There came the symbol of Milwaukee’s size and strength, Giannis Antetokounmpo, down the lane one more time in the final minutes to dunk over Bam Adebayo and shove everything for a second heart-wrenching time down the Heat’s throat.
The game. The series. The shreds of the Heat’s one-time masterplan for returning to greatness. All of it was there in another Giannis moment in Milwaukee’s Game 4 win, 120-103, to send the Heat into an early summer.
Giannis already helped break the Miami Heat’s two best players, Jimmy Butler and Adebayo, for another game in the telling third quarter when their shots quit falling. That’s the stretch that broke Heat’s heart and left them strewn into pieces by the end with the empty water bottles and dirty towels.
Even a chair-throwing rant by Udonis Haslem during a timeout didn’t help in that lost third quarter as a seven-point lead became a seven-point deficit. Where could they turn to save their season for another day?
Who can they look to now to make those shots?
Kawhi Leonard? He might be a free agent if his Los Angeles Clippers fall and he opts out and wants the Heat and can come to terms and … well, that’s a lot of conjecture. Who can the Heat really chase this summer? Kyle Lowry? At 35? Demar DeRozan? Who can’t lift San Antonio?
The master plan was for Heat President Pat Riley to turn to Giannis this summer. Remember? Last offseason they didn’t pay Jae Crowder, didn’t go after James Harden, saved their money, ran the surprise of last season back and waited longingly for Giannis to come free if Milwaukee crashed and burned in the playoffs.
Only Giannis re-signed with Milwaukee last December. There went Plan A for the Heat.
And now he has taken off over them — not crashed and burned — in the playoffs.
His Bucks didn’t just win easily and painlessly. Giannis was a prime reason Adebayo and Butler didn’t live up to their end of the bargain, too. The two Heat starters were as impactful in beating Milwaukee in five games last year as they were invisible in losing in the minimum four this time.
Butler was often defended by the 6-11 Giannis — a four-inch difference that never gave the Heat star any freedom. Don’t look at the numbers. Butler had such a quiet triple-double Saturday you could hear a reputation drop. Adebayo led the Heat with 20 points and 14 rebounds. But neither was anywhere to be found when the game came calling.
Instead, there was Giannis pushing Butler down the lane late in the first half and dunking over the mismatch. there was Brook Lopez causing all kinds of fits for Adebayo, just as he had in their regular -season meetings.
There was no magic or mystery to Lopez’s antics. He’s 7-feet. He stood in the lane, blocking the Heat’s cutting and passing lanes like a mountain. Nothing Adebayo did called Lopez out of the lane and respect the mid-range shot he developed to glowing reviews this season. Only it wasn’t completely developed.
This was the test.
“You watched the games, right?” Adebayo said afterward. “What do you think I need to work on?”
The open 14-foot shot. And the open 16-foot shot. And, for variety, the open 15-foot shot. Player development is a Heat’s strength, Adebayo has developed into a great talent — but there’s work to be done. It happens in a career timeline.
“Growing pains,’’ Adebayo said. “It’s my job to come back better every year. That’s my job.”
It’s Riley’s forever job to find better players, too. Victor Oladipo was a good move — but he got hurt. He was the reaction to the real problem for the Heat, the big whale Riley wanted and waited for who now dismantled the Heat.
Giannis. Or someone like him. Except there’s no one available this summer unless the hazy idea of Leonard materializes. Or Riley works some otherworldly magic.
Giannis ruined the Heat’s big hopes in re-signing with Milwaukee. On Saturday he ruined them again, completing the sweep that flushed the Heat season away.