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While a best-of-seven playoff series often is about counterpunching, Saturday’s opener between the Miami Heat and Milwaukee Bucks was mostly about sparring ... until a knockout blow by the Bucks’ Khris Middleton with five-tenths of a second remaining.
Even with their leading men off with their offense, the sixth-seeded Heat stood toe to toe with the third-seeded Bucks for almost the entire 53 minutes before falling 109-107 in overtime at Fiserv Forum.
“We expected this to be really, really hard,” Heat guard Duncan Robinson said after an afternoon when even working overtime wasn’t enough.
In a game that featured 17 lead changes and 16 ties, one when the margin was as much as four points for one possession in the fourth quarter and overtime, Middleton’s 19-footer decided it.
“It was not our best game,” Heat guard Goran Dragic said, “and we were still there.”
It certainly was not an afternoon to remember for either Jimmy Butler or Bam Adebayo, but with Robinson and Dragic stepping forward, the Heat, at the least retained the Bucks’ attention, after taking the Eastern Conference semifinal series between the teams 4-1 last season.
“You have two teams,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said, “that aren’t going to give any ground in terms of competitive spirit.”
The opening-round series continues Monday on the Bucks’ home court, before shifting for the next two to AmericanAirlines Arena.
With Butler closing 4 of 22 from the field and Adebayo 4 of 15, it took Dragic’s 25 points and Robinson’s 24 to keep the Heat within striking range.
Butler closed with 17 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists, with Adebayo finishing with nine points, 12 rebounds and five assists.
For the Bucks, there were 27 points from Middleton, 26 points and 18 rebounds from Giannis Antetokounmpo, and 20 points and 11 rebounds from Jrue Holiday.
Five Degrees of Heat from Saturday’s game:
1. Closing time: The Heat went into the fourth quarter down 80-78, with neither team leading by more the four in the period.
Regulation ended tied 99-99, when Butler scored on a driving layup against Antetokounmpo just before the fourth-quarter buzzer.
Overtime then featured, in order, a flagrant foul on Robinson and a Robinson 3-pointer that tied it 102-102 with 3:45 left.
It later was tied 104-104 with 2:14 left, before the Bucks moved to a 107-104 lead with 39.3 seconds left.
Dragic then followed with a 3-pointer to tie it 107-107 with 20.6 seconds remaining.
But that’s when Middleton stepped up with a 19-foot jumper with five-tenths of a second to play to close the scoring, with Butler unable to get a closing look.
“In that situation, got to make somebody miss,” said Robinson, who was defending Middleton on the play. “So I could have played it better, for sure, and I will learn from it.”
2. Adebayo off: Adebayo said his 4 of 15 was just a case of missing makeable shots.
“I just missed shots,” he said. “I just got to make the shots. I didn’t make shots today.”
Dragic, though, said there could have been more from the Heat center.
“I feel like he needs to be more aggressive,” he said. “I’m not saying not to take that mid-range shot, but he’s got that ability to put the ball on the floor and be more physical and try to challenge them at the rim.”
In all, the Heat attempted only 16 shots at the rim, compared to 50 3-point attempts.
3. Butler, too: As for his wayward shooting, which included going 2 of 9 on 3-pointers, Butler said he had no issue with his shot profile.
“Taking what they are giving,” he said. “I may shoot nine next game, as well. They’ll fall. I know that. Get in there, work on some touch. I’m cool.”
But he also acknowledged not creating enough opportunities for higher-percentage finishes, with the Heat outscored 56-24 in the paint.
“I think that’s on me,” he said. “I’ve got to do a better job of attacking downhill, forcing some tough help, and getting the ball to the perimeter. Bam as well. Goran as well. That’s been our job all year long. Maybe we got away from it a little bit.”
4. Role reversal: There was no postseason lineup change this time around for the Heat, with Kendrick Nunn retaining his regular-season starting role and Dragic remaining in reserve, unlike the two swapping roles at the start of the 2020 playoffs.
Dragic provided the game’s biggest bench spark, closing 10 of 17 from the field and 5 of 10 on 3-pointers, including his late tying dagger. He also scored the Heat’s final eight points of the third quarter.
“We did not have the best performance as a team, but we know that we were there,” he said. “This is what it’s all about, those games. I love those games. This is what we play for.”
5. Duncan can: Robinson opened 3 of 3 from on 3-pointers and basically carried the Heat beyond the arc for more of the game, closing 7 of 13.
The seven 3-pointers tied the Heat franchise playoff record, one he had already shared with Mike Miller and Damon Jones.
It was the fifth time that Robinson made at least six threes in a playoff game in his two postseasons with the Heat.
“I just tried to focus on taking good shots, staying aggressive, and not getting too caught up in the result,” he said.
Robinson’s seven 3-pointers were two more than the Bucks made as a team.