MILWAUKEE — The Miami Heat’s latest spurt might have run the Milwaukee Bucks right out of the playoffs.
LeBron James scored seven of his 22 points at the end of the third quarter as the Heat pulled away from the Bucks. Their 104-91 victory gave them a 3-0 lead in the best-of-seven series, and the defending champs can close it out Sunday at the Bradley Center.
No NBA team has overcome a 3-0 deficit to win a best-of-seven series.
Ray Allen led the Heat with 23 points, and his five 3-pointers gave him the NBA career playoff record with 322. Chris Bosh added 16 points and 14 rebounds for the Heat, who have won 11 straight dating to the regular season. Dwyane Wade scored only four points, but he had 11 assists.
Larry Sanders and Brandon Jennings led the Bucks with 16 points each.
The defending champions still haven’t played their best game. But it doesn’t matter, not when they can make 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 layup, James made another field goal and Andersen closed out the quarter with another layup to give Miami a 78-68 lead going into the fourth quarter.
The Bucks never got within single digits again.
Not that the Bucks had much hope of a comeback, but Allen put a stop to any of those ideas with his fourth 3-pointer of the night with 8:35 to play. That broke the record of 320 set by Reggie Miller, and Allen added one more a few 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 offense 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 percent in the first quarter, getting field goals from six different players — including Brandon 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.
But no lead is safe when the Heat are hanging around, and this game was no different.
Allen made three 3-pointers in the last four minutes of the first half and James scored his only field goal of the second quarter at the buzzer, a jumper at the buzzer that pulled Miami within 50-48 at the half.