(WFRV) – With Giannis Antetokounmpo sidelined, the No. 1 seeded Milwaukee Bucks failed to get over the hump as the Miami Heat closed out the series, 103-94 on Tuesday evening at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex.
“I’m very proud of them. I can’t say enough,” said Bucks Head Coach Mike Budenholzer. “Give credit to Miami, give credit to Erik Spoelstra and their players.”
A rough ending for a spirited group. The decision to not play your best player who has been noted all season for giving maximum effort.
“I kind of feel lost to be honest with you,” said Antetokounmpo on how he reacted to not being able to take the floor in a must-win game.
Credit to the Bucks, who had nothing to lose, as they came out swinging in the in the first quarter and jumped out to a 21-11 lead. Milwaukee forced six turnovers that led to 9 points, and Donte DiVincenzo hit a pair of three’s.
“I had a talk with Khris and he said we need you to be aggressive and to be your same self,” said DiVincenzo. “He told me just be aggressive and we will just live with it. I took that and ran with it.”
Jimmy Butler and the Heat turned it up in the second quarter after a lackless first 12 minutes. Miami went on a crushing 30-9 run at one point as the Bucks struggled shooting from beyond the arc, just 5-of-15.
The Heat led 52-46 at the break, while Middleton and Wesley Matthews led the Bucks offensively with 12 and 10 points, respectively.
“The goal was to win the game. Our backs were against the wall and we needed to fight, and we did that tonight. Just didn’t get enough breaks to overcome it and get the win,” said Matthews.
The Bucks came out cold in the second half and went scoreless for six minutes on 11 straight misses.
Middleton was just 3-of-15 in the second half and no other Buck could really get going on the offensive end. Middleton finished with 23 points, seven rebounds, and six assists.
“Khris left everything out there. The whole group did. They competed, they stayed together, they played together, and we couldn’t get it done tonight,” said Budenholzer.
DiVincenzo was the second leading scorer for the Bucks with 17.
Milwaukee seriously struggled from three-point range, shooting a mere 9-of-33. The Heat had 23 points off turnovers and outscored the Bucks bench 38-19.
“There is going to be time to look at things and think. We are always trying to get better and we will do that again. But right now, we just had our season concluded and we have to digest that,” said Budenholzer.
Miami had a lot of help from front to end of the lineup. Butler and Goran Dragic led the way with 17 points apiece. Six Heat scored in double-digits and as a team they made 22-of-24 free throws.
What’s next for Miami is the Eastern Conference Finals, but for the Bucks it will be one of the most intriguing off seasons in the NBA.
After being the best rated defensive team for the second year in a row, and most likely having the back-to-back MVP on your side, the expectations will only steepen.
“You have to learn from everything that goes on in your life and your career,” said Antetokounmpo. “We can learn from this and get better as a team and comeback and hopefully build a culture in Milwaukee that we can come out every single year for a championship.”