MILWAUKEE (AP) — For all Miami has accomplished with its Big Three – and it’s been plenty – there’s still one thing the Heat haven’t done.
The Heat have a chance to sweep a playoff series for the first time since LeBron James and Chris Bosh joined Dwyane Wade in Miami when they play the Milwaukee Bucks in Game 4 on Sunday afternoon.
And don’t think they’re not aware of it.
‘This is the next step in our development,” James said after the Heat went up 3-0 with a 104-91 victory over the Bucks on Thursday night.
The Heat have been in this position before, taking a 3-0 lead in their first-round series against the Philadelphia 76ers two years ago and again against the New York Knicks last year. But they were forced to a Game 5 both times, a pattern they’re determined to break against the Bucks.
”It’s important for us to close them out because it’s the next game,” James said. ”It’s going to be different. It won’t be the same as Game 1 or Game 2 or Game 3, today. But if we come in with the same mindset, or even more desperation as we did today, we give ourselves a good chance to win.”
The defending champions still haven’t played their best game. But it hardly matters with their ability to pull off one of their patented runs, as they did Thursday night.
After leading for much of the game, Milwaukee was trying to pull away early in the third. Brandon Jennings was fouled on a 3-point attempt and made all three free throws, then followed with a one-hand slam after Ersan Ilyasova’s steal. Luc Mbah a Moute made two sets of free throws, and the Bucks were back up 61-55 with 7:14 left in the third.
But the Heat have made a habit of putting the Bucks away with runs, and this game was no different.
Udonis Haslem made a layup and a pair of free throws, Mario Chalmers followed with a layup and the Heat were off on what would be a 23-7 run to close out the quarter. The Bucks got to 67-66 on a layup by Mbah a Moute, but James answered with a monster 3. After a pair of free throws by Mbah a Moute, Chalmers stripped Monta Ellis and fed James, who sprinted to the other end for the layup as the Bucks watched helplessly. Chris Andersen scored on a reverse, James made a layup and then fed Andersen for another layup that gave Miami a 78-68 lead going into the fourth quarter.
The Bucks never got within single digits again.
”A three-, four-minute stretch just like in the first two games, where they kind of blitzed us,” Bucks coach Jim Boylan said. ”We dug ourselves a big hole that we could not come back from.”
Allen made sure of that, knocking down a huge 3 from the right corner with 8:38 to play to give Miami a 90-73 lead. That was the 321st trey of his career in the playoffs, breaking Reggie Miller’s previous record of 320, and he added one more two minutes later.
”I think about when I first stepped on this floor for the very first time, I thought about what I was going to be able to contribute to this game,” said Allen, who spent his first six-plus seasons in Milwaukee. ”It’s ironic that I’m on this floor right now, because this is where it all started.”
Allen finished with five 3s and a team-high 23 points. Chris Bosh added 16 points and 14 rebounds for the Heat, who have won 11 straight dating to the regular season and 40 of their last 42. Andersen had another big game, scoring 11 on 5-of-5 shooting and grabbing six rebounds in less than 14 minutes.
Wade had just four points, and his 1-of-12 shooting was his worst in a postseason game. But he contributed 11 assists, nine rebounds, five steals and two blocks.
”I shot the ball terrible,” Wade, who is still nursing a bruised right knee, said with a laugh. ”But we played a good game. Game 3 is a tough game. I thought, as a team, we showed a lot of guts, a lot of grit. When those guys came out hot, we stayed with it, we stayed with our game plan and were able to get a great win. There’s nothing as satisfying as winning a Game 3 on the road. But it’s over now. Now we have to focus on closing the series out.”
Jennings and Larry Sanders had 16 each to lead six Bucks in double figures, and Sanders added 11 rebounds while Jennings contributed eight assists.
But the Bucks couldn’t maintain the 10-point lead they took in the first quarter, when they shot 57 percent (12 of 21) and were 5 of 10 from 3-point range. Milwaukee was just 12 of 21 over the final three quarters (41 percent), and made only two more 3s.
”We had to fight for this one,” Miami coach Erik Spoelstra said. ”They came out with a great deal of intensity as we expected. Got us on our heels.”
That the Heat will win the series is almost inevitable. No team has ever rallied from a 3-0 deficit to win a series in the NBA playoffs.
But it’s when the series ends that matters now, for both the Heat and the Bucks.
”I hope we’re still confident,” Jennings said. ”As a team, we need to stay together.”
NOTES: Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers was at the game. … Bucks fans were tough on all of the Heat players, even Allen, who spent his first six-plus years in Milwaukee, and Wade, whose No. 3 at Marquette hangs from the rafters at the Bradley Center. ”I expect that,” Allen said. ”Even though I played quite a while here and won some big games, I’m still the opposing team. I didn’t expect any special favors.” … Wade is the first player since Rajon Rondo on March 23, 2011, to have at least 11 assists, nine rebounds and five steals in a game.