, 2020) - 26 points (10-18 FG), 13 rebounds, 10 assists, 3 steals, 1 block
The Bucks won the season series 2-1 but it's worth noting that two of the three matchups came in each of these team's first 10 games of the season, facing off in back-to-back contests back in December.
A lot has changed since then - lineups, rotations, injuries, you name it.
Star forward Jimmy Butler didn't play in any of the meetings for the Heat. In fact, their starting lineup for the first game included Meyers Leonard and Maurice Harkless, neither of whom are still with the team, while KZ Okpala nearly led the Heat in minutes off the bench. In the second game, Avery Bradley started at shooting guard while Kelly Olynyk led the team in minutes off the bench. Neither of them are still with Miami either.
All of that is to say that there isn't much of anything you can take away from any of their regular season matchups.
Giannis Antetokounmpo was quiet against the Heat this season, just as he was in the playoffs last year, with star centre Bam Adebayo doing what he does best in containing the two-time MVP. Antetokounmpo averaged only 16.7 points per game - his lowest average against any team this season - while shooting under 50 percent from the field.
That head-to-head matchup is the only thing you can really take from the three regular season meetings.
Key Storyline: Containing Giannis Antetokounmpo ... again
In a rematch of last year's Eastern Conference Semifinals where the Heat defeated the Bucks in a stunning five-game fashion and rode that momentum all the way to the NBA Finals, get your popcorn ready.
The key to Miami's success in last year's series was containing two-time MVP Antetokounmpo, who averaged 21.8 points, 11.0 rebounds and 5.3 assists per game on shooting splits of .508/.214/.537. I know what you're thinking - those are still very good averages from a points, rebounds and assists standpoint. But coming off of a first-round series where Antetokounmpo torched the Orlando Magic to the tune of 30.6 points, 16.0 rebounds and 6.0 assists per game on .590/.385/.625 shooting splits, it was a significant drop off in production that the Bucks could not overcome.
So what was the secret to the Heat's success?
Their patented 2-3 zone played a major factor. Not only did it help them clog up the middle for Antetokounmpo and throw multiple bodies at the superstar any time he got into the paint, it invited him to take shots from outside of his comfort zone. According to NBA.com Stats, Antetokounmpo went 7-for-29 (24.1%) on attempts outside of the restricted area for the series.
Granted, the All-NBA forward was laboring through an ankle injury that would eventually cause him to miss the fifth and final game of the series, but that doesn't take away from how locked in Miami was defensively.
It is worth mentioning that Jae Crowder, who is now with the Phoenix Suns, played a major role in slowing down Antetokounmpo before he could even get into the paint. According to NBA.com Stats, when Crowder guarded Antetokounmpo, he went 9-for-22 (40.9%) from the field with just 25 points and three turnovers in 73 partial possessions.
Can veteran wing Trevor Ariza and/or Andre Iguodala replicate that defence to help their team contain one of the league's top players again?
The answer to that question could be the key to the series.
Three Players to Watch
As important as Crowder was defensively last season, Adebayo was still the man in the middle and the glue that held everything together.
With Crowder no longer on the roster, Adebayo will take on even more responsibility in trying to shut down the two-time MVP. According to NBA.com Stats, in three matchups this season, Adebayo held Antetokounmpo to 18 points on 18 shots (!), forcing the star forward to go 7-for-18 (38.9%) from the field and 2-for-8 (25.0%) from 3-point range in 57.0 partial possessions.
All this talk on slowing down Antetokounmpo leads us to the man himself.
Averaging 28.1 points, 11.0 rebounds, 5.9 assists, 1.2 steals and 1.2 blocks per game this season, The Greek Freak is well on his way to another All-NBA First Team selection. He'll need to maintain those averages and potentially elevate his play to another level if he's going to get revenge for last season's early exit against Miami.
Butler has had a fine season himself, averaging 21.5 points, career-highs of 7.1 assists and 6.9 rebounds, and a league-leading 2.1 steals per game on the heels of an incredible playoff run last season.
Butler set the tone in this series last year, going off for a then-playoff-career-high 40 points to give the Heat a Game 1 victory. He stepped up again in Game 3 with 30 points, seven rebounds and six assists to take a 3-0 lead - a death mark for an opposing team in an NBA Playoff series.
Will the five-time All-Star jumpstart his team in a similar manner this year?
Picks and Predictions
Kyle Irving (@KyleIrv_): Bucks in 6
Scott Rafferty (@crabdribbles): Bucks in 7
Gilbert McGregor (@GMcGregor21): Bucks in 6
Benyam Kidane (@BenyamKidane): Bucks in 6
Kane Pitman (@KanePitman): Bucks in 6
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