MILWAUKEE — Every game, someone different steps up for the Miami Heat.
Well, someone different and that guy named LeBron.
Ageless Ray Allen scored 23, setting the NBA career playoff record for 3-pointers in the process, and LeBron James had seven of his 22 points during a decisive run that closed out the third quarter — and maybe the Milwaukee Bucks. The Heat’s 104-91 victory Thursday night gave the defending champions a 3-0 lead, with a chance to complete the sweep Sunday afternoon at the Bradley Center.
“That’s been our calling card all year, the depth that we have,” said Allen, whose five 3s gave him 322 for his career, two more than Reggie Miller. “
“As a team, you’ve got to find way to plug in the holes, and every night we find somebody different.”
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. Chris Andersen had another big game, scoring 11 on 5-of-5 shooting and grabbing six rebounds in less than 14 minutes.
Dwyane Wade had just four points, and his 1-of-12 shooting was his worst in a post-season 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.”
Milwaukee, meanwhile, will simply try and avoid being swept.
Larry Sanders and Brandon Jennings 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 per cent (12 of 21) and were 5 of 10 from 3-point range. Milwaukee was just 12 of 21 over the final three quarters (41 per cent), and made only two more 3s.
“I hope we’re still confident,” Jennings said. “As a team, we need to stay together.”
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.
After leading for much of the game, Milwaukee was trying to pull away early in the third. 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 broke Miller’s record of 320, and Allen 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.”
And this could be where the playoffs end for the Bucks.
With no team ever rallying from a 3-0 deficit, Thursday night’s game was a must-win for the Bucks. Miami coach Erik Spoelstra said his team expected a “desperate, competitive response” from the Bucks, and the Milwaukee players were hoping for a boost by being back home — the first playoff game at the Bradley Center in three years.
Milwaukee certainly looked sharper early on. After struggling to get their entire offence going at the same time in the first two games, the Bucks finally had everything clicking in the first quarter. Sanders set the tone from the first possession, scoring on a layup and converting the three-point play after he drew a foul.
The Bucks would shoot 57 per cent in the first quarter, getting field goals from six different players — including Jennings, whose struggles in Game 2 contributed to Milwaukee’s demise. Jennings’ reverse layup sparked a 9-2 run that gave Milwaukee an early 18-11 lead.
He then made a 3, the first of four straight for the Bucks, and Milwaukee found itself with a 10-point lead, double its largest margin in either of the first two games.