NBA playoffs: Jimmy Butler explodes for 56 as Heat stun Giannis Antetokounmpo, Bucks to put No. 1 seed on brink of elimination

Jimmy Buckets is activated.

Jimmy Butler put on a blazing 56-point show for the Miami Heat on Monday to lead a stunning rally past the Milwaukee Bucks and put the Eastern Conference's No. 1 seed on the brink of elimination.

He opened the game with a 22-point first quarter that included a run of 20 straight Heat points. He finished with a 21-point fourth quarter to lead Miami back from a 12-point hole and secure a 119-114 Heat win.

The victory secured a 3-1 series lead for the eighth-seeded Heat over a Bucks team that finished the regular season with the NBA's best record. They posted the win in Giannis Antetokounmpo's return to the floor following a two-plus-game absence with a back contusion.

Antetokounmpo looked no worse for the injury while posting a triple-double, showing the form that's made him a two-time league MVP. It just wasn't enough to overcome a determined Butler, who continued to carry the Heat on his back, this time to the tune of a career-high scoring effort.

MIAMI, FLORIDA - APRIL 22: Jimmy Butler #22 of the Miami Heat in action against the Milwaukee Bucks during the first quarter in Game Three of the Eastern Conference First Round Playoffs at Kaseya Center on April 22, 2023 in Miami, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Megan Briggs/Getty Images)
Jimmy Butler was a one-man show on Monday. (Megan Briggs/Getty Images)

Butler dunks on, bests Giannis in scorching 1st quarter

Antetokounmpo set the tone early, scoring seven of Milwaukee's first 10 points as the Bucks opened up a 10-3 lead. But Butler answered in emphatic fashion. With his Heat trailing 17-8, the six-time All-Star directly challenged Antetokounmpo and dunked on the five-time All-Defensive Team member midway through the first quarter.

The dunk sparked a run of 20 straight Heat points scored by Butler as he finished the first with 22 of Miami's 28 points on 9-of-10 shooting from the field, including makes on both of his 3-point attempts.

Milwaukee maintained control for most of the game

But a Heat team that finished 25th in the league in offensive rating was playing without Victor Oladipo and second-leading scorer Tyler Herro. They struggled to support their six-time All-Star against the league's fourth-rated defense.

The Bucks led by five after the first quarter despite Butler's heroics. They carried a 57-50 lead into halftime. Butler cooled off in the second with two points in the stanza. Two-time All-Star center Bam Adebayo managed just two points for the entire half on a 1-of-4 effort from the field. Just six Heat players had scored by halftime.

Milwaukee extended its lead to 89-78 after three and appeared to be cruising to a critical win that would tie the series at 2-2. But Butler had other ideas.

Butler returns from bench for heroic 4th quarter

Butler started the fourth quarter on the bench to rest up for the final stretch. He reentered the game with 8:11 remaining and Milwaukee leading, 98-87. From there, he would score 21 of his 56 points.

The Bucks led by as many as 12 in the fourth while holding a 101-89 lead with 6:09 remaining. But the Heat responded with 13 unanswered points, converting pressure defense into transition offense off Bucks misses and turnovers.

Butler's teammates got in on the action during the run. A Duncan Robinson steal led to a transition jumper from Butler. A Kyle Lowry block of Jrue Holiday led to Caleb Martin free throws on the other end. Then a swarming steal at midcourt by Bam Adebayo led to a wide-open transition dunk from Butler to take a 102-101 Heat lead, the first of the game for Miami. The slam sent Miami's home crowd into a frenzy.

From there, the Heat and Bucks traded buckets as the lead changed hands five times in the final 3:17 of regulation. But a Butler pull-up 3 from the top of the key with 1:10 remaining put the Heat up for good with a 110-109 lead.

Miami extended its lead to 116-109 with 32.7 seconds remaining and held off a late Bucks desperation rally in the final half minute.

Butler makes mark on Heat, NBA history

Butler's final line is one for the history books. He finished with 56 points, 9 rebounds, 2 assists and 1 block. He shot 19 of 28 from the field, 3 of 8 from 3-point distance and 15 of 18 from the line. His 56 points are the most in Heat postseason history. LeBron James didn't do it. Dwyane Wade didn't do it. Shaquille O'Neal didn't do it.

The tally is tied with Charles Barkley for the fourth-highest single-game scoring effort in playoff history, trailing on Michael Jordan (63), Elgin Baylor (61) and Donovan Mitchell (57).

Adebayo (15 points, 8 rebounds), Martin (12 points, 9 rebounds) and Gabe Vincent (10 points, 8 assists) joined Butler with double-digit efforts as his teammates stepped up their games in the critical late run. But make no mistake, their collective role was strictly a supporting effort.

Jimmy Butler headshot
Jimmy Butler
SF - MIA - #22
4/24/2023 v. MIL

The win thwarted a big game from Antetokounmpo, who posted 26 points, 13 assists and 10 rebounds while shooting 12 of 22 from the field. Brook Lopez added 36 points and 11 rebounds while shooting 4 of 7 from 3-point distance. But Khris Middleton struggled form the field (4 of 12) in a 14-point effort that saw him foul out in the midst of the late Heat run. Holiday tallied 14 points, 7 rebounds and 4 assists while shooting 6 of 19 from the field and 2 of 11 from distance.

Miami outshot Milwaukee from the field (49.4% to 43.3%) and from 3-point distance (40.6% to 32.5%) in an edge that proved to be the difference in the game.

The series returns to Milwaukee on Wednesday for Game 5 (9:30 p.m. ET, NBA TV). There, the Bucks will look to fend off another stunning playoff exit to the Heat after losing as the No. 1 seed in the second round in 2020. They'll need to win three straight games to do so.

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