It might be an overstatement to say that Game 2 on Wednesday night was a must-win for the Milwaukee Bucks against the Miami Heat.
But, after losing Game 1 and without two-time NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo due to a back injury suffered in that defeat, it was pretty important for Milwaukee not to fall into a 0-2 deficit.
The Bucks came out with a sense of urgency and scorched the nets the from long range to earn an easy 138-122 victory that evened the seven-game series.
Big vs. not-so big
As was the case at the start of Game 1, the Heat began with 6-foot-5 Max Strus guarding 7-foot-1 Lopez. And the big man took advantage on his team’s very first possession, ducking in against Strus when the Bucks’ initial play stalled.
Two possessions later, Strus switched a ball-screen, leaving 6-foot-2 Gabe Vincent on Lopez. The Bucks couldn’t get him the ball initially, but when Khris Middleton missed on a drive, Lopez had a relatively easy put-back.
Indeed, the Bucks did. Despite missing Antetokounmpo for Game 2 on Wednesday night, the Bucks made up for his absence with a record offensive performance. Milwaukee knocked down 25 3-pointers in its 138-122 victory over the Heat, tying an NBA record for 3s in a playoff game.
The Bucks had seven players finish in double figures, including six players who scored at least 15 points, matching another NBA record.
“It takes the whole team; I think you saw that tonight,” Bucks forward Khris Middleton said. “It wasn’t just one guy that carried us. A lot of people might expect me or Jrue to take on all the load that Giannis does, but what he does, we can’t match. We have to do it by committee.”
Two possessions later, Grayson Allen set a “pistol” screen for Jrue Holiday. Strus switched it, but allowed Holiday to get to the baseline, where Kevin Love brought help off of Lopez. It was probably Butler’s job to crack down and get in front of Lopez, but he didn’t get there quickly enough, and Lopez had an easy dunk.
Brook Lopez paced the Bucks with 25 points. Holiday finished with 24 points and 11 assists. Bobby Portis stepped into the starting lineup in place of Antetokounmpo and put up 13 points with 15 rebounds. After not playing in Game 1, Pat Connaughton came off the bench to score 22 points.
“We think we have the best player in the world, but we think we have the best guys around him. The best team,” said Middleton, who finished with 16 points and seven assists. “And that’s what builds confidence, one guy goes down and we feel like we have a chance to compete at the highest level.”
The Bucks were missing Antetokounmpo because of a lower back contusion he suffered when he was driving to the basket with just over four minutes left in the first quarter during Game 1 on Sunday. He collided with Miami’s Kevin Love and landed awkwardly on his backside.
The Bucks have another two days off before Saturday’s Game 3 in Miami, which gives Antetokounmpo’s back more time to recover. But Wednesday’s win gives the Bucks even more confidence that they can compete in this series until he’s feeling 100 percent.
“Our team has the ultimate confidence in each other,” Holiday said. “We know how Giannis is. We know Giannis is going to try and make that Superman effort and come back and play 48 minutes and do what he does.
For at least one night, the Bucks didn’t miss Antetokounmpo at all as they capitalized on a dramatic turnaround in 3-point shooting. In Game 1, the Bucks went 11 of 45 on 3-point attempts while the Heat were 15 of 25. This time, the Bucks made more than half their 3-point shots in a record-tying performance.
Joe Ingles scored 17 points for the Bucks and was 5 of 6 from beyond the arc. Khris Middleton and Grayson Allen added 16 points apiece. Bobby Portis had 13 points and 15 rebounds.
Jimmy Butler scored 25 points for the Heat, who host Game 3 on Saturday.
The Bucks initially thrived by relying on the same formula they used the last time they played a home postseason game without Antetokounmpo. They gave the ball to Lopez early and often.
Lopez, who scored just 10 points in Game 1, had 14 by the end of the first quarter Wednesday. During Milwaukee’s 2021 title run, Lopez had scored a playoff career-high 34 points to help the Bucks beat the Atlanta Hawks 123-112 in Game 5 of the East finals while Antetokounmpo was out with a hyperextended left knee.
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