The Milwaukee Bucks, who finished the regular season with the best record in the NBA at 56-17, are in danger of getting bounced out of the playoffs during the Eastern Conference semifinals.
Milwaukee trails the Miami Heat 2-0 in the best-of-seven series, which resumes on Friday night in the bubble near Orlando.
Miami, which finished 44-29 in the regular season — good for fifth in the Eastern Conference and 12 games behind Milwaukee — is 6-0 in this year’s playoffs. The Heat eliminated the Indiana Pacers in four games, and now they have the Bucks in a hole after Wednesday’s controversial 116-114 victory, which was won on Jimmy Butler’s two free throws with no time left on the clock.
Bucks superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo was called for the foul on Butler, which happened after the shot had been released.
“I’d say we’re disappointed with the judgment, the decision and the timing,” Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer of the officiating. “I have a lot of respect for the officials. It’s a tough job. Of course, we (as Bucks coaches, players and fans) have our way of seeing things.”
Despite the presence of Antetokounmpo, the reigning NBA Defensive Player of the Year, Miami still went to Butler in the clutch.
“It doesn’t take a genius to figure out we’re going to try to get the ball into Jimmy’s mitts,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said.
Going forward, the Heat could be without forward Andre Iguodala, who sprained his right ankle on Wednesday when he came down on the foot of Milwaukee’s Kyle Korver.
Heat point guard Goran Dragic, meanwhile, has been hot, scoring at least 20 points in all six playoff games.
The Bucks are wary of Dragic, who spent much of this season as Miami’s key off-the-bench performer. Now, he is starting and producing even more.
“We have to shift our attention to Game 3,” Budenholzer said. “We have to get prepared.”
Part of that preparation will be figuring out a way to shoot better from 3-point range. The Bucks shot 28 percent (7 of 25) in Game 2. Miami shot 37.8 percent from behind the arc (17 of 45).
In addition, Milwaukee’s mid-range shots were not falling with customary frequency, the Bucks bench was outscored 36-26, and they struggled with turnovers.
As for individuals, in two games in this series, the numbers are pretty even when comparing each team’s two big stars.
For Milwaukee, Antetokounmpo is averaging 23.5 points, 12.0 rebounds and 6.0 assists. Teammate Khris Middleton is averaging 25.5 points, 6.0 rebounds and 6.5 assists.
For Miami, Butler is averaging 26.5 points, 3.5 rebounds and 4.0 assists. Dragic is averaging 25.0 points, 5.5 rebounds and 4.5 assists.
With the stars fairly even, Miami just seems to be making the bigger plays in the bigger moments.
“But you can’t relax,” Butler cautioned. “(The Bucks) are too good of a team.”
Middleton said he wants to see more consistency from his guys.
“We’ve had possessions here and there where we just had some bad possessions,” he said. “That stuff tends to haunt us late in games. We just have to be better all the way around in Game 3.”
–Field Level Media