Jimmy Butler had the game of his life, and the Miami Heat had a comeback for the ages.
Butler scored 56 points — tying the fourth-best scoring performance ever in an NBA playoff game — and the Heat roared back from 14 points down in the final quarter to stun the Milwaukee Bucks 119-114 on Monday night to put the NBA’s top overall seed on the brink of early elimination.
The 56 points also became Butler’s career high, as well as a franchise playoff record. And the 14-point fourth-quarter comeback became Miami’s biggest of the season, at the absolute biggest time.
“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.”
It is a statistically improbable story: The No. 8 seed now leads the No. 1 seed 3-1, something that has only happened four other times since the NBA went to the 16-team playoff format in 1984.
But Butler has willed them there. He was 19 for 28 from the field, 15 of 18 from the foul line and added nine rebounds.
“We deserved to win that game,” Heat center Bam Adebayo said, “because he played incredible.”
Brook Lopez scored 36 points and grabbed 11 rebounds for Milwaukee. Giannis Antetokounmpo returned from a two-game absence with a bruised back and had a triple-double — 26 points, 10 rebounds and 13 assists.
The Bucks — who now need to win three straight, starting with Game 5 at Milwaukee on Wednesday — led almost the whole way, until the Heat roared back in the final minutes. Miami was 8 for 9 from the floor in the final six minutes, Milwaukee was 4 for 13, and the Heat outscored the Bucks 30-13 in that game-ending stretch.
“We didn’t make enough plays on either end,” Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said. “And they did.”
Butler had 21 of his points in the fourth, and the Heat still trailed 101-89 after a layup by Lopez with 6:09 left.
That’s when a 13-0 run, capped by a Butler dunk off a Bucks turnover, put Miami up for the first time all night with 3:17 left — 102-101.
The lead changed hands four more times, and Butler’s 3-pointer with 1:20 left put Miami ahead for good. He added a step-back jumper on Miami’s next possession, punched the air in celebration, and the Heat knew they would soon be leaving with a 3-1 lead.
“For 40 minutes of this game, it was frustrating. … It just shows you that when you have the right grit and perseverance, you can win,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “And then it always helps to have a guy like him.”
The only players to score more in a playoff game: Michael Jordan had 63 in 1986, Elgin Baylor had 61 in 1962, Donovan Mitchell had 57 in 2020. Butler became the fourth with 56, joining Jordan, Wilt Chamberlain and Charles Barkley.
“He obviously played great,” Lopez said. “He’s been great all series long. He’s been aggressive. He’s been knocking down shots, shooting the 3 extremely well. There hasn’t been a thing he hasn’t been doing. It’s a tough draw, but we have to keep getting better, keep making life tough for him, one game at a time.”
Adebayo scored 15, Caleb Martin had 12 and Gabe Vincent scored 10 for the Heat.
Antetokounmpo missed Games 2 and 3 of the series — and most of Game 1 — with a bruised lower back. He worked out Sunday, went through shootaround with the Bucks on Monday, got cleared to play and looked good as new.
But Butler was better than ever.
He set the tone early — with the highest-scoring quarter of his career. He had 22 of Miami’s 28 first-quarter points, including 20 in a row over a span of 5:45 late in the period.
And in the fourth, he had 21 more — leading a massive comeback, one that put a team that won an NBA-best 58 games this season squarely on the ropes in Round 1.
“The series is still going,” Spoelstra said. “And we have great respect for the championship DNA that group has.”
Bucks: Jrue Holiday and Khris Middleton each scored 14 for the Bucks. … Milwaukee now has made 138 3-pointers in eight games against Miami this season, including playoffs. No team has ever made more vs. the Heat in a season; Boston made 126 in 10 games last season. … All three of Antetokounmpo’s playoff triple-doubles have come on the road — two at Miami, the other at Boston.
Heat: Butler is averaging 16.5 points in first quarters in the series, with at least 13 points to open all four games. … It was the 99th win of Spoelstra’s playoff career.
The game was Miami’s first since Victor Oladipo’s season-ending torn left patellar tendon injury. Heat players arrived at the arena wearing Oladipo T-shirts. “He said, ‘Don’t shed any tears for me. I’m going to get through all of this,’” Spoelstra said.
Milwaukee closed as a 7.5-point favorite at FanDuel Sportsbook. The Heat hadn’t been more than a 2.5-point underdog in any home game this season, and weren’t such a big underdog in their arena since Feb. 27, 2019 against Golden State — 177 games ago.