Giannis Antetokounmpo was waiting in the locker room for his teammates Sunday, standing on his bad right ankle to greet every one of them.
His day ended early.
His season isn’t over yet.
Khris Middleton scored 36 points, including a big 3-pointer with 6.4 seconds left in overtime, and the Milwaukee Bucks avoided a sweep by beating the Miami Heat 118-115 in overtime of Game 4 of the teams’ Eastern Conference semifinal series.
The Heat still lead 3-1, but the Bucks — the best team in the regular season — are still alive, even after Antetokounmpo left early in the second quarter with an aggravation of his sprained right ankle.
“Khris is very unique,” Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said. “He’s got a way about him. He wanted to play. He asked to stay in the game.”
As if there was any other option. Middleton’s season-high before Sunday was 40 minutes; he logged 48 in Game 4, taking over with Antetokounmpo watching from the locker room.
“Just keep fighting,” said Middleton, who also had eight rebounds and eight assists. “That’s all my teammates did.”
Bam Adebayo had 26 points, 12 rebounds, and eight assists for Miami. Duncan Robinson scored 20 points, Jae Crowder had 18, and Goran Dragic and Jimmy Butler each finished with 17 for the Heat.
“We didn’t deserve to win that game,” Butler said.
Miami had an eight-point lead in the fourth quarter, promptly allowed the Bucks to score the next 12, and now needs to come back Tuesday in an effort to finish the series off.
“At the end of the day, we should have played like we did in Game 1, Game 2 and Game 3,” Adebayo said.
Antetokounmpo scored 19 points for the Bucks in only 11 minutes, while Brook Lopez and Eric Bledsoe each had 14 for Milwaukee. George Hill added 12 for the Bucks.
Miami managed only two points in the first 4:30 of overtime, got within one on a 3-pointer from Tyler Herro, but Middleton delivered the biggest shot of the night to make it 116-112.
Herro made another 3-pointer with 3.0 seconds left, but Middleton sealed it with a pair of free throws — and Miami coach Erik Spoelstra lauded Milwaukee’s effort afterward.
“The reality is, they deserved to win the game,” Spoelstra said. “They were doing things with more force, more consistency.”
Antetokounmpo had 19 of Milwaukee’s first 30 points, shooting 8-for-10 from the floor. But in an instant, everything changed for the Bucks.
Antetokounmpo aggravated his sprained right ankle with 10:18 left in the second quarter, rolling it inward — just as he did in Game 3 on Friday — as he tried to drive past Miami’s Andre Iguodala. He tumbled to the court, grabbing the ankle and screaming in pain.
He took the free throws; without doing that, he would not have been permitted to return. But at halftime, the Bucks delivered the word that he would not be back.
So, his game was over.
The Bucks’ season wasn’t. Milwaukee said Antetokounmpo would get plenty of treatment Sunday night and Monday before a decision is made about his availability for Tuesday.
“He’s going to be back,” Bledsoe said.
Middleton did all he could to keep the Bucks afloat, scoring 21 points in the third quarter — the highest-scoring quarter of his career — on 6 for 9 shooting from the field and 7 for 7 from the foul line. His previous quarter-best was 20, on Nov. 1, 2017, against Charlotte.
He set the tone, and the Bucks’ season is still alive.
“We’ve got to fight every night to keep on playing,” Middleton said.
Bucks: Milwaukee missed 19 consecutive 3-pointers — its last 12 of Game 3 and first seven of Game 4 — before Antetokounmpo connected late in the first quarter. … Milwaukee won despite getting outscored 51-33 on 3-pointers.
Heat: Miami was looking to become the first No. 5 seed in NBA history to go 8-0 in the first two rounds of the playoffs. The Heat were the last unbeaten team in this year’s playoffs. … The Heat lost for only the fourth time in their last 17 series-closeout opportunities.
The Bucks avoided becoming the first overall No. 1 seed to get swept from the playoffs since 2001 when the Los Angeles Lakers did it to top-seeded San Antonio in the Western Conference finals. Budenholzer was a Spurs assistant at that time.
Middleton wasn’t the only Milwaukee player to log big minutes. Lopez played 42, Bledsoe 40, and Hill 37. “We’re absolutely a family. We always have each other’s backs,” Lopez said.
Game 5 is Tuesday.
No Giannis, no problem: Bucks top Heat in OT, force Game 5