Giannis, Bucks Beat Heat 122-108 as Jimmy Butler Sits with Injury Before NBA Playoffs

Paul KasabianFeatured Columnist IIMay 16, 2021

INDIANAPOLIS, INDIANA - MAY 13: Giannis Antetokounmpo #34 of the Milwaukee Bucks brings the ball up the court in the game against the Indiana Pacers during the first quarter at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on May 13, 2021 in Indianapolis, Indiana. 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 Justin Casterline/Getty Images)
Justin Casterline/Getty Images

The Milwaukee Bucks' quest for the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs stayed alive with a 122-108 home win over the Miami Heat on Saturday at Fiserv Forum.

Milwaukee scored 44 first-quarter points to propel itself to a 16-point lead after 12 minutes. The Bucks led by as many as 24 points in the game, but Miami stopped the bleeding and cut the deficit to as few as 11 points in the fourth quarter.

However, that's as close as the Heat would get, as Milwaukee shot 53.5 percent (65 percent at halftime) from the field en route to the 14-point win. Seven Bucks scored in double digits, led by Khris Middleton and Bryn Forbes with 21 apiece. Reigning back-to-back NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo pitched in 15 points, nine rebounds and four assists.

The Heat were without Jimmy Butler (lower back tightness). Kendrick Nunn stepped up as the team's top scorer, tallying a game-high 31 points on 13-of-18 shooting.

The 46-25 Bucks will move from third to second with a road win Sunday over the Chicago Bulls and a Brooklyn Nets home loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers.

The 39-32 Heat, who saw their four-game winning streak end, fell to sixth in the Eastern Conference.

Notable Performances

Bucks F Giannis Antetokounmpo: 15 points, 9 rebounds, 4 assists

Bucks F Khris Middleton: 21 points, 7 rebounds, 7 assists

Bucks G Jrue Holiday: 20 points, 10 rebounds, 5 assists

Heat G Kendrick Nunn: 31 points, 6 rebounds

Heat C Bam Adebayo: 5 points, 8 rebounds, 8 assists

Heat G Duncan Robinson: 17 points

Bucks' Balanced Offense Propels Milwaukee

It was a good day at the office for the Bucks rotation, which featured a relentless and balanced attack that elicited no answer from the Heat defense.

Brook Lopez made all but one of his 10 shots. Middleton (8-of-12) was efficient as well.

Milwaukee Bucks @Bucks

Come for the Khris bucket. Stay for the Bench reaction. pic.twitter.com/wJKd9Aa1k9

Milwaukee Bucks @Bucks

Tough finish. pic.twitter.com/2webJkyP09

The onus wasn't on Giannis to do much offensively with his teammates providing more-than-adequate support.

Only one player took more than 12 shots in Jrue Holiday, who paced the team with 10 assists and masterfully orchestrated the unstoppable Bucks attack.

This dish was probably the best of them, with Lopez getting behind the Heat defense to finish Holiday's lob pass:

Milwaukee Bucks @Bucks

A beauty. pic.twitter.com/qhh0vRrHGt

The bench proved to be a big problem, too, with Forbes knocking down five of six three-pointers and Bobby Portis adding 14 points of his own.

Milwaukee Bucks @Bucks

OK, BP!!!! πŸ‘€ pic.twitter.com/LK4djvcGKo

Their collective effort forced Miami to play catch-up all game, with Nunn having to play some hero ball to keep the Heat alive.

But Nunn's effort wasn't enough with the Bucks proving too strong. Milwaukee dominated from all over the court, even outscoring Miami 50-34 in the paint.

Giannis played a big part in that difference:

Milwaukee Bucks @Bucks

Giannis: β€œI’m trying not to flex as much anymore.”<br><br>Also Giannis: pic.twitter.com/Hv3elM3C6M

Milwaukee Bucks @Bucks

There's no stopping him. pic.twitter.com/OSYMxk1H77

He also put defenders in the spin cycle.

Milwaukee Bucks @Bucks

Spin class. pic.twitter.com/JNSjMtfBdL

The Bucks benefitted from playing the Heat without Butler, but their efforts were impressive nevertheless, allowing Milwaukee to keep the positive momentum going with the playoffs just one week away.

Heat Can't Match Bucks' Firepower Without Butler

The Heat sorely missed Butler on this night, as Miami struggled to contain Milwaukee on defense and couldn't find many answers on offense outside Nunn, who kept this game from being a complete blowout.

x - Miami HEAT @MiamiHEAT

Kendrick's on a mission rn pic.twitter.com/ifyaSOoq3R

x - Miami HEAT @MiamiHEAT

Nunn giving it his all 😀 pic.twitter.com/NzxESQLKuH

Miami shot just 27-of-78 (34.6 percent) from the field sans Nunn. The bench in particular got nothing going, shooting a combined 12-of-35.

In the starting lineup, All-Star center Bam Adebayo struggled, making just two of his nine shot attempts. He helped keep the offense afloat with a team-high eight assists, but the Bucks' deep offense was too much to overcome.

This would clearly have been a different game with Butler on the floor. The five-time All-Star is averaging a team-high 21.5 points on 49.7 percent shooting, 7.1 assists, 6.9 rebounds and 2.1 steals per game. His ability to be a menace on both ends of the floor should have kept Miami in the game into the fourth quarter.

The bottom line, however, is that the Heat struggle without Butler. Miami is 6-13 with Butler sidelined and 33-19 otherwise this year, per Basketball Reference.

His excellence on both ends has led to Butler having the fifth-most win shares in the entire NBA (9.3), per Basketball Reference.

His defense, particularly in the first quarter, was missed.

Anthony Chiang @Anthony_Chiang

End of first quarter: Bucks 44, Heat 28. Bucks scored 22 paint points and shot 70.8 percent from the field in the opening quarter. In case you didn't hear, Heat playing without Jimmy Butler.

Ira Winderman @IraHeatBeat

Heat defense has checked out. Down 44-28 at end of one in Jimmy Butler's absence. Nunn with 11 for Heat. Yes, 44.

Ultimately, this game was a very hard test for Miami against a Bucks team still having something to fight for even with the regular season winding down Sunday. The Heat fought valiantly after getting punched in the mouth after 12 minutes, but Milwaukee was just too strong in the end.

What's Next?

Miami closes the regular season with a road game Sunday against the Detroit Pistons at 8 p.m. ET in Little Caesars Arena.

Milwaukee will visit the Bulls on Sunday at 9 p.m. ET.