For the second time this season, Khris Middleton nailed a three at the buzzer to give the Milwaukee Bucks a win with zeroes on the clock.
After tremendous hustle plays from Jerryd Bayless and Zaza Pachulia kept the Bucks' chances alive, Middleton's three from the slot behind the arc as time expired lifted the Bucks past the Miami Heat 89-88 on Tuesday night, snapping a six-game losing skid and sending the BMO Harris Bradley Center -- and the Bucks' bench -- into hysteria.
Down 14 heading into the final quarter after shooting just 7-for-26 and being outscored 28-16 in the third, Milwaukee was able clamp down defensively and hold the Heat to just nine points on 24 percent shooting in the fourth. After trailing 85-71 with under six minutes left, the Bucks scored 14 straight points to tie the game at 85 with 1:20 remaining.
"When you're down by more than 10, obviously you've got to play defense at some point if you want to win the game." Pachulia said. "The good thing about this team and about tonight's game is that we didn't easily give up."
Dwyane Wade had a chance to ice the game from the free throw line with the Heat up two and 17 seconds left, but he missed the second free throw to hand the Bucks another chance. Middleton initially had a chance to tie the game with an attempt from three at the top of the key, but it badly missed. Luckily for Milwaukee, Ersan Ilyasova was able to snag the rebound before getting fouled, with his first free throw narrowing Miami's lead to 88-86. Ilyasova then missed the second, but Jerryd Bayless was able to force a jump ball after racing in to tie up Michael Beasley on the rebound.
Improbably, the 6-foot-3 point guard Bayless was then able to win the battle against the 6-foot-9 Beasley, and soon after drove inside the lane with a chance to tie the game.
"It was a huge play by a 6-foot-1, maybe 6-foot-2 guy going against a 6-foot-8 guy and winning that jump ball." Middleton said.
Bayless' shot fell off the rim, but a bounce to the left side of the court and an incredible diving save from Pachulia resulted in his blind pass back to Middleton, who was uncovered as he awaited the ball at the arc. With Wade closing out hard on him, Middleton got his hands on the ball and released it in one motion, burying the shot as time expired. It was sweet redemption for Middleton, who hit just 5-17 from the field and was largely frustrated by Miami's physical defense for most of the night.
"I saw where the ball was bouncing and just rushed there," Pachulia said. "When I turned around, he was there wide open, so I kicked it out. We trust each other."
"I'm not going to let the shots I miss get me down." Middleton said. "I'm going to keep playing defense and keep fighting."
"I think it just [shows] the character of those guys fighting to the end." Head coach Jason Kidd said. "They played 48 minutes and they played until the clock said zero. Those guys in that locker room get a lot of credit for staying together and playing the game out. They found a way to get the last shot and it went in."
The win helped the Bucks (35-36) move 2.5 games up on the Heat in the Eastern Conference standings, and the Bucks now own the tiebreaker against Miami, which greatly intensifies their chances of withstanding the Heat.
-- Michael Carter-Williams was simply bad tonight, fouling out with 7:41 left in the fourth on top of turning the ball over six times. In 26 minutes on the floor, he went just 1-for-4 from the field and scored four points. After fouling out, the Bucks outscored Miami 18-7 to the finish line. If this game didn't end the way it did, MCW's performance would have almost certainly been a focal point of post-game discussion.
-- It was good to see Miles Plumlee thrive with increased minutes (16) off the bench. Plumless scored eight points for the Bucks inside and threw down two strong dunks, including one that was contested over Hassan Whiteside that unfortunately checked him out for the rest of the game (Whiteside needed to get 10 stitches in his hand).
MCW to ZAZA to MY PLUMLEE...who jacks up Whiteside's hand on the facial https://t.co/2FvA1tigol— Frank Madden (@brewhoop) March 25, 2015
-- Seeking a spark during the Bucks' lifeless third quarter, Jason Kidd curiously gave O.J. Mayo (hamstring) a few minutes at the 5:50 mark of the third. He said after the game he just wanted to give him a few minutes, but it certainly seemed as though Mayo being inserted was a bit of desperation move to give the Bucks a shot in the arm. Instead, Mayo missed all four of his shots in six minutes, as the Heat lead doubled from seven to 14.
-- Fun fact: Khris Middleton is the first player to hit two game-winning threes in a season since Kobe Bryant did it back during the 2009-10 season, per ESPN. Middleton's other clutch shot came in Phoenix against the Suns on Dec. 14.
-- Ersan led the team in scoring tonight with 19 points (7-for-15 shooting) and 11 boards. That may sound like a fair performance, but Ilyasova started the game with 11 after the first (4-for-7), meaning he shot just 3-for-8 the remaining three quarters. But who cares? He also made two critical jumpers down the stretch and registered the greatest missed free-throw of his life.
-- Pachulia had another tremendous night, scoring 14 to go with 11 rebounds, seven assists and a career-high five steals. He's now averaging 10.6 points and 9.1 rebounds in the month of March.
-- The fact that the Bucks held the Heat to just nine points in the fourth is still staggering. Through the first three periods, they allowed Miami to score 27, 24 and 28 respectively. They did a pretty good job as a unit keeping Wade from making easy baskets (besides the one easy layup) and disrupted his shot down the stretch (just 2-for-6 shooting).
-- As usual, Jabari Parker was in the house to cheer on his teammates -- and give us this nice moment during Middleton's post-game interview.
Giannis Antetokounmpo had a largely frustrating night, picking up two early fouls and registering an ugly six turnovers overall. And yet he still managed to stuff the box score with 16 points (6-10 fg, 4/4 ft), 10 rebounds, two assists and three blocks, including three critical baskets in the fourth quarter when the Bucks were desperately looking for a spark. That seems to be a recurring and rather encouraging theme for the 20-year-old sophomore -- even when he isn't playing his best, Kidd allows him to play through mistakes and eventually he always seems to find ways to score points and make plays on both ends.