James leads Heat over Bucks and into next round
MILWAUKEE (AP) — After getting treatment “around the clock” for two days, Dwyane Wade tested his aching right knee in warm-ups before Game 4.
It still hurt.
“I could have pushed through it,” he said. “But my teammates told me if it’s hurtin’, they got it.”
The Miami Heat reminded everyone Sunday why they’re heavy favorites to win a second straight NBA title. Despite Wade being reduced to a spectator, the Heat completed their sweep of the Milwaukee Bucks and advanced to the Eastern Conference semifinals. The Heat never trailed in their 88-77 victory, finishing the first-round series with a fourth straight double-digit win.
LeBron James did most of the work with 30 points, eight rebounds and seven assists. Ray Allen added 16 points, the third game in the series he reached double figures, and also had seven rebounds. Mario Chalmers had eight rebounds and six assists.
“We’re a good basketball team. That’s nothing that’s a secret,” Wade said. “We’re not a one-man show, a two-man, a three-man (show). We’re a basketball team.”
The Heat won’t play again until Saturday, at the earliest, facing the winner of the Brooklyn-Chicago series. While the extended time off provides a much-needed break for Wade, who is still recovering from the three bone bruises that forced him to miss six games near the end of the regular season, this is no vacation for the Heat. They won’t be spending the week lounging in South Beach or jetting off to some exotic location.
They’ll be working, trying to get even better.
“That won’t be a problem,” James said. “We’ve got an opportunity to rest because we took care of business, but our business is not done. The only thing we guaranteed ourselves is the next round. That’s it.”
Miami knew it would get a spirited effort Sunday from the Bucks, who were hoping to extend their first playoff appearance in three years even if it was only for a few more days.
After the Heat raced out to an 11-point lead in the first half, the Bucks steadily chipped away and were within a basket or two for most of the third quarter. When Mike Dunleavy drained a 3 and Monta Ellis scored on a floater with 9:34 left in the game, Miami’s lead was down to 69-67.
“We knew they were going to come out and play as hard as they could and with as much desperation as they could to try and continue series,” James said.
But James was even more determined.
When Ellis missed a free throw, failing to convert the three-point play, James grabbed the rebound and directed a 19-5 run in which he had a hand in every single score. First he fed Allen, who knocked down — what else? — a 3. After J.J. Redick missed a long jumper, James found an open Chalmers for another 3 that gave the Heat a 75-67 lead with 8:27 left.
The 3 was Chalmers’ 80th in the postseason, tying Tim Hardaway’s franchise record.
After Luc Richard Mbah a Moute made the second of two free throws, James scored on a layup. Redick made a jumper, but Shane Battier and Allen closed out the Bucks with a pair of 3s, with James credited with the assist on each.
He then converted a three-point play and added a layup to finish up the run.
“At some point during that stretch right there, (James) decided he was going to put his imprint on the game and he did. In a big way,” Bucks coach Jim Boylan said. “When you’re a superstar player like he is, that’s what superstar players do.”
Superstar teams, too.
Though Milwaukee had chances to win Games 2 and 4 late, and led Game 3 by 10 in the first half, there was never a sense Miami would lose any of them. Any time the Bucks showed the slightest bit of momentum, the Heat were quick to snuff it out.
“They’d either make a big play or it was a turnover on our part,” Boylan said. “When you’re playing against a quality team like Miami, you make some mistakes, they usually capitalize on them. And they did that.”
The Bucks had seven turnovers before the first quarter ended Sunday, and shot just 37 percent for the game. Ellis led the Bucks with 21 points, and Larry Sanders had 11 rebounds to go with seven points.
But Milwaukee got almost nothing again from Brandon Jennings, who was benched for the entire fourth quarter. Jennings, who had guaranteed the Bucks would win the series in six games, finished with three points on 1-of-7 shooting.
After scoring 26 points in Game 1, Jennings had 27 total in the final three.
“We’ve been playing close, playing hard,” Ellis said. “They’re just a better team.”
And that is what makes them so dangerous at this time of year.
Despite their star-studded roster, the Heat have little use for individual accolades or accomplishments right now. They have one goal in mind, and one goal only, and it will take the entire team to achieve it.
“I’m glad to get this,” coach Erik Spoelstra said. “It’s the first step in our journey. Hopefully, a long journey.”
NOTES: This is the first time the Heat have swept a playoff series since James and Chris Bosh came to Miami three years ago. ... The Heat have won eight straight postseason games dating to last season. That matches the franchise record. ... NBA Commissioner David Stern was in attendance. ... James scored 30 or more for the 54th time in the postseason, second only to Kobe Bryant among active players. ... The Bucks are 20-26 in elimination games. ... Packers LB Clay Matthews was at the game.