Is this about the Bucks or Heat?

Of course, it's some of both.

Good morning. Let’s basketball.

Boy Blowing Bubbles, Edouard Manet

In Game 1, the Bucks were ice cold from deep despite getting fairly good looks as the Heat sold out on stopping Giannis Antetokounmpo. Milwaukee still won that game thanks to some great team defense on Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo, some effective play inside from Brook Lopez and a gorgeous game-winner from Khris Middleton.

In Game 2, the shots fell, as they usually do for Milwaukee. The Bucks also continued to keep Butler and Bam under wraps, and Duncan Robinson didn’t go bonkers this time around. Miami had no hope and lost by 34. The Bucks hit 22 threes and had 21 offensive rebounds. It’s just a disaster everywhere for the Heat after that game.

You may remember that the Heat beat the Bucks 4-1 in the second round last year. So with the Bucks up 2-0 this time around, what’s changed? Is this about the Bucks or the Heat?

That’s a rhetorical question, of course: it’s about both.

Milwaukee went all-in on Jrue Holiday in the offseason, and it’s paying off against Miami as his all-world defense has been a difference maker. He also racked up 15 assists in Game 2. No offense to Eric Bledsoe, but that’s not happening with the old Bucks. Having Holiday as the No. 3 star with Giannis and Middleton (who was stellar at times in last year’s series, especially Game 4) puts the other Bucks main characters in proper context. Having Holiday on offense lets Donte DiVincenzo and Bryn Forbes and Pat Connaughton and even Lopez play even more distinct and appropriate roles. (Forbes and Connaughton went a combined 11/18 from three in Game 2, by the way. I’m of the opinion those are Milwaukee’s two least reliable rotation players but they made their minutes count.)

Giannis also looks less tentative than he did in past postseasons. That’s weird to say — Milwaukee had a 2-0 Eastern Conference Finals leads in 2019 — but he seems more comfortable with the state of the Bucks, perhaps owing to how the team prepared for this moment throughout the season, perhaps because of Holiday’s presence, perhaps because his contract situation was resolved in the offseason.

If the Heat broadly and Butler specifically thought they were in Antetokounmpo’s head after last year, they appear to be sorely mistaken at this point. Does this look like a man bothered by anything the opponent is throwing at him?

You can’t deny, however, that at least some of this is about the Heat, too. Replacing Jae Crowder with Trevor Ariza is proving to be a disaster when it comes to this series. Crowder was an important supplemental scorer for Miami a year ago — he averaged 15 per game while helping defend Giannis. Ariza really can’t do much of anything with Giannis or Lopez if the Heat switch Adebayo onto Antetokounmpo, and Ariza has all of 11 points over two games.

The Heat rightfully sold out on re-signing Goran Dragic in the offseason and let Crowder walk. Crowder is a key starter for the No. 2 seed Phoenix Suns, playing a big role defending Anthony Davis and hitting open shots created by Chris Paul and Devin Booker. Ariza is five years older and on his sixth team in two years. The Ariza of five years ago? He’d be a great fit for this Miami team, though maybe still a little light to take on Giannis. It’s surprising in retrospect that the Heat didn’t do something more to shore up this spot knowing the opponents waiting in the playoffs. If only Justise Winslow had stayed healthy and not been traded, sigh …

Tyler Herro still hasn’t found any consistent rhythm; it turns out he doesn’t magically turn into a god when the playoffs begin. Bam is not playing at the level he did a year ago, not yet at least. As mentioned, Holiday is making life difficult for Butler.

None of this is to discredit the performance Miami put together in the bubble. Far from it. The start of this series reflects how amazing an event the Heat catching fire last summer really was. The Bucks are really, really good and have been for years, and Miami put together a tremendous series to knock them out. That the Bucks are punching back indicates — at least so far, there’s a lot of series left — that Milwaukee improved and the Heat have not, at least as it pertains to this match-up.

