Jimmy Butler powered the Miami Heat to a 115-100 victory over Milwaukee on Friday that pushed the top-seeded Bucks to the brink of elimination in the NBA playoffs.
Butler scored 17 of his 30 points in the Heat’s scorching fourth quarter, Miami out-scoring the Bucks 40-13 in the final period to seize a 3-0 lead in the best-of-seven Eastern Conference semi-final series.
It was the most lopsided final period in a playoff game since the NBA introduced the shot clock in 1954.
Western Conference top seeds the Los Angeles Lakers were also beaten Friday in the NBA’s coronavirus quarantine bubble in Orlando, Florida, falling 112-97 to the Houston Rockets in game one of their conference semi-final series.
A near triple-double of 21 points, 16 rebounds and nine assists from the Bucks’ reigning NBA Most Valuable Player Giannis Antetokounmpo was simply not enough as the Heat remained unbeaten in the playoffs.
“I’m not surprised,” Butler said of the fifth-seeded Heat’s commanding position. They can close out the series on Sunday.
“I think everybody else in the world might be, but not us here. We’ve got so much fight, we never give up. We always give ourselves a chance to win.”
The Bucks, who took the best record in the league into the post-season, must now try to do what no NBA team has done before in 139 prior attempts: Rally from an 0-3 deficit to win a best-of-seven playoff series.
Antetokounmpo said the Bucks could be the first if they take it not game-by-game but “play-by-play, possession, by possession.
“We’ve got to believe in ourselves,” he said. “We can do it.”
Bam Adebayo added 20 points and 16 rebounds for the Heat. Jae Crowder scored 17 points, Goran Dragic added 15 and Tyler Herro chipped in 13 off the bench.
The Bucks got a scare midway through the first period when Antetokounmpo rolled his right ankle on a drive.
Despite a few winces he insisted it didn’t trouble him, and Milwaukee looked like clawing back a victory when they led 57-50 at halftime and 87-75 going into the fourth quarter.
Butler and Miami took control from there.
Adebayo’s hook shot with 4:20 remaining – with an assist from Butler – put the Heat up 100-99.
Two free throws and a driving shot by Butler stretched the lead and it was Butler, thwarted on a drive to the basket, who found Crowder for a three-point dagger that put Miami up 107-100 with 2:15 remaining.
“I think everybody knew, Jae was making that shot,” said Butler, who was celebrating before the ball was through the net.
Harden fuels Rockets
James Harden’s 36 points fueled the Rockets, whose size disadvantage against the Lakers proved no handicap.
Russell Westbrook added 24 points, nine rebounds and six assists and Houston harried the Los Angeles team led by superstar LeBron James and Anthony Davis – who sat out the waning minutes with the game out of hand.
“Our defense, that’s going to get us to where we want to go,” Harden said. “This (Lakers) team is the best team in the West, if we can hold them under 100 points, defensively we’ve got something.”
Harden bounced back from a poor shooting night in the Rockets’ game-seven win over Oklahoma City on Wednesday.
The Lakers hadn’t played since polishing off the Portland Trail Blazers six days earlier, but the Rockets made them look sluggish.
Houston forced 17 Lakers turnovers that led to 27 Rockets points never trailing after the first quarter and taking firm control with a 14-0 scoring run in the fourth quarter.
“Offensively, we’ve got to clean up the turnovers,” said James, who finished with 20 points, eight rebounds and seven assists.
Davis led the Lakers with 25 points and 14 rebounds.
“I think it’s the speed, they play with a lot of speed both offensively and defensively,” James said of the challenge posed by the Rockets.
“You can watch it on film, but until you get out there (you don’t) get a feel for it. And that’s what we did tonight. We got a feel for their speed and we should be fully aware of that going into game two.”
Milwaukee 100 Miami 115
(Miami lead series 3-0)
Houston 112 LA Lakers 97
(Houston lead series 1-0)