Khris Middleton wrapped a towel around his sweaty neck, sat on the scorer’s table for a postgame interview and knocked over a water bottle. Before putting on his headphones, he reached down to pick it up.
It was draining. It got messy.
But Middleton cleaned up in the end.
Middleton hit the game-winning mid-range jumper to lead the Bucks to a 109-107 win over the Heat in Game 1 of their first-round series Saturday in Milwaukee.
“Just trying to get to the spot,” Middleton said on ESPN. “Tried to get the last shot.”
Middleton was acknowledging the imperfection of his big basket. He left 0.5 seconds on the clock, giving Miami one last opportunity.
Besides, this was not a game for offensive perfection.
Both teams played energetic, swarming and disciplined defense. Baskets were difficult to come by – especially inside the arc for the Heat (33%) and outside the arc for the Bucks (16%).
Milwaukee was steadier in producing good looks. Middleton (27 points, six assists and two steals), Giannis Antetokounmpo (26 points, 18 rebounds, five assists and three steals) and Holiday (20 points, 11 rebounds and three assists) all played well.
But Antetokounmpo shot just 6-for-13 on free throws. With a history of making his trips to the line torturous, he even had a 10-second violation late in the fourth quarter.
He won’t have to dwell on those miscues, though. After a massive disappointing loss to the Heat in last year’s second round, the Bucks gained an affirming win entering Game 2 Monday.
The Heat, on the other hand, can look back at missed opportunities.
After Antetokounmpo made a free throw to put Milwaukee up one with 34.3 seconds left in the fourth quarter, Miami didn’t call timeout to advance the ball and get a 2-for-1. Butler lost the ball and, rather than call timeout while he seemingly possessed the ball on the floor, the Heat allowed a jump ball.
Antetokounmpo recovered the loose ball with 12 seconds left, and Miami caught a break when he didn’t pass or call timeout, allowing the Heat to foul him. He again split at the line.
With Miami down two, Butler forced overtime by driving past Antetokounmpo and hitting a difficult floater on the other end:
Still, Butler shot just 4-for-22. Bam Adebayo shot just 4-for-15.
Though they both played excellent defense, the Heat stars must score more effectively for Miami to win.
Adebayo particularly has an opportunity while guarded by Brook Lopez, who frequently played well off Adebayo. Rather than drive into Lopez at the rim, Adebayo has ability to hit the short jumpers he’s being given.
Antetokounmpo, despite his prior objection, spent considering time defending Butler.
Miami did plenty right today and came up just short in a tight game – maybe the first of several in this series.
More on the Bucks
NBA Playoffs Schedule 2021: Dates, times, odds, where to watch Historically deep set of teams contending for 2021 NBA championship Antetokounmpo is honest: Bucks playoff results will speak for themselves
Khris Middleton breaks grimy defensive battle with game-winner in Bucks-Heat Game 1 originally appeared on NBCSports.com