Though they hung around for most of the game, the Milwaukee Bucks just seemed destined for a slow death Sunday afternoon in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals.
Even the stadium emcee thanked the fans at halftime and shouted to the fans that there were only 24 minutes left in Bucks playoff basketball right before the third quarter began.
Monta Ellis had a chance to make it a one-point game early in the fourth quarter but missed a free throw. And then it hit. A 19-5 Miami run and the slow death turned into one much quicker, but just as painful, as the Heat rolled to a 88-77 victory to complete the four-game sweep.
It wasn’t so much that the Bucks expected to win the series — though Brandon Jennings made headlines with his Bucks in six games prediction — but they at least wanted to make the series competitive. And though all four games were close for a good amount of time, the Heat didn’t really have to sweat it out once.
LeBron James didn’t have to play like an MVP aside from one stretch Sunday, Chris Bosh was average for his standards and Dwyane Wade rested and sat out of Game 4.
“It was right there,” Bucks center Larry Sanders said. “Those are usually the ones that hurt the most. You are right there and you feel you could have done this to win or that to win. That’s what it comes down to in the playoffs. The little things that you don’t do the other team capitalizes on. And this team did.
“You want to do better. When you put yourselves in this position, you want to at least come out with a win.”
The odds were tall, no doubt. Miami entered the playoffs winners of 40 of its last 42 games, while the Bucks lost 15 of their final 21 games. That’s why the end result of the series was inevitable.
But the Bucks were confident they’d make the Heat fight to advance to the next round, something that didn’t happen.
“It was the situation we were in,” Bucks guard Monta Ellis said. “Coming into the playoffs we weren’t playing our best basketball. We had a lot of guys banged up. Coming in and playing the world champs, that’s a big project and a big task for us. We just came out and played basketball.
“They were more aggressive. They made shots when they needed to. They had their composure even when we were up 10. They never showed any kind of stress or fear. Only thing we can do is learn from it. Keep building as a team and see what happens next year.”
The question now lies in who will be here next year to see if this truly was a learning experience for the Bucks. Ellis can opt out of the final year of his contract, Brandon Jennings is a restricted free agent, while J.J. Redick is an unrestricted free agent.
Milwaukee has just seven players under contract for next season and general manager John Hammond will have a decision to make on the status of head coach Jim Boylan in the next 24 to 48 hours.
When asked if he intends to be with the Bucks next season, Ellis said “That’s a decision I have to make.”
Asked a similar question multiple times, Jennings — who didn’t play the final 14:53 of Sunday’s loss — gave similar answers.
“That’s something that my Bucks and my agent will have to discuss,” Jennings said. “It’s really out of my control.
“Do I want to be here? I don’t know. I can’t really answer that right now. You’ll know July 1.”
Jennings was pressed further and asked if he has thought about life after Milwaukee, where he’s played the first four years of his career.
“I haven’t,” Jennings, who switched agents during the middle of this season, said. “I probably will talk to my agent and we’ll see what happens. I didn’t change agents for no reason. I went with Jeff Schwartz and I have a lot of confidence in him and I know he’s going to get it done.
“The season is over with now. This has been a crazy year. It’s actually been one of the craziest years of my life. Just the fact that I didn’t get the contract extension before the season started, I was basically playing for my life. With the coaching changes, it was a total roller coaster this year.”
Though the playoffs didn’t go their way and there’s a tremendous amount of uncertainty moving forward, Bucks coach Jim Boylan was adamant in saying young players like Sanders will benefit greatly down the road from playing a four-game series with a team the caliber of Miami.
It may sting now, but the returning players can use it to fuel the franchise’s future. Tossing the talent difference out of the window, the Heat played with a level of unselfishness and togetherness that the Bucks haven’t approached yet.
It’s a good way to build,” Sanders said. “I feel like Milwaukee is building something. I hope we can make it a tradition of being a playoff team. This is our first step.
“I wouldn’t say we are there yet. We’re building now. (The Heat has) been building for a while with key pieces that the organization is putting a lot of confidence in. I think Milwaukee is trying to do the same thing. Give it some years, give it some time to get some guys in here, some key players, and I think (we’ll get there).”