ST. FRANCIS, Wis. (AP) — Larry Sanders leaned over to LeBron James at one point in Miami and said, “We’re here.”
But for how long?
Sanders and the Milwaukee Bucks limped home down 0-2 to the Miami Heat after blowing a chance to steal a game from the defending champions Tuesday night. Lose again Thursday night in front of a favorable home crowd, and the series — and Milwaukee’s season — may as well be over. No team has ever rallied from an 0-3 deficit to win a best-of-seven series in the NBA playoffs.
“We’ve got to accept the challenge right out of the gate tomorrow,” Bucks coach Jim Boylan said after Wednesday’s practice. “It’s Game 3, we know they’re going to come in thinking, `Let’s see if we can take their will away.'”
The Bucks have never won a series after losing the first two games. The Heat, meanwhile, have never lost a series in which they had a 2-0 lead.
“We haven’t done anything yet,” Miami coach Erik Spoelstra cautioned. “We did what we’re supposed to do. We held home court. Playoffs don’t start until either team wins on the other court. And this will be a desperate, competitive response from them, trying to defend their home court. And we have to find a way to steal one, go in there and take control of the series.
“There’s nothing wrong with us coming in there with an incredible amount of desperation as well,” he added. “Our guys have experience to know what we’ll be facing. It’ll be a tough environment. And that’s why we’re bracing ourselves for this competition tomorrow night.”
That the Heat lead the series is hardly a surprise.
They’re the NBA’s dominant team, after all, winners of a staggering 39 of their last 41 games, including the last 10. Their roster is so loaded even defensive gurus can’t find a way to shut everyone down, with Chris Andersen causing almost as many problems in the first two games as James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.
“It’s a lot coming at you,” Sanders said. “Their roster is very dynamic. That’s when you have to make the second and third efforts.”
And not lose focus.
The Heat led by just three going into the fourth quarter Tuesday night, only to erupt for 12 straight points in a 2:22 span that put the game out of reach. If that looked familiar, well, it was.
Dating back to the regular season, Miami has used big runs to put away the Bucks several times. Like on March 15, when the Heat doubled what had been an eight-point lead with a 13-5 run in a span of 2:26 late in the third quarter. The Heat went on to win that one 107-94. Or on April 9, when Miami held the Bucks without a field goal for 6:58 in the third quarter on its way to a 94-83 win.
Even in Game 1, when the Heat used a 7-0 run over the last 1:53 in the third quarter to turn an eight-point lead into 15.
“We seem to have a stretch of about four, five, six minutes where they kind of get away from us,” Boylan said. “We have to figure out how to keep that from happening and keep ourselves in the game.”
Added Monta Ellis, “The NBA is all about runs, so we know they’re going to make a run. We’ve just got to be ready to counter it.”
Or at least not make it so easy on the Heat.
While Miami seems to have an innate ability to flip a switch and make a run — “We’re always proactive trying to look for those spurts and those runs,” Bosh said — the Bucks have helped them out with turnovers and poor shots. The Heat are so strong and quick they can turn pretty much any miscue into a fast-break opportunity. Andersen or Bosh will grab a rebound and rifle it to Wade or James or Shane Battier or Ray Allen, who puts up the quick jumper.
If that happens on three or four possessions in a row, the game is going to get out of hand quickly.
“We have to be more relaxed, we have to be more patient,” Ellis said. “We’re going to have spurts in the game when we’re not doing well. We’ve just got to keep our composure at times like that.”
Find a way to get everyone going in the same game, too.
Ellis and Brandon Jennings combined for 48 points in Game 1, but had just 15 on Tuesday night. With Ellis and Jennings struggling, Ersan Ilyasova (21 points), Mike Dunleavy (16) and Sanders (14) gave Milwaukee a boost.
“We’ve got to just try and tie some things together,” Sanders said.
Even if the Bucks should win Thursday, however, the odds are still very much in Miami’s favor.
But they have to start somewhere.
“We always believe,” Ilyasova said. “The first game at home is really going to be key.”
Notes: Sanders said he is fine after “tweaking” his ankle in a collision with Shane Battier on Tuesday night. … Spoelstra said he expects Battier, who needed stitches in his chin, to play without any limitations, too. … The Heat spent Wednesday’s off day in Miami. “Rest, treatment and fly,” Spoelstra said about his team’s plans. “We’ve been going five straight days, we’ve had a couple very long days. So we’ll get back after it tomorrow morning. We know what to expect tomorrow and we’re trying to brace ourselves for Game 3.”