Commentary

Heat-style efficiency stops Bucks

While LeBron spreads the ball around, Bucks guards get only themselves involved

Originally Published: April 22, 2013
By Israel Gutierrez | ESPN.com

MIAMI -- If there was a segment of Sunday's Game 1 between the Miami Heat and Milwaukee Bucks that best displayed why this should be a brief first-round series, it came in the very beginning.

Sure, Chris Andersen's hustle and LeBron James' air show and Ray Allen's daggers in the second half created separation for Miami and raised the AmericanAirlines Arena volume to NBA Finals-like decibels.

But that was the after party. The real show, the one that makes this Miami Heat team the seemingly unstoppable force it is, was on display in the opening minutes.

That's when it became evident that the Bucks, with their array of pull-up, contested jumpers from undersized guards, would be no match for the Heat's smooth-flowing, spread offense that would make even Chip Kelly proud.

Miami jumped out to a 15-6 lead by tallying assists on its first six field goals, two of which were wide-open corner 3-pointers from "center" Chris Bosh.

[+] EnlargeLeBron James
Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE/GettyLeBron James helped set the tone in Game 1, in which he matched his career low of shot attempts in a playoff game.

The Bucks, who managed only three assists in the entire first quarter, countered from the very beginning with Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis taking tough, often contested shots off the dribble. That Jennings and Ellis were able to hit enough of those difficult shots throughout the first half, along with Milwaukee's knack for deflecting passes and forcing turnovers, only served to keep the score relatively close entering the third quarter.

But with the Heat operating at their league-best level of efficiency, this was never going to be a true contest. And unless Jennings, Ellis and the Bucks find ways to at least mimic Miami's willingness to share, it isn't going to be a particularly competitive series, either.

"This team is about getting great shots," said Heat guard Dwyane Wade, who had a slightly off 5-of-12 shooting night. "If you don't have it, hopefully someone else has a better shot. That's what everyone bought into, and it feels good when you're doing it."

Of course, it begins with James, whose 27 points came on an insanely efficient 9-of-11 shooting, his best shooting percentage in a postseason game. He added 10 rebounds and eight assists, but even LeBron will tell you it's not just him that makes this Heat offense go.

For starters, it was Bosh's ability to drain two of his three first-quarter 3-point attempts (he added a third in the third quarter) that allowed the offense to operate so effectively from the beginning.

There was some speculation that Erik Spoelstra, who said prior to the game that Miami needed to make Larry Sanders pay for living in the paint defensively, would go with Shane Battier in the starting lineup instead of Udonis Haslem to better spread the floor.

After all, the Bucks outscored the Heat 180-178 with Sanders on the floor this season, while the Heat outscored the Bucks 221-207 with Sanders on the bench. And it was with Battier as the starting power forward that Miami beat the Oklahoma City Thunder in last season's NBA Finals.

But that lineup switch wasn't required this time around. All it took was Bosh making those 3s he's been working so diligently on for the past two seasons to open up the floor.

He drained them, and Milwaukee's defense seemed to be scrambling from there on out.

"We just ran our sets," LeBron said. "If you've been watching us all year, or kind of kept your eye on us, you've seen [Bosh] kind of ends up in that corner. [Haslem] is always running the pick-and-rolls and rolling. [Bosh] is the beneficiary of a lot of those corner shots, and it just opened it up for all of us."

Milwaukee's offensive counter?

Well, it wasn't exactly intricate. It included a lot of dribbling from Ellis and Jennings, step-backs and pull-ups from Ellis and Jennings, and not nearly enough distributing from either Ellis or Jennings.

The Bucks starting backcourt finished with a respectable 48 points combined on 18-of-39 shooting. But they combined for only five assists and were the only Bucks in double-figure scoring. In fact, no one else scored more than six.

"We need to find some other guys who can contribute offensively for us," Bucks coach Jim Boylan said. "We need to get some more balance. We only had two guys in double figures, and that is putting too much pressure on those two guys."

Even as the Heat were fumbling their way to 19 turnovers, as Milwaukee deflected one pass after another, the offensive numbers were still drastically in the Heat's favor.

The Heat shot better than 62 percent in both the first and fourth quarters and 55.9 percent for the game.

As a result, the Bucks never really felt like a legitimate threat -- not when Ellis constantly settled for long 2-pointers and Jennings needed to step back beyond 23 feet to get a clean shot.

"When you're guarding those guys and they're hitting contested shots, you'll live with it," Wade said. "In the larger scheme of things, that's what you want.

"They made shots, but at the end of the day, we're not worried about just one or two guys making shots. We worry about making sure they don't get their whole game going."

The Heat's whole game includes their whole team. Allen, in his first playoff game in a Heat uniform, dropped a cool 20 points in 29 minutes. Andersen flapped his wings a couple times on his way to a crowd-pleasing 10 points and seven rebounds. And Miami finished 38-of-68 despite Battier's rare 1-of-8 shooting night.

That's why LeBron doesn't feel nearly the same pressure to carry his team that Ellis and Jennings do. Even in the postseason.

"We have so many threats out on the floor, it allows me to just play without any stress because I know guys on our team can make plays, with or without me on the floor," James said. "The work I've put into my individual game and also the package, the team that we have, it comes together, and that's the result of it."

A result Jennings, who boldly predicted his team would win this series in six games, couldn't have liked watching.

"LeBron was getting everyone else involved, and when he has the ball, he draws so much attention," Jennings said. "You worry about what LeBron is going to do, not just the scoring."

Israel Gutierrez is an NBA writer for ESPN.com.