Not even the referees could save the Eastern Conference’s No. 1 seed from real playoff trouble.
The end result of the Miami Heat’s 116-114 win over the Milwaukee Bucks was fair, but officiating crew chief Marc Davis spoiled a tightly played fourth quarter in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference semifinals. Two controversial calls resulted in five free throws in the final 4.3 seconds — three from Milwaukee’s Khris Middleton to tie the game, and a pair from Miami’s Jimmy Butler to win it with no time left on the clock.
The final minute leading up to that sequence was just as wild. All-Star center Bam Adebayo’s jumper gave the Heat a 113-107 lead with 54.5 seconds remaining. Bucks superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo’s two missed free throws on the next possession seemingly sealed his team’s fate. But an Antetokounmpo dunk with 15 seconds left, followed by a Butler turnover and a Brook Lopez layup 6.5 second later, sliced Miami’s lead to 113-111. Butler made one of his two free throws on the other end, and then all hell broke loose.
Davis whistled Miami’s Goran Dragic for a foul on Middleton’s game-tying three-point attempt with 4.3 seconds remaining. Dragic was flat-footed, arms straight up in the air, as solid defensively as possible, but Heat coach Erik Spoelstra no longer had a challenge to force Davis to rewatch what was an atrocious call.
Middleton drew three free throws to tie the game 😱 pic.twitter.com/BudxqqXtOp— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) September 3, 2020
Middleton made all three free throws to tie the game, 114-114, only Davis whistled Antetokounmpo for a touch foul on Butler’s errant game-winning try on the other end. Butler made both free throws. Ballgame.
Jimmy Butler gets the foul at the buzzer 😱😱😱 pic.twitter.com/DYQUkCBcoK— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) September 3, 2020
“I’d say we’re disappointed with the judgment, the decision, the timing,” Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer told reporters when asked about the call that sent Butler to the line with zeroes on the clock. “It’s a tough job. I have a lot of respect for the officials. We have our way of seeing things. We’re going to disagree.”
Now, a day after the second-seeded Toronto Raptors lost a second straight game to open their second-round series, the reigning MVP and his top-seeded team find themselves in an 0-2 hole. Through two games, the Heat look deeper, tougher and hungrier. Bottom line: Miami does not fear the regular season’s best team.
“We’ve got a lot of guys, man,” Butler repeatedly told reporters after his 40-point performance in Game 1, and his teammates proved him right on a night he finished with just 12 points and only four after halftime.
Seven members of the Heat scored in double figures, led by Dragic’s 23 points. Rookie Tyler Herro scored 17 points off the bench, including three of Miami’s 17 three-pointers against the NBA’s top-rated defense.
The Heat scored 38 first-quarter points and led by as many as 13 in the opening half. The Bucks dialed up their defensive effort and stormed back in the third quarter, ultimately taking a 91-90 lead on a Kyle Korver three-pointer 16 seconds into the fourth. But Miami responded with a 13-2 run that featured three-pointers from Dragic, Herro and Jae Crowder (16 points). Milwaukee was left scrambling over the final eight minutes.
Antetokounmpo finished with game-highs of 29 points and 14 rebounds in 36 minutes, but his two missed free throws with 43.9 seconds remaining will leave the lasting mark. The Heat have a wave of defenders to make Antetokounmpo and Middleton work for everything they get, and Milwaukee’s supporting cast has been outplayed by a Miami rotation that went 10 deep on Wednesday. They just have a lot of guys, man.
Asked if he hopes Budenholzer will play him more in Game 3, Antetokounmpo ceded that call to his coach, telling reporters after another loss, “I’m going to do whatever Coach Bud tells me to do. That’s what I’ve been doing all year. Obviously, I’d love to play 48 minutes, but he sees the game, he coaches the game.”
Their Bucks now must do what the Raptors did to them in last year’s conference finals and come back from a 2-0 series deficit. Per the Elias Sports Bureau, Milwaukee is the 12th team to fall into an 0-2 hole after finishing the regular season with the NBA’s best record. None of the others won the series, and the Bucks will have to make history against the fifth-place Heat, the lowest-seeded team ever to start the playoffs 6-0.
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