Heat use second half run to top Bucks without Giannis Antetokounmpo, 108-102

MIAMI – Milwaukee headed into Miami to play the Heat on Thursday night and fell 108-102 asboth teams were shorthanded with the Bucks missing Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton due to knee soreness, Joe Ingles to injury recovery and Grayson Allen to a sprained ankle.

“It was one of those games where we made some shots early, we missed some shots late, I thought there was some fatigue that set in from the back-to-back which can happen from time to time,” Pat Connaughton said. “I thought it was a little bit of everything. Some guys stepped up and played big minutes and I think that was a positive that we can take from it.”

The Heat was without Whitnall High School alumnus and reigning NBA Sixth Man of the Year Tyler Herro along with guards Kyle Lowry, Caleb Martin and Duncan Robinson and big man Nikola Jović due to injury and Dewayne Dedmon (team suspension).

The Bucks dropped to 27-15 while the Heat improved to 23-20.

Here are some takeaways from the game:

Offense at a premium with stars sidelined

Not everyone was on the bench, as Miami still had Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo while Milwaukee had Jrue Holiday and Brook Lopez starting for them. The quartet guarded one another for the most part, too, giving the game some flair.

Holiday led the Bucks with 24 points, 11 assists and six rebounds but Lopez struggled with his shot, going just 2 for 12 for six points. On the other end, Adebayo had 24 on 11-of-19 shooting while Butler scored 17 in large part because of his 7-for-8 performance at the free throw line. Holiday helped harass him into 5 of 13 shooting and four turnovers.

Neither team shot the ball well (40.2% for Milwaukee, 44.2% for Miami) so the difference proved to be the ability of the Heat to keep possessions alive with offensive rebounds, leading to 22 second chance points. Miami also got a boost from Gabe Vincent, who scored a season-high 28 points. Max Strus grabbed a season-high 10 rebounds to go with 12 points and Victor Oladipo had 14 off the bench.

For the Bucks, eight players scored with Jevon Carter (18 points), Jordan Nwora (16), AJ Green (15) and Bobby Portis (12) reaching double figures, but the latter three didn’t get there until the fourth quarter when the game was decided. Rookie MarJon Beauchamp got the start but was 0 for 3 and didn’t dent the scoreboard. Pat Connaughton was 3 for 10 for 9 points.

Milwaukee set a season high with 57 three-point attempts, but Miami out-shot the Bucks 95 to 87 thanks to the offensive rebounds, along with 11 Bucks turnovers.

“They were just crashing the glass hard,” Carter said. “We were undermanned tonight, guys had to play a little different as far as boxing out, going to go help rebound, and like tonight the bounces went their way. Give ‘em credit.”

Heat forward Jimmy Butler puts up an off-balance shot in lane against Bucks guard Pat Connaughton on Thursday night.
Heat forward Jimmy Butler puts up an off-balance shot in lane against Bucks guard Pat Connaughton on Thursday night.

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Bucks turned up competitiveness to start trip

Time will tell if the 29-point loss to Charlotte on Jan. 6 will be an inflection point for the Bucks’ regular season, but their victory in Atlanta was their second in a row after it and once again showed a heightened level of competitiveness for a team that had been listing since starting the season 9-0. It wasn’t necessarily the way the Bucks wanted to display it after the Hawks erased a 24-point deficit to take a brief lead, but it had the affect nonetheless.

And if the 17-point comeback victory in New York to open this road trip was one the Bucks needed, as head coach Mike Budenholzer said, following it up with a win over an always feisty-Hawks team was positive reinforcement for a team still trying to figure out who they are.

BOX SCORE: Heat 108, Bucks 102

“I think this road trip in general is a good way (to reset),” Pat Connaughton told the Journal Sentinel before the Hawks game. “For us it’s a great road trip to kind of show hey, what are we made out of right now at this time of the season and how are we kind of turning that page to get into a place where we feel more like ourselves? Win, lose or draw it’s going to be, I think, determined and tested and we’re gonna figure it out based off how we play, like, what is it that we do that puts steps in the right direction as far as our identity, our competitive juice, our edge, our chip on our shoulder.”

The victory in Atlanta put the Bucks at 27-14 at the halfway point of their season, and they are in third place in the Eastern Conference. They are one-game better at this juncture of the year than they were a year ago (26-15).

At the halfway point of their truncated championship season, the Bucks had a lower winning percentage (61.1%) at 22-14.

“I understand it for sure. I understand it,” Jrue Holiday said of the feeling that the team isn’t playing up to expectation. “What are we third? In the year we won we were third, right? Thinking of that, alright, it’s not always the No. 1 seed or the No. 2 seed that wins the championship. Third seed is usually pretty good, too.

