MILWAUKEE -- Here’s how you close out a series: 17 points in a four-minute stretch during the fourth quarter, including four three-pointers and a three-point play by LeBron James.
Then, for good measure, a raucous dunk by James to cap it all off.
James’ powerful, emphatic basket with 2:41 left in the fourth quarter gave the Heat a 16-point lead, sent Dwyane Wade out of his chair in celebration and sent the Heat into the second-round of the playoffs with a four-game sweep of the Milwaukee Bucks. The Heat defeated the Bucks 88-77 to close out the series. It all seemed almost too easy. The Heat held the Bucks to 85.3 points per game, and for many of the players, including veterans such as Ray Allen, Mike Miller and Shane Battier, it was the first series sweep of their careers.
“Sweeping is the toughest thing you ever do,” said Udonis Haslem, who had 13 points and five rebounds. “Teams’ lives are on the line, and they might understand that they might not come back and win the whole series, but guys want to get one because it’s a pride thing.
“Nobody wants to get swept.”
It was the Heat’s first sweep since the 2005 playoffs when Haslem and Wade swept through the New Jersey Nets and then the Washington Wizards in the first two rounds of the playoffs before losing to the Pistons in seven.
The Heat now must await the conclusion of the first-round series between Chicago and the Nets — the new Brooklyn Nets — before focusing on its next opponent. The first game of the second round can begin no sooner than Saturday. The Bulls lead the Nets 3-1 in the best-of-7 series.
“We have to take this time to continue to stay sharp and continue to stay in shape as well,” said Wade, who averaged 13.7 points per game in the series. He also had seven rebounds per game and 19 total assists, second only to James’ 27 assists.
Wade, who sat out to rest some nagging injuries, watched from the end of the bench and cheered on his teammates. It was the first playoff game he missed since sitting Game 6 of the Heat’s Eastern Conference finals loss to the Pistons in 2005.
Of course, it’s not like the Heat really needed Wade to beat the Bucks. The series was lopsided from the beginning. Entering the postseason, the Bucks finished six games below .500 and 28 games out of first place. Meanwhile, the Heat clinched the Eastern Conference’s No.1 seed with about a month left in the season. It played out like the gross mismatch it was.
“The big picture is in the last three weeks and month he’s been making big strides, and it’s important to keep that in perspective,” Spoelstra said of Wade’s injured knee.
Wade expects to return for Game 1 of the Heat’s second-round series.
James finished Game 4 with 30 points, scoring 18 in the second half, to go along with eight rebounds and seven assists. He was 13 of 20 from the field. He averaged 24.5 points and 7.8 rebounds in the series.
It was a sluggish game for the first 36 minutes. The Heat shot 43.2 percent in the first half and was 0 of 4 from three-point range in the third quarter. But, like it did in the first three games of this series, the Heat poured on the points when it mattered.
Miami led only 67-62 to begin the fourth quarter but used a 19-5 run to put the game away.
Allen started the fireworks with a three-pointer, and Mario Chalmers followed with one of his own on the Heat’s next possession. Battier then added his only three-pointer of the game, and Allen knocked down another with 5:54 left to give the Heat an 11-point lead. James hit an 11-footer over Mbah a Moute, drew a foul and converted the free throw to put the Heat ahead 86-72 with 4:54 remaining.
“LeBron probably more than anything settled us,” Spoelstra said. “We ran virtually every part of our offense through him either one way or another. Either he was handling, creating a trigger at the elbow, finding open guys — what you liked about it was these were some of the same looks we were getting in the first half and we were missing those threes.”
Led by Allen, the Heat was 4 of 9 from three-point range in the fourth quarter. Allen, the 17-year veteran, finished his first playoff series with the Heat as the franchise leader in points per game off the bench by a reserve in a playoff series. He averaged 16.5 points per game over four games, scoring 16 points Sunday. He had 23 points in Game 3.
His 16.5 points per game in the series was nearly six points higher than his regular-season average. He was 13 of 28 from three-point range in the series.
“Now is the time to win,” Allen said. “Throughout my career, I’ve always had a chance to slow down and just focus on one opponent. I know who my matchup is, and you got to make the right play and be consistent with it.”
Battier finished with three points, going 1 of 5 from the field and 1 of 4 from three-point range. Overall, it was a disappointing series for the Heat’s second-string power forward. He averaged just five points per game and shot a meager .222 from three-point range. He finished the regular season with a three-point field goal percentage of .430.
Battier cut his chin in Game 2 during a fall with Bucks forward Larry Sanders, and the laceration required four stitches. Those stitches come out Monday, and Battier said he will cut his beard as soon as the sutures are removed.
Originally, Battier was planning to grow a playoff beard but scrapped that idea after an individually dreadful series.
“I shot so poorly, I’m blaming my poor shooting on my beard,” Battier said. “It was weighing me down. The aerodynamics have totally changed. It’s just got to go.”