ST. FRANCIS, Wis. — If the Milwaukee Bucks are going to snag a game from the Miami Heat, they are going to have to find a way to not get knocked out by one vicious blow delivered by the defending champions.
In Game 1 and Game 2 of their Eastern Conference first-round series, the Bucks hung around for a good chunk of each game, only to watch Miami flip the switch and rattle off a devastating run to pull away.
Considering how fast and furious the Heat can blitz a team, preventing or overcoming a big run is much easier said than done. As the series shifts to Milwaukee for Game 3 on Thursday night, the Bucks are hoping their home crowd can provide the lift necessary to prevent one run from being the deciding factor.
“We know they are going to make their run,” Bucks guard Monta Ellis said. “We just have to be ready to counter their run, keep our poise and stay together. The biggest thing is that we just have to play better going into the fourth quarter and have a better mindset.
“You are going to have spurts during the game where you aren’t doing everything right and everything is not going your way. We just have to keep our composure at times like that and come down and get into our offense and execute.”
In Game 1, Miami turned a four-point, third-quarter lead into a 14-point lead in just over four minutes. The Bucks hung around longer in Game 2, but the Heat opened the fourth quarter on a 12-0 run to take an 80-65 lead, never looking back.
While credit is due to the Heat for capitalizing on Milwaukee’s mistakes, the Bucks know they can clean up the lapses that have allowed Miami to pull away.
“It’s more of a combination (of things),” Bucks coach Jim Boylan said of what’s causing the big runs. “We are turning the ball over, and we aren’t having good offensive possessions. They are rebounding the ball, sprinting down to the other end and taking advantage with their energy guys.”
The energy guy carving up the Bucks is Miami’s Chris “Birdman” Andersen. The energetic power forward has come off the bench and averaged 10 points and 6.5 rebounds per game, sparking both of the big runs by crashing the offensive glass for easy put-backs.
Because the Bucks big men have been so focused on stepping up and helping on James or Wade, Andersen has picked his spots to have free reign on the boards.
“Chris Andersen has been a factor in both games with his rebounding and his energy,” Boylan said. “We have to make some adjustments to keep him off the glass. We’ll do what we need to do.”
The Bucks are expecting Miami to come out with a cranked-up effort level and attitude sensing it can put Milwaukee away with one dominating performance. And while the odds are stacked against them to even win one game in the series, the Bucks are still extremely focused on trying to take Game 3 and inch back into the series.
“Everybody has that mindset,” Ellis said. “The way we’ve been playing the last two games, it shows. Hopefully, we can come home and get that intensity and energy from the crowd to really help us get over the hump.
“We’ve been doing great so far. We’ve been putting three quarters together. In minutes in the first quarter, we always find a stretch where they hit some shots and go up and we drop our shoulders and we lose focus. We have to get better at that and play all 48 minutes.”
Thursday will be the first playoff game at the BMO Harris Bradley Center since Game 6 of Milwaukee’s first-round series loss to Atlanta in 2010. The players are hoping their fans turn out and can provide any kind of advantage.
The building can get loud and raucous when filled, and who knows, maybe the Bucks can find a bit of home magic to get back in the series. Milwaukee was encouraged by how it played for most of the first two games of the series and now hopes to put the pieces of the puzzle together for a complete effort Thursday night.
“I’m too excited,” Bucks center Larry Sanders said. “I know our fans are going to have the building going crazy, and it’s just going to be a sight to see. I can’t wait.
“We are at home, we have a lot of things that are going to be working in our favor. There will be a lot of excitement in the building. It will be great for our fans and great for us. It’s what we deserve. We’ve been playing really hard. This season has been a roller coaster, but all in all, the guys have put in tremendous effort to get to this point and we want something to show for it.”