The most popular upset pick of the second round of the NBA Playoffs was the Miami Heat taking down the Milwaukee Bucks in their 1-4 matchup, with the Bucks playing below their dominant regular season level in the Bubble and Miami dominating Indiana in a first-round sweep.
On Monday night, that prediction got off to a great start as the Heat, led by a sensational performance from Jimmy Butler, pulled away late for a 115-104 win to take a 1-0 series lead. Butler had 40 points, four rebounds, two assists, and two steals, and was the best player on the court for most of the game. Goran Dragic was terrific as well, scoring 27 points with six rebounds and five assists, as the Heat backcourt thoroughly outplayed Milwaukee in the opener.
For the Bucks, it was Khris Middleton who led the way with 28 points, followed by Brook Lopez adding in 24, as Giannis Antetokounmpo struggled to get into a rhythm after picking up three early fouls, ending the night with 18 points, 10 rebounds, and nine assists. Going forward, the Heat will feel even more confident, while the Bucks will have to make some adjustments after yet another Game 1 defeat.
Playoff Jimmy Butler is unbelievable
Butler set a new playoff career high with 40 points on Monday night as he took over down the stretch, hitting big bucket after big bucket for the Heat to help them pull away from the Bucks and seal a victory. He had 13 of the Heat’s last 16 points, scoring at will no matter what the Bucks did defensively or how good of a contest they got on his shot.
36 points & counting. . .
— Miami HEAT (@MiamiHEAT) September 1, 2020
Jimmy Butler. Taking over.
— NBA (@NBA) September 1, 2020
Jimmy locked in pic.twitter.com/O6EBNXL9l4
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) September 1, 2020
After Milwaukee had cut the lead to Miami lead to 99-98, Butler outscored the Bucks on his own 13-6 to close out the final 4:47 of the game. It was a sensational performance and one his team desperately needed, as the Heat could not lose a game in which they played near-perfect defense against Giannis Antetokounmpo all night. It was interesting that it seemed the Bucks made a defensive adjustment going into this game, looking to take away the three-point line more aggressively than they typically do. This made them more susceptible inside, and that meant there was opportunity for Butler — and Goran Dragic, who had 27 points — to feast in the paint.
It’ll be interesting to see what adjustments we see from the Bucks in Game 2 if they effectively dare Butler and Dragic to try and replicate their sensational play in Game 1, or if they go back to packing the paint and leave themselves more vulnerable to Miami’s shooters. In any case, we know where the ball will be in late game situations, and that’s in Butler’s hands, where he was the best player on the court in the fourth quarter.
Giannis has to find a way to assert his presence
The Heat had a masterful plan for Antetokounmpo in this one, much like they’ve displayed in previous matchups where Bam Adebayo has frustrated him with his length and strength and they do a great job forming a wall on him. Giannis was aggressive early, but after he picked up three early fouls, he seemed to just kind of fade away and turn things over to Khris Middleton. The Bucks other All-Star carried the load in the first half with Giannis sitting much of it with foul trouble, but he wasn’t nearly as effective in the second half with just seven points.
Khash (21 PTS) had the hot hand in the first half pic.twitter.com/WVfd1HCmnS
— NBA on TNT (@NBAonTNT) September 1, 2020
Antetokounmpo finished the game with 18 points, 10 rebounds, and nine assists, which for most normal humans would be a great stat line, but he was just 6-of-12 from the floor and, most detrimentally to the Bucks, was a putrid 4-of-12 from the free throw line. There’s something to be said for passing out of double teams and making the right basketball play, and giving it to Antetokounmpo at the top of the key and trying to let him iso simply isn’t the answer in this series given how Miami approaches him. That means it’s incumbent on Mike Budenholzer and the Bucks to figure out how to get Giannis the ball more on the move in action that begins before he has the ball, because he can’t have nearly half of his shot attempts from three-point range (five of his 12 were from beyond the arc).
As with how Milwaukee approaches the defensive adjustments from this game, seeing how they try to work the ball into Giannis in different ways is going to be critical for their success going forward. Part of that is Antetokounmpo himself being more assertive, but with how Miami commits so many defenders to him when on the ball, the Bucks must find a way to get him moving when someone else has it and trying to get him into quicker actions, because he has a propensity to be very methodical and that allows defenses to collapse on him.
Miami winning when they lose the three-point battle is huge
Milwaukee outshot the Heat in this one and still lost, which has to be something that will only further make Miami believe in their chances of not only winning this series, but possibly putting the Bucks away early. The Bucks were 16-of-35 from distance (45.7 percent) compared to 12-of-31 (38.7 percent) for Miami. That was the one area just about everyone agreed was the Heat’s greatest advantage over Milwaukee, and that they were able to win that game without bombing away from three is pretty incredible.
The Bucks are going to have to keep up their hot shooting and figure out how to close games out, especially if Giannis isn’t going to be able to take over. Their late game offense was painful to watch, often leading to pull-up jumpers from Middleton. Overall, it was a thoroughly impressive performance for the Heat, who have to feel good about their gameplan to force the rest of the Bucks to beat them, as even in a game where the others shot the ball great, Miami still pulled away for a win in crunch time.