Again, the series is young. The Bucks of all teams know 2-0 is not victory. And Miami did almost win Game 1. But that Game 2 was such a thorough beatdown and the Bucks seem so completely unbothered by the team that knocked them out a year ago that it feels like something major has changed. We’ll see as the rest of the series plays out.

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Scores

NBA

Heat 98, Bucks 132 (MIL leads 2-0)

Blazers 109, Nuggets 128 (Series tied 1-1) — Interesting twist on the series: Damian Lillard went nuclear in the first half (32 points, 8 made threes) but Portland was still down 12 going into the break because they couldn’t stop Denver AT ALL. Then Denver put Aaron Gordon on Lillard in the second half and that slowed down Dame considerably.

For the game the Nuggets shot 53 percent from the floor and 43 percent from deep. The Blazers win by outscoring opponents. It’s really hard to outscore a team shooting like the Nuggets did in Game 2. The MVP was 15/20 from the floor. Unreal.

Too many fouls! Not the refs’ best effort here. But here’s Jokic being all charitable and stuff.

WNBA

Wings 81, Liberty 88 — Betnijah Laney with 26, New York is 5-1. Reminder: they went 2-20 last season. Laney, who was drafted out of Rutgers in 2015, had scored 20 or more seven times in her career coming into this season. She’s scored 20 or more in all six Liberty games this year.

Schedule

All times Eastern.

Mystics at Fever, 7
Celtics at Nets Game 2, 7:30, TNT (BKN leads 1-0)
Dream at Sky, 8, CBS Sports Network
Lakers at Suns Game 2, 10, TNT (PHX leads 1-0)
Sun at Storm, 10, CBS Sports Network
Mavericks at Clippers Game 2, 10:30, NBA TV (DAL leads 1-0)

Links

Just an incredible story from Howard Beck on the traumatizing first near game-winner in Damian Lillard’s career, which probably explains why he’s so cool when he hits big shots now. Beck is so good at telling stories.

Donovan Mitchell once again seems mad members of the Utah Jazz organization, this time the medical staff that scratched him from Sunday’s Game 1. Mitchell will play in Game 2 on Wednesday. It seems like there’s some tension around Mitchell working out with his personal trainers during his injury recovery, as well. The Jazz really can’t have a season without drama, can they?

Happy Jazz news time? OK. Jordan Clarkson was named the Sixth Man of the Year! The fashion in which he was told — by teammate and fellow contender Joe Ingles, on live television — was just fantastic.

Curt Miller, coach of the Connecticut Sun, apparently told refs that Liz Cambage is “300 pounds” in earshot of Cambage while arguing a foul call or non-call in a game over the weekend against the Aces. Cambage took exception on her Instagram Story. Miller apologized, got fined $10,000 and suspended for a game.

Kelly Dwyer is skeptical about the NBA midseason tournament. I think I’m also there. ($)

The National Basketball Social Justice Coalition, which includes players, coaches, franchise owners and others, calls on the U.S. Senate to pass the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act.

Katie Barnes on the Minnesota Lynx’s continued commitment to social justice and activism.

This is usually not a good sign.

Charlie Warzel, whose newsletter Galaxy Brain is really really really good, on the importance of experiencing crowds you are not a part of.

The NBA released a statement on their decision not to sanction LeBron James for attending a tequila promo event last week.

Warriors GM Bob Myers sounds confident that Stephen Curry will sign another $200 million contract this summer.

There’s at least a 1-person backlash to J. Cole in the Basketball Africa League: former Maryland player Terrell Stoglin, who is an MVP contender for another BAL team and thinks J. Cole unfairly stole another player’s job by moonlighting in the league. I both see his point and acknowledge that Cole’s marketing presence in the BAL will raise future potential salaries for BAL players.

Speaking of the BAL, Adam Silver announced a new investment fund led by Nigerian investors, Grant Hill and Dikembe Mutombo to build up the league’s business interests on the continent.

Be excellent to each other.