The top-seeded Milwaukee Bucks aims to stave off elimination on Wednesday when it hosts the eighth-seeded Miami Heat in Game 5 of their Eastern Conference first-round series.
The Bucks’ bid to even the best-of-seven set at two wins apiece went by the boards on Monday after they squandered a 12-point lead midway into the fourth quarter of a 119-114 setback in Miami.
Milwaukee now faces an uphill climb as only 13 NBA teams successfully have overcome 3-1 series deficits. The Denver Nuggets was the last team to accomplish the feat, doing so on two occasions during the 2020 NBA playoffs.
“We just gotta go home and win a game,” Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said. “We talked about it in the locker room. We gotta go to Milwaukee and win a game. Life is not complicated. That’s what we gotta go do.”
Jimmy Butler made life complicated for the Bucks on Monday by erupting for a franchise playoff-best 56 points.
Butler bolted out of the blocks by making 9 of 10 shots from the floor -- including both attempts from 3-point range -- to finish with a franchise playoff high-tying 22 points in the first quarter.
He capped his surge with 21 points in the fourth quarter to finish tied for the fourth-most points in an NBA playoff game, trailing only Basketball Hall of Famers Michael Jordan (63, 1986) and Elgin Baylor (61, 1962), and Donovan Mitchell (57, 2020).
“We knew what we were capable of, even if nobody outside of this building, outside of this roster and outside of this organization believed in us,” Butler said. “That’s fine. We just want to continue to do what we know is possible.”
Miami coach Erik Spoelstra was quick to applaud Butler for his performance. He was even quicker to note that the series is far from over against the team that posted the NBA’s best record during the regular season.
“We still have work to do, so I don’t want to say too much. There’s no time to exhale, at all,” said Spoelstra, whose 99 playoff wins are tied for sixth in NBA history -- one behind Larry Brown for fifth place.
“The series is still going and we have great respect for the championship DNA that that group has.”
Butler’s heroics overshadowed the impressive performances of Brook Lopez and Giannis Antetokounmpo. Lopez collected 36 points and 11 rebounds and Antetokounmpo had 26 and 10, respectively, to go along with 13 assists in his return from a two-game absence due to a bruised back.
Antetokounmpo made 12 of 22 shots from the floor and logged 38 minutes in his first game in more than a week.
“Big, you know,” Jrue Holiday said of the return of the two-time NBA MVP, per the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “He’s our best player. We always know he’s going to fight and try to do what he can to go get us a win. We know he put his body on the line.”
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