The Milwaukee Bucks didn’t have their best player around for the full game. The Miami Heat did.
That pretty much made the difference Sunday as the top-seeded Bucks saw their path to a championship face an early obstacle.
Jimmy Butler had 35 points and 11 assists, and the Heat capitalized on Giannis Antetokounmpo’s injury to beat the Bucks 130-117 on Sunday in an Eastern Conference playoff opener Sunday. Butler’s dazzling performance enabled the Heat to withstand the exit of Tyler Herro, who broke his right hand while diving for a loose ball just before halftime.
“He’s just a brilliant competitor,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “He does it on both ends of the court. He has an innate feel for what’s necessary during the course of a game. We needed obviously some offensive punch, some triggers, something to settle us all down, particularly when we found out Tyler was out. Jimmy was able to do it in a lot of different ways.”
Now the Bucks wait to learn how long Antetokounmpo might be out because of a lower back bruise.
Antetokounmpo was driving to the basket with 4:13 left in the first quarter when he got fouled by Kevin Love and landed hard on his backside. The two-time MVP got up slowly, stayed in the game to take his free throws and then headed to the locker room about 2 1/2 minutes later after picking up his second foul.
Although he returned to the game with 9:56 remaining in the second quarter, Antetokounmpo went to the locker room again with 8:33 left in the half and was ruled out for the rest of the game shortly afterward.
“There was an X-ray that was clear here,” Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said. “We’ll monitor him and see how he does, see how he wakes up, how he feels the rest of tonight and tomorrow.”
The early departures of Antetokounmpo and Herro gave this game an unusual feel and forced both teams to adjust on the fly.
Nobody adapted better than Butler, who shot 15 of 27, leading the way as the Heat set a franchise scoring record for a playoff game and shot 59.5% from the floor.
“I just control what I can control in the end, play basketball the right way, no matter who’s out there on the floor on my team or the opposing team,” Butler said. “Stay aggressive. Make sure my guys get their shots. Defend as I’m supposed to defend and do whatever it takes to get my team the win.”
The Heat also capitalized on a dramatic advantage from beyond the arc. The Heat were 15 of 25 and the Bucks 11 of 45 from 3-point range.
Bam Adebayo had 22 points, nine rebounds and seven assists for the Heat.
Khris Middleton scored 33 points and Bobby Portis had 21 for the Bucks.
Miami seized control of the game early as the Bucks appeared disjointed after a long layoff. None of the Bucks’ starters had played since at least April 5, when they won at Chicago to clinch the NBA’s best regular-season record and top playoff seed.
The Heat allowed the Bucks to take the lead once — at 4-2.
“They played well,” said Milwaukee guard Jrue Holiday, who had 16 points and 16 assists but shot 6 of 18. “They looked like they had a rhythm, attacking the basket, got to the free-throw line a lot. There’s a lot of things we need to do, kind of like starting off better.”
The Bucks kept trying to make a run, but Butler made sure the Heat answered every time.
“He’s arguably the best closer in the game,” said Love, who had 18 points and eight rebounds. “It’s unbelievable what he’s able to do out there. He’s our leader. He sets the tone for us. I’m taking him pretty much over anybody in the league when it comes down to closing out a game.”
Heat: Ranked just 27th in the NBA in 3-point percentage (.344) in the regular season. … Had a 62-46 edge in points in the paint. … Were 17-24 in away games, including a 9-17 mark against East teams. … Herro scored 12 points before his injury.
Bucks: Shot 73.9% (34 of 46) on 2-point attempts. … This is the third time in five seasons the Bucks have been the NBA’s top overall playoff seed. The other two times, they lost to Toronto in the 2019 East finals and fell to Miami in the 2020 East semifinals. Milwaukee was the third seed in the East in 2021 when it won the NBA title. … The Bucks are making their seventh consecutive playoff appearance, the second-longest active streak to Boston’s nine. The franchise record for consecutive postseason berths is 12 from 1980-91.
Game 2 is Wednesday at Milwaukee.