The No. 1 seed Milwaukee Bucks' season is on the brink. Early on Friday night, the Miami Heat came back from a double-digit deficit in the fourth quarter, outscoring the Bucks 40-13 in the final frame to take Game 3, 115-100, and build a 3-0 lead in their second-round series.
Jimmy Butler was the main man again for the Heat, taking over in the fourth quarter by getting to the free throw line early and often. He finished with 30 points, seven rebounds and six assists. As a team, the Heat did most of their damage from the 3-point line, knocking down 18 of their 47 attempts from downtown.
Giannis Antetokounmpo finished with 21 points, 16 rebounds and nine assists for a near triple-double, but wasn't efficient on the offensive end. He also tweaked his ankle in the first half, which could be a cause for concern for the Bucks moving forward -- especially considering they now have to win four straight to avoid being eliminated.
Here are some key takeaways from the game:
Heat dominate with historic fourth quarter
Miami entered the fourth quarter trailing by 12 points, which was the biggest deficit they'd faced all series long. At that point, it seemed like they were heading for their first loss, not only of this series, but the entire postseason. Instead, they completely turned the game around, outscoring the Bucks by 27 points in the fourth, which was the biggest fourth-quarter point differential in playoff history in the shot clock era.
Jimmy Butler led the way, just as he did in Game 1, scoring 17 of his 28 points in the fourth, with nine of them coming at the free throw line. The way he relentlessly attacked the Bucks down the stretch really summed up the entire series so far: Miami has been the tougher, more aggressive and more confident team.
The Heat also locked in on the defensive end, holding the Bucks to just 13 points on 6-of-23 from the field in the fourth, including just one point over the final 4:41. During that stretch, the Heat went on a 17-1 run to close the game, and put the No. 1 seed on the brink of elimination.
Giannis only plays 34 minutes
Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer has always been an advocate of limiting minutes, and it's a wise strategy in the regular season. In the playoffs, however, rotations usually tighten, and the stars take on a much bigger load. But that hasn't been Budenholzer's M-O since taking over in Milwaukee.
Last season, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton each led the Bucks at 34.4 minutes per game in the playoffs, which was tied for 30th among all players. This time around, they're both getting just 33.2 minutes a night, good for 43rd. It's one thing to keep your guys fresh, it's another to lower your chances of winning by keeping your best players off the court.
Blowouts, injuries and foul trouble are factors, sure, but Giannis and Middleton shouldn't be playing less than Royce O'Neale or TJ Warren. And especially not when you're down 2-0 in the second round. Yet in Game 3 -- arguably one of the most important games in the history of the franchise -- Giannis played 34 minutes, and Middleton played 36.
After the game, Budenholzer said those numbers were "pushing the ceiling." He also added that Giannis' tweaked ankle was not a factor in his decision, and Giannis himself said "I could play more."
There are a lot of factors that go into rotations, and it's tough finding a balance with a guy like Giannis who goes all out every second he's on the floor, and takes a ton of contact. Still, this has been some extremely curious decision making from Budenholzer, and there doesn't really seem to be an excuse for it.
Bucks on the brink
No. 1 seeds usually dominate in the playoffs. Since 2000, there have only been seven No. 1 seeds that have failed to reach the conference finals; the Bucks are on their way to becoming the eighth. They're also in danger of joining the 2018 Toronto Raptors as only the second member of that group to be swept.
That's an incredible collapse from the pre-shutdown portion of the season, when they were borderline unbeatable, and pushing to join the Chicago Bulls and Golden State Warriors as the only teams to win 70 games. Now, they'll have to win four straight to keep their season alive.
The odds are against them, though, as no team in NBA history has ever come back from a 3-0 deficit. Not once in 139 attempts. And though the Bucks do have the presumptive back-to-back MVP on their side, there's little from the first three games to suggest that they have what it takes to beat this Heat bunch four times in a row.
It will be fascinating to see what type of energy the Bucks come out with in Game 4. With Giannis' looming free agency decision next offseason, there's a lot more at stake for this team than just crashing out of the playoffs early. If they fall short again after a brilliant regular season, big changes could be in store.