"There’s a lot of good teams in the NBA. The gap isn’t as big anymore. You have a solid six to eight teams that could possibly make it to the end. And I think obviously this playoff series is going to be competitive this year. I feel like from the time we won to now teams are better.

“So, it’s just something that really we have to lock in on and come out every game and try to win each game that day. I feel like I always give us grace. It’s still really, really early. Now if this was happening toward the end of the season, maybe it’s something that we’ve got figure out really quick (he snapped his fingers for emphasis) but right now I think that we’re still positive and we have that positive mindset and we know that we’re really good.”

Wednesday showed that, as the Bucks led by as many as 24 in the first half thanks to two areas: Rebounding and three-point shooting. The Bucks out-rebounded the Hawks 32-20 in taking a 67-46 halftime lead. They also limited the Hawks to just two offensive rebounds and three second-chance points.

But the Bucks also saw that impressive lead wither away, much like their 21-point fourth quarter margin on Jan. 4 in Toronto. Yet, just like in that game, they found a way to win in the end.

“It’s good practice for us, it’s good to see a lot of images – we see a lot of situations,” Giannis Antetokounmpo said after the game in Atlanta. “We were down 17, we were able to come back, we were up 24, they came back, we were able to still win the game. It’s good to put ourselves in those situations. Obviously, like it’d be nice to not even get in the situation and win the game and be up 24 and extend the lead to 30 and sit down and get ready for the next game, but sometimes it’s good because it’s gonna happen. It’s going to happen, and when it happens again we’ve experienced this, we’ve been though that situation.”

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Five numbers

1 The Heat handed the Bucks their first loss in the second game of a back-to-back this season. Milwaukee is now 4-1 on the back end of back-to-backs.

4-3 Bucks record when Antetokounmpo has not played.

7 Straight threes missed by Miami to open the game, which helped the Bucks take a 26-14 lead early in the second quarter. Gabe Vincent hit the Heat’s first at the 11:05 mark of the second quarter.

12-2 Run by the Heat to close the third quarter and open the fourth, allowing it to take a 85-73 lead with 10:48 to go in the game. With shots not falling for the Bucks, the run would prove to be the difference in the game.

“We came out to start the fourth quarter with a turnover and I think a layup (for Miami), I can’t remember what happened our next possession (a missed three) but there was, I thought, a stretch kind of three-quarters of the way through the third quarter where they got a little separation, a five or eight-point lead, maybe it was only three, but they had gotten some separation and we just had a poor start to the fourth quarter," Budenholzer said of the key stretch. "The turnover (by Nwora) stands out to me, but down 10 quickly.”

15 Point lead the Bucks built in the first half, which the Heat overcame to take a brief 45-43 lead on two Butler free throws with 45 seconds left in the half. Portis tied the game shortly thereafter.

Play of the game is Pat Connaughton getting hit in the face with a drink

The Bucks' wing is known for getting his face bloodied and bruised, but in Miami he took a shot to the face – perhaps literally – on the game's first play when he fell into the courtside seats and had a drink spilled in his eyes. After toweling off, he made just one of his three free throws.

“I fell into the guy and the tequila like fumbled in his hands and went right into my eye,” Connaughton said. “I smelled like tequila all game. I probably still smell like tequila. My jersey does for sure. I was burning. I don’t drink so I don’t know what it was. It was in my eye and it wasn’t where it was supposed to be. Never seen that one. It didn’t do great for my free throws right afterwards, but I was trying.”

Video of the game is Jevon Carter's deep three

The Bucks guard is known for his dogged defense, but he's been needed at times to step up as an offensive player and that was the case on Thursday. He helped keep the Bucks in the game with a smooth three-point shot vs. the Heat, including this 28-footer in the third quarter.

Carter finished the game 6 for 14 from behind the three-point line. It followed up a 4 for 7 shooting night from beyond the arc in Atlanta. The 21 threes in two games was a point of emphasis by the Bucks coaches, who wanted Carter to look for his shot more.

"Very. Number one priority," he said. "They tell me to be aggressive, they need me to be aggressive. So that's what I do. Just look at the rim every time I catch it, honestly. If I can get it off, they want me to shoot it. That's really that simple."

Bucks injury report

  • Giannis Antetokounmpo (left knee soreness), out

  • Grayson Allen (sprained right ankle), out

  • Joe Ingles (injury management), out

  • Khris Middleton (right knee soreness), out

  • Serge Ibaka (personal), out

Who do the Bucks play next?

The Bucks don’t have to pack up as they play the Heat again on Saturday at noon.

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This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Heat use second half run to top Bucks without Giannis, 108-102