By now, Miami Heat fans shouldn't feel an iota of surprise when it happens -- the Heat play the first two-and-a-half quarters lackadaisically before going on an amazing run that puts the game out of reach. Miami did it countless times during the 27-game winning streak. And the Heat did it again Thursday night to take a 3-0 series lead, now standing on the brink of sweeping its first series since 2005.
Milwaukee built a 10-point lead early on, but Miami played well enough to cut the deficit to two by halftime. The Heat went on a 13-4 run to close the third quarter and went into the fourth with a 10-point lead. Chris Andersen made two nice layups during that run, reaping the benefits of Miami's dribble penetration. And Norris Cole picked J.J. Redick's pocket nine seconds into the fourth period for an easy layup. The Heat began to play with the great ball movement that always finds good shot opportunities, somehow finding Ray Allen wide open for two corner 3-pointers. Miami led 90-73 with 8:48 left in the game and cruised to a 104-91 final score. To put it in perspective, the Heat had just a 65-64 lead with 4:40 left in the third quarter.
The end result of this game wasn't surprising, but the process was. Miami managed to cut a double-digit deficit to just two by halftime thanks in large part to Ray Allen, who actually led Heat scorers tonight with 23 points. Allen made three 3-pointers in the final four minutes of the second quarter and knocked down two more in the fourth to put the game to rest. Udonis Haslem scored eight points in the third quarter -- all before Miami's run -- and prevented the Heat from falling into another deficit. Like Andersen, Haslem found opportunities at the rim after his defender helped off dribble penetration. LeBron James found Haslem for a nasty one-handed dunk for his last bucket.
Meanwhile, Dwyane Wade struggled mightily from the floor, going just 1-for-12. He and Bosh couldn't get a bucket for the entire first half, but both turned it around in their own ways. Wade finished with 11 assists, nine rebounds, five steals and two blocks, consistently giving up good shots for himself in favor of better shots for teammates. Bosh grabbed 14 rebounds and even managed to improve his scoring total to 16 points in the fourth quarter. Milwaukee experimented with some zone with the game already decided, but Miami consistently found open shooters, whether it was Bosh or Allen.
James finished with 22 points on 9-of-14 shooting from the field, five rebounds and six assists in 33 minutes. But the story tonight wasn't about the three-time MVP. Tonight was about why Miami is noticeably better than it was last year. The Heat comfortably won a road playoff game with its second-best player having an abysmal shooting night. Why? Because new additions Allen and Andersen provided great offensive production, and the Heat's overall cohesion is much better than it was at any point last season. The ball movement is seamless, and the defense is aggressive. The Heat even out-rebounded the Bucks for the third time this series, 43-38, and dominated Milwaukee in second-chance points. Wasn't that supposed to be the Heat's one weakness? Oh wait...