The Miami Heat knew what was coming; they had a week to get prepared for this Eastern Conference semifinal series.
The Milwaukee Bucks had to take stock of their opponent on the fly; the team with the league’s best regular-season record with only a single-day break before Monday’s start of this best-of-seven matchup.
With counterpunching the order of the night at Disney’s Wide World of Sports complex, the Heat landed plenty of blows from Jimmy Butler, Goran Dragic and Bam Adebayo, before Butler stepped up with the final knockout punches in a 115-104 victory.
Butler closed with a playoff-career-high 40 points, Dragic 27, and Adebayo 12 points, 17 rebounds and six assists.
For the Bucks, Antetokounmpo finished with 24 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists, supported by 28 points from Khris Middleton and 24 from Brook Lopez.
A Butler jumper with 3:51 to play, put the Heat up 101-98, with his second 3-pointer of the game, with 3:03 left, off a Heat timeout, putting the Heat up 104-98.
Another Butler jumper then made it 106-98, before Milwaukee-born Tyler Herro then effectively put it away with a 3-pointer with 1:34 left.
Five degrees of Heat from Monday night’s game:
1. His time: This was the full Butler, from the foul line, and, yes, from the 3-point line, including one early in the third period.
Butler was particularly impactful when the Bucks went small after starting center Brook Lopez was forced to the bench with his fourth foul 40 seconds into the second half.
With the Bucks replacing Lopez with Marvin Williams, the Heat moved into attack mode, even more so when Antetokounmpo took a third-quarter break.
That had Butler 10 of 11 from the line going into the fourth, before his jumpers became the weapon of choice.
2. Still going: Dragic continued his playoff sizzle, this time with 19 first-half points on 6-of-8 shooting.
Dragic extended his personal-best streak of consecutive playoff games scoring in double figures to 23, breaking a tie with Alonzo Mourning for the franchise’s fourth longest streak. The Heat record is 91 consecutive playoff games by Dwyane Wade, from 2004 to 2012.
With a first-quarter 3-pointer, Dragic reached 50 postseason threes for his career.
Along the way, he passed Jamal Mashburn for 10th on the Heat’s all-time playoff scoring list.
3. More motivation: If Adebayo, who had a double-double before the end of the third quarter, needs further motivation going forward, he got it just before Monday’s tip, when it was revealed he finished as runner-up to New Orleans Pelicans guard Brandon Ingram for 2020 NBA Most Improved Player.
Ingram closed the media balloting with 326 points, to Adebayo’s 295. Ingram received 42 first-place votes to 38 for Adebayo. Dallas Mavericks guard Luka Doncic placed third, with 101 points and 12 first-place votes.
Duncan Robinson was the only other Heat player with a vote, with one third-place vote.
The balloting was completed before the NBA’s July resumption at Disney World, factoring in only games played before the NBA’s March 11 shutdown due to the new coronavirus pandemic. Ingram’s Pelicans did not qualify for the playoffs.
The lone winners of the award in the Heat’s 32 seasons remain Rony Seikaly (1990) and Isaac Austin (1997).
4: Heat change: Kendrick Nunn remained in the Heat mix after making his playoff debut a week ago in the Game 4 victory over the Pacers.
The had him replacing Derrick Jones Jr. in the Heat rotation, with Nunn entering as the Heat’s fourth reserve in what was a nine-man rotation. Nunn played 16 minutes.
Even with the Bucks bigger than the Pacers, the Heat stayed with the small starting lineup unveiled in the opening round. That had Jae Crowder opening at power forward, flanked by Adebayo, Butler, Dragic and Robinson.
5. Game changer: The Bucks were without Bledsoe, who missed the game due to a strained right hamstring.
That moved George Hill into Milwaukee’s starting lineup at point guard, just his third start in his 127 games with the Bucks.
It also led to early action for Frank Mason Jr., as the Bucks’ first guard off the bench, who was followed by Donte DiVincenzo in Milwaukee’s backcourt rotation. Those three combined for three first-half points.