Bucks 113, Heat 84: In control again from start to finish, Milwaukee takes 3-0 series lead
MIAMI – From the moment Khris Middleton stepped into a four-point play at the 10-minute, 10-second mark of the first quarter to give the Milwaukee Bucks a 6-2 lead over the Miami Heat, he was there to kill the vibe of 17,000 fans at American Airlines Arena.
The largest crowd in an NBA arena in over a year saw Middleton time and again suppress any urge they had to get out of their seat and cheer as the Bucks took a commanding 3-0 series lead with a 113-84 victory Thursday night.
While the Bucks never trailed after Middleton’s early four-point play and actually led quite comfortably throughout, any feeling of momentum being built by the Heat was quelled by the 29-year-old wing.
There was a 21-footer after the Heat cut the lead to 29-20 in the second quarter. The layup after Goran Dragić hit his first three of the game to make it 45-30. The Heat cut it to 54-40 early in the third quarter and the arena bubbled – and Middleton promptly knocked down a 14-footer. The hosts felt a buzz after two Bam Adebayo free throws made it 61-47, and then Middleton hit a triple. He followed with another three-pointer to give the Bucks their first 20-point lead of the night at 72-52.
"We got off to a little slow start shooting the ball but we were able to settle in," Middleton said. "It's harder on the road. I think this is our first road game — skip last year — in two years. Just being in a different environment and not really playing on the road this year with fans as much as this, it gets rowdy. It took a little bit or us to settle in and get what we need to get done."
BOX SCORE:Bucks 113, Heat 84
The metronomic way Middleton answered whatever the Heat managed offensively suits the soft-spoken two-time all-star, though the timely buckets further illustrated the cold bloodedness he displayed in hitting his Game 1 winner. He led the Bucks with 22 points while adding eight rebounds and five assists.
“Big shots,” Jrue Holiday said. “He does it all the time and he’s been doing it for his career. To be able to kind of cut that out of the game where they’re about to make their run or they made their run and try to cut their momentum, Khris has been doing that, so we know who to go to.”
And if Middleton was the steady beats per minute, Holiday made sure the rest of the Bucks did not inadvertently speed up or slow down.
“Yeah, it was a little muddier tonight," Bucks head coach Mike Budenholzer said. "We couldn’t get out and probably go and move as much as we’d like. but I think Jrue, he’s got kind of multiple paces and multiple ways to attack and keeps us organized. So yeah, it’s good.
"I think he can play at any pace and the group, that’s what we’ve been working on, and we need to continue to get better at being able to play at different speeds, different paces.”
Holiday dished out 12 assists and scored 19 points and kept the Bucks playing evenly on both ends of the court, even as the Heat dialed up the pressure (forcing 15 Bucks turnovers when the starters were in) and making life difficult for Giannis Antetokounmpo (17 points, 17 rebounds) and Brook Lopez (13 points) inside.
Difficult, yes, but the steady play of Middleton and Holiday set a baseline the Heat just could not crack.
They tried trapping in the half court. Swatting and swarming at the ball in the paint. Switching on defense to challenge the three-point shot.
Yet for all that the effort, the Bucks not only scored anyway but the Heat couldn’t find the basket consistently either. Jimmy Butler scored 19 points to lead his team, but he had 16 points at halftime as he once again was harangued by the trio of Antetokounmpo, P.J. Tucker and Holiday. Adebayo had 17 points on 7 of 14 shooting, but he was just 2 for 6 in the first half.
As a team, the Heat shot just 28.1% (9 for 32) from behind the three-point line and 37.6% from the floor.
"Defense. We set the tone early in the game, we new how important this game was," Antetokounmpo said. "We came out, we were keeping guys in front, we were rebounding the ball. We just were able to set the tone defensively."
The Bucks meanwhile climbed up from shooting only 34.6% in the first quarter to topping 50% by the time the starters exited in the fourth quarter up 30.
Bryn Forbes and Bobby Portis scored 11 points off the bench while Pat Connaughton added nine. Tucker had five.
The shooting touches for each team did not match the balmy climate outdoors to begin the game, as the Bucks and Heat combined to shoot just 35.8% from the field overall and 25% from behind the three-point line in the first half as the Bucks took a 49-36 lead into the break.
Milwaukee led by as many as 19 late into the second quarter thanks to a 15-5 run, but Miami was able to trim that margin in the final three minutes.
Holiday was led eight Bucks scorers with 12 points. Antetokounmpo was 3 for 8 for seven points, but he pulled down 12 rebounds. Middleton was 3 for 9 for eight points and Lopez had nine points on 4-for-8 shooting.
Donte DiVincenzo bruised his left foot on a baseline drive at the 10:05 mark of the second quarter, and he was ruled out for the rest of the game. He had two rebounds and was 0 for 4 from the floor.
Butler led the Heat with 16 points while Adebayo was held to four on 2-for-6 shooting.
Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra made a starting lineup change, bringing 35-year-old veteran Dragić into the starting lineup and having 25-year-old Kendrick Nunn come off the bench. Dragić was active in the opening half, but he didn’t score until the 2:37 mark of the second quarter and finished the half with five points on 2-of-7 shooting.
The Bucks continued their rebounding dominance, pulling down 35 to the Heat’s 21.
Milwaukee held Miami to just 14 points in the first quarter as the Heat shot just 26.1% from the field. The Bucks didn’t fare much better (34.6%) but they were able to build a 21-8 lead and eventually take a 26-14 lead into the second quarter by limiting offensive rebounds by the opponent and pulling down six of their own for an additional four points.
The second quarter was just as muddy, though the Heat did cut the lead to 29-20 thanks to baskets from Butler and Dewayne Dedmon – but that’s when the Bucks went on the only “run” of the first half. It started with nine straight points over a 2-minute stretch too take a 38-20 lead. They capped the 15-5 swing two minutes later on an Antetokounmpo basket to make it 44-25.
Miami closed with a 9-5 advantage to cut it to 13, thanks to Dragić’s first points and four free throws from Dedmon.