Is this where Heat fans were supposed to modestly feign concern because their team’s playoff run began Sunday night with a victory that was somewhat close for a little while? Do we now pretend this might be a competitive series, after all, because the Bucks’ opening loss was, for some of the night, relatively speaking, not entirely embarrassing?
This is the mismatch we expected.
This is the mismatch that makes you wonder why Milwaukee doesn’t just concede now and save on lodging and travel costs.
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The Bucks are as hopeless against the Heat in this series as a cardboard house is in a Category 5 hurricane, and any doubts about that Sunday were short-lived.
If anything, Game 1 of this first-round NBA playoff series verified why Miami, which won 110-87, has so little concern with Milwaukee. See, this was the Bucks’ best shot. Their adrenaline was palpable. They took 14 more shots than Miami. Their mouthy guard who promised a Bucks series win in six games, Brandon Jennings, scored 26 points. The sloppy Heat had 19 turnovers.
And still Miami won big. Won so comfortably that the “White Hot” crowd that filled the downtown bayside arena like a mighty snowstorm had revved up into party mode (along with courtside spectator Rihanna) long before the final horn.
Milwaukee has no shot in this series against the No. 1-seeded defending champions because the inspirational children’s book is called, The Little Engine That Could, but the Bucks are “The Little Engine That Couldn’t Quite.”
The first team to four wins advances, and how or by how much matters not.
“By one point or 40,” as LeBron James put it.
By 23 will work just fine, thanks.
Did I mention that LeBron scored 27 points despite taking only 11 shots? Helps that he made nine. He is now shooting 70 percent during his past 10 games.
“I’m setting the bar too high for myself,” he said Sunday night, half-kidding.
James has a long inspirational message taped to the inside of his locker. It is about mental preparation and trust. It ends thusly: “Let nature take its course, and your tools will strike at the right moment.”
This is James’ time to strike. Now and into June. On this stage.
Every time the Bucks tried to draw closer, the Heat had an answer, and from all over the court those answers came, mostly from No. 6.
It might have been James’ big tomahawk dunk after a Dwyane Wade steal.
Might have been Shane Battier making a four-point play, then moments later taking a charge.
Might have been Chris “Birdman” Andersen dunking and then flapping arms.
It might have been another slam by LeBron, this one left-handed, and then his nodding stare into the merry bedlam noise he just created.
Yet another James slam made it 100-79, and a look of furious anger bloomed on his face — a man in his zone. The MVP, in charge.
“LeBron got energized,” said a smiling Andersen. “He went up in the rafters for one of those dunks.”
Wade was quiet and scored only 16. Chris Bosh took only seven shots. No matter. Not when LeBron is this combination of brute force and scalpel efficiency. Not when you get 43 bench points, including 20 from Ray Allen. (And not when Milwaukee offers no offensive threat beyond guards Jennings and Monta Ellis).
Allen and Andersen, the two players Miami added this season, were major factors Sunday.
“We have so many threats on the floor now,” James said. “It allows me to play without stress.”
This whole series buildup has been about manufactured drama in the absence of the genuine kind that comes from a closer matchup.
Much of that drama has come from Jennings, bless his heart, providing unintended levity to an otherwise perfunctory series that the Heat figures to cruise through in the minimum four games.
You could forgive Jennings predicting his Bucks would beat Miami in six. What was he supposed to say? Athletes are wired to be confident, or at least to fake confidence.
Sillier was Jennings claiming Miami was the team the Bucks wanted to play all along because they match up so well, inviting one to wonder how a team might match up so well with the reigning league champs and yet creak into the postseason after a regular-season record of 36-46.
Here, though, was the Jennings bon mot I found most amusing:
“All the pressure is on them,” he had said.
Seriously? Is that right?
A single hunk of red meat sits in the middle of an otherwise empty room. Two doors are simultaneously flung open and in run two equally hungry dogs, a pit bull and a poodle.
Is all the pressure on the pit bull? Really?
Or is all the pressure on the poodle to not be mistaken for the red meat?
TV analyst Charles Barkley was so desperate for some real drama that he flatly said he would “love” for Miami to lose Sunday “just to see them under the gun a little bit.” But he soon added, of the Bucks, “I don’t know if there’s a Mrs. Jennings, but she’s got her bags packed after Game 4. Even she doesn’t think they’ll win.”
The challenge of this postseason will ratchet up fast for Miami as its moves on in search of a repeat title, with the second round bringing Brooklyn or Chicago, and the nemesis New York Knicks looming beyond that. Until then, Milwaukee in the first round feels like a “soft opening “ for the Heat.
Even Jennings had to peel away that layer of bravado Sunday and admit, “Everybody is writing us off and saying we’re going to get swept.” All he could say of the Heat’s second-half dominance was, “We kind of didn’t have any answer for them.”
It is fun to hear the Heat camp show the requisite respect that it must for the opponent here, as when coach Erik Spoelstra said before Sunday’s opener, “Milwaukee is a little bit like us with their speed and quickness. They have a great knack for deflections.”
I might agree the Bucks are a little bit like the Heat if Miami had not won 30 more games this season and wasn’t a tour de force led by LeBron James.
As it is, about the only way the Bucks are little bit like the Heat is that both teams’ players wear sneakers.