Milwaukee — Still clinging to his blue mustache for a long time in his post-game interview, Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra deferred when asked to detail the amazing game-saving play he drew, but Jimmy Butler heard boldly before executing the incredible.
“I’ll let him tell the story because I have a different take on it,” Spoelstra said. “And he looked me dead in the eyes…”
Butler himself has made it clear.
“You can’t use those words he said on TV,” said Heat guard Kyle Lowry. “But it had two bombs in there. And they were F. And it worked.”
It was a play by the Heat. Miami stunned Houston in a similar set at the last second in February. But on Wednesday night inside the Fiserv Forum, Spoelstra wanted to wrinkle.
“I was going to do a different version of him,” Spoelstra said, “and[Butler]said ‘No, let me be that guy. ‘”
Two nights after compiling his record-breaking, 56-point masterpiece in Game 4, Butler finished the job, and Miami sent the top-seeded Milwaukee Bucks home with a 128-126 overtime win in Game 5 of the playoff series.
A lot has happened here in this amazing series. But no play summed up how Butler sliced through and dominated the Bucks all along, or how the Heat surpassed them as a whole to become only the #6 seed in NBA history to win a first-round series, like Miami’s final game in regulation.
Gabe Vincent was the in-house founder. Only 2.1 seconds left. Miami trailed by two. Bucks star Giannis Antietekounmo, with his 6-foot-11 frame and 7-foot-3 winger, covered the 6-foot-3 Vincent along the sideline. Vincent stood near Bucks’ seat, took two steps back and said a prayer in the air. Butler was still trembling.
“I mean, Jrue Holiday is one of the best defenders on the planet,” Spoelstra said of the Bucks guard. “So if you’re going to throw something like that, you better be very specific, you better have a Megatron guy who can go up there, take a little contact and then somehow find a way to do it in the basket.
“But that kind of sums up JB.”
Butler ran off Max Strus’ cross screen down the rim, turned back into the fairway and skated Vincent’s two-handed overhead pass.
“I have to throw the ball up there,” said Vincent. “Giannis Ali. Who else would jump in with Jimmy to get him? (Bam Adebayo)? He’s a member of our team. For me, it was easy. I had complete faith in Jimmy.”
“We’ve done something similar before, and he dunked it. I just thought I had to get over Giannis. And that was the hardest part. Once I took two steps back and brought it up to Jimmy, he took care of the rest.”
Butler found daylight behind the Holiday Suite and Bucks Pat Connaughton in the right block. He grabs the ball out of the air with one hand, either while holding a connaughton or pushing it off, depending on your area code. In one move, while falling backwards, Butler flicked his wrist and flipped into an incredible shot with 0.5 seconds left in regulation.
“It was a perfect pass from Gabi,” said Spoelstra. “Gabe made a similar pass early in the season. But Jimmy just made a great play.”
Possession punctuated a Heat’s second straight fourth quarter drive. In Game 4, Miami recovered a 14-point deficit. In Game 5, the Bucks held a 16-point advantage going into the final period. The Heat held the Bucks to 3 of 19 in the fourth quarter, limiting them to just one field goal through the first eight minutes of the period.
Butler scored a game-high 14 of his 42 points in the fourth quarter, turning the Heat 32-16 around. On the last set of regulation, he displayed the intelligence Spoelstra so highly praised following Game 4. The way Butler described it, it looked like he was preparing for this moment for the entire series.
“You can just say, the whole chain of that matter, that Jrue wasn’t taking a body from me,” said Butler. He wouldn’t have shot the gap. He wouldn’t have done any of that. So I said, ‘I guarantee you that whenever you turn that turn, he’s going to lock up and lag. He’s got no choice but to fall behind.'”
“He (Spoelstra) trusted me in that moment, as he has many times. … He was, like, ‘Go ahead, man. Take us home. “
Butler’s averages in this series look like something out of a video game, and certainly not the kind of numbers one would usually rack up against a league favorite featuring the best player in the world. He finished with averages of 37.6 points, 6.0 rebounds, 4.8 assists and 1.8 steals. He averaged 23.8 shots but made 59.7 percent, including 44.4 percent on 5.4 three-pointers per game.
“I’m just in a groove. I’m in a rhythm,” Butler said. “I’ve been hitting the ball an incredible amount in this series. But I feel like they are all shots that I know I can do, and my teammates keep telling me to shoot more and attack. That’s just what it was. But no matter what, if I’m scoring, if I’m defending, or rebounding, whatever it is, we just have to win. Win at any cost. And we did.”
This is followed by a second round series against old rival New York Knicks. Game 1 is set for noon (EST) on Sunday.
But The Heat doesn’t get along without taking huge contributions up and down their roster while playing with a never die mentality all the time. The list is long on everything Miami has overcome to get here.
Two weeks ago, The Heat were about to walk out of the Play-In tournament. They rallied and made their way into this playoffs as the No. 8 seeded team. They took advantage of Antetokounmpo missing the better part of the first three contests in this series. But they held out Tyler Herro after suffering a season-ending broken wrist in Game 1 and losing Victor Oladipo to a knee injury in Game 3.
On Wednesday, the Heat survived the Bucks’ attacks in the second and third quarters. Milwaukee outscored Miami 69-50 in the middle periods.
“I don’t think we ever lost faith in ourselves,” said Vincent. “We kept it very cohesive inside our locker room and what we believed within ourselves was what we could do. And we had faith in our ability to deliver in the long run. We had a lot of close matches this season. We knew we could run if we could get the number down to 10 or lower it to six.”
Miami played the second most games during the regular season, with 54. The Heat won those games, 32-22. The team’s 22nd-ranked post-All-Star defense turned out to be the most aggressive unit in the NBA at clutch time, holding opponents to 87.2 points per 100 possessions. What the Heat achieved in the last two games against the Bucks was nothing new.
“It was just one of those seasons for whatever reason,” Spoelstra said. “We’ve dealt with a great deal of adversity. Guys in and out of the lineup. All these clutch games. Close games. Having to go through the Play-In. Looks like that was the end of the second-round series.
“Whatever the reason – and that’s what you always hope for – all of these experiences have brought this team closer together and more connected. Down the stretch, it was just an example of so much adversity and fortitude we had to show.”
The Heat didn’t just overcome raucous rallies and double-digit deficits. They also overcame the Bucks’ massive size advantage and Milwaukee’s massive free throw disparity. Antetokounmpo and Brook Lopez took turns playing bully ball, rising and shooting on defenders shorter than the Heat’s defenders. The Frontcourt duo combined for 56 points on 21-of-38 shooting. Antetokounmpo, with 23 free throws, attempted more than the Heat and nearly made more. Milwaukee shot 28 of 45 from the foul line with Antetokounmpo finishing 10 of 23. The Heat was 11 of 17.
They held the hot hand of Khris Middleton. Bucks sharpshooters scored 17 points in the first quarter and 11 in the third. But in the fourth quarter and overtime, Middleton mustered only five points on his zero-of-5 shooting.
Miami withstood the trouble. Kevin Love, Adebayo and Lowry all made mistakes on Wednesday. Love was big again with 15 points and 12 rebounds. Adebayo 20 points, 10 rebounds, 10 assists 3-pointer doesn’t tell the full story of how the complexion of the game in the fourth quarter and overtime was changed by Antetokounmpo’s play-making and defense. Lowry delivered the required 10 points off the bench with timely picks.
The Heat kept plugging in and playing.
“We just kind of stayed on the course. Never over,” Lowry said.
“And we have Jimmy Butler.”
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(Photo by Jimmy Butler: Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
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