MIAMI – You know it’s coming, no matter what you do. Even if your brace yourself for the blow, there isn’t much you can do to stop it.
The Miami Heat will come at you at some point during a game with a vicious run that either knocks you off balance or knocks you out cold. It doesn’t matter if they are up 20 or down 20, that run is coming. It’s not a matter of if but when for the Heat, who have made a habit of smashing teams this season with quick and wicked runs that decide games.
Even in a close game against a playoff opponent, they can go from zero to 60 faster than the opposition. And when they hit that speed, the way they did in the first two minutes of the fourth quarter Tuesday night at AmericanAirlines Arena, the Milwaukee Bucks had to know Game 2 of this first-round playoff series was gone.
The Heat went from clinging to a 3-point lead at the end of the third quarter to an insurmountable 15-point cushion in the time it takes most teams to stretch out for the mayhem that comes with a tight fourth quarter against the Heat. When the dust cleared from the Heat’s 98-86 win, it was obvious that Chris “Birdman” Andersen‘s energy had spilled over for the second straight game during a critical stretch for the Heat, who battled the Bucks every inch of the way through those first three quarters.
Andersen kicked off the run with a rebound and putback for a 70-65 lead and Norris Cole finished it off with a deep 3-pointer off a feed from LeBron James for the 80-65 lead with 9:58 to play. The 95 seconds of choreographed mayhem between those buckets has become a Heat staple. You better be buckled up for the ride or you could get run over. And chances are, you’re going to get run over anyway.
“At that point, when it got to still a 3-point game,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “we were more of the mindset that, ‘hey, we’re going after this big.’ We hadn’t been in a great rhythm. We certainly were not playing a great basketball game. You have to give them credit, they were doing some things that had us spinning around a little bit defensively and got us on our heels. Offensively, we never got into a rhythm, so we figured we’re just going to have to have to find a way to grind in the fourth quarter. We figured it was going to be a close game. It was just a quick skirmish and explosion. Obviously, that second unit with Bird and Norris came in with a great deal of energy.”
Enough to wake up the Heat and the home crowd, in a way that they should all be used to by now.
The Heat have outscored the Bucks 60-43 in the fourth quarter of the first two games in this series, waking up at winning time the way you expect the reigning world champs to when facing the No. 8 seed.
But they needed someone to keep them afloat until then. And on this night it was Dwyane Wade – and not just James — who kept the Heat steady. He finished with a team-high 21 points to go with his seven rebounds and three assists. But more importantly, he showed off some of the acrobatic flash that had been on ice in recent weeks as he battled a sore knee.
“He was flying around,” James said. “I know he’s not 100 percent and it is just his will. He is playing through it and he made some big shots for us and he kept us afloat into the fourth quarter when we weren’t playing the greatest basketball. Hopefully, that knee continues to get better each and every game and if that is the case, then there is no telling what he can do at that point.”
Few teams in the league enjoy the luxury of having their best player having to labor the way James did against some solid defense from Bucks small forward Luc Mbah a Moute and still having a talent like Wade there to carry the load. It certainly helps to be able to tap Andersen and Cole, on this night, and other members of that deep bench for quality minutes, too.
The fact that they served as the catalysts for that fourth-quarter burst, however, was a bit surprising given the circumstances. Well, surprising to some.
“It is not surprising,” James said. “That’s what they and our bench bring. They bring that energy and that effort and it never surprising when Bird does the things that he does. And Norris, defensively, is always in tune. And we were able to open that game up with a lot of energy and effort. We were able to take control of it.”
Andersen was made for games like this. The Bucks played a much more physical style in Game 1 and that knocked the Heat off-balance and put Shane Battier flat on his face at one point. That is until the Birdman showed up to star the fourth quarter and flapped his wings.
“When you have a Let-It-Fly [one of teammate Mike Miller's all natural energy drinks], you just can’t stop and you just keep going,” said Andersen, who finished with 10 points, six rebounds and a block in just 12 minutes and 25 seconds of action. “I had one before the game and I couldn’t stop going to the basket. That’s what I do and that’s what I was brought here to do; go to the glass. I think I achieved that tonight and every night.”
The Bucks have to be wondering what other card they have to play other than the series shifting from AmericanAirlines Arena to the Bradley Center in Milwaukee for Games 3 and 4. Because they tried the Brandon Jennings-Monta Ellis show in Game 1, when their stars combined for 48 points, and got stroked.
Bucks coach Jim Boylan made his adjustments and followed through on his promise that his team would need more guys involved in Game 2. Ersan Ilyasova (21 points), Mike Dunleavy (16 off the bench) and Larry Sanders (14 points and six rebounds) all answered the call. But Jennings and Ellis combined for just 15. And yeah, they got stroked again.
“In two games now we seem to have a stretch of about four, five or six minutes where they kind of get away from us,” Boylan said. “We have to find a way to keep that from happening and keep ourselves in the game.”
If only it were that easy.