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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.
It was decided on a 19-foot jumper by Middleton with a half-second remaining.
It was not an afternoon to remember for either Jimmy Butler or Bam Adebayo, but with Duncan Robinson and Goran 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.
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 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.
2. Phantom call: The call that is never made in the NBA was made with 66 seconds left in regulation, when Antetokounmpo was called for not attempting his free throw within 10 seconds. That negated what would have been a successful free throw, and potentially the margin needed for Milwaukee to win in regulation.
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra had been asked about Antetokounmpo’s methodical approach at the line after the Heat’s game last Saturday in Milwaukee, with it clearly on the mind of the officials.
It is similar when opposing fans would count the second when former Heat center Alonzo Mourning went through his own methodical approach at the line.
3. Role reversal: There was no postseason lineup change this year 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 shot.
Dragic also scored the Heat’s final eight points of the third quarter.
4. Duncan can: Robinson opened 3 of 3 from on 3-pointers and basically carried the Heat beyond the arc.
At one point in the third period, Robinson was 6 of 10 on 3-pointers, the rest of his teammates 4 of 15.
It was the fifth time that Robinson made at least six 3s in a playoff time in his two postseasons with the Heat.
His closed 7 of 13 from beyond the arc, tying the franchise record for conversions.
5. Spoelstra unmasked: Saturday marked the first time that coaches who are fully vaccinated were allowed to work the sidelines without a mask.
“It feels like in so many ways, there’s just been these incremental steps back to normalcy,” Spoelstra said. “And then all of a sudden, and even in the last 24 hours, it just feels like there’ve been some big moves.”
The NBA issued a memo about the subject on the eve of the postseason, one that Spoelstra went through with Heat trainer Jay Sabol.
“So I had to read that memo three or four times, and had to go to Jay to explain, was this really the case?” Spoelstra said of being unmasked. “But, again, these are all just signs that I think our world is going in the right place.”