Well, it is now two games in a row where the Milwaukee Bucks have had to return from a fourth-quarter deficit to win. After coming back down by 26 against the Portland Trail Blazers on Sunday, the Bucks only needed to make up four points heading into the fourth to pull off this comeback against the Miami Heat. Thanks to clutch shots from Damian Lillard and Khris Middleton, the Bucks beat a Jimmy Butler and Tyler Herro-less Heat team, 131-124. With the win, Milwaukee won Group B with a 4-0 record, and because of the point differential, they earned the top seed in the East for the In-Season Tournament.
The dynamic duo of Giannis Antetkoumpo and Lillard combined for 65 points, with Giannis getting another double-double with 10 boards and Dame getting nine assists. Bam Adebayo stepped up for Miami with 31 points, 10 rebounds, five assists, and two blocks, while Kyle Lowry dropped in 21 points and six assists.
The start for the Bucks was much different compared to their open in Milwaukee on Sunday, as they jumped out to a 12-2 lead, forcing Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra to call time out. Each Bucks starter had a bucket, with Giannis leading the way with four points, as the team shot a collective 6-for-9 from the field. Things changed quickly after the timeout, as the Heat would go on a 16-7 run to bring the game within one, with Duncan Robinson and Caleb Martin hitting two threes to power the run. Adrain Griffin would call a timeout himself to gather themselves and finish the quarter on a positive note. The defense found its form, holding Miami to just four points in the final 3:11 of the frame, as Damian Lillard scored six of the last 12 points to give Milwaukee a 31-22 lead heading into the second quarter.
The second quarter belonged to rookie Jamie Jaquez Jr., responsible for 14 of the Heat's 22 points to begin the frame. His assist to Jamal Cain for a three gave Miami their first lead of the game with 6:10 left in the quarter, part of a 22-10 run by the Heat. The two sides would trade blows throughout the rest of the second quarter, with the lead changing five times, but the Heat would go into the locker room up by three, 62-59, thanks to a Kyle Lowry shot with one second left. Dame and Giannis each had 13 points for the Bucks, Adebayo led all players with 15 points, and Lowry had 10 points and five assists.
The Bucks immediately went to work to recover from their slim deficit, as they began the second half on an 11-8 run to tie the game. Giannis even hit a three-pointer to give the Bucks a lead before an Adebayo layup tied it again. The Bucks were able to push the lead to four points thanks to Giannis scoring or assisting on eight of those 10 points. The two teams would trade the lead five more times until the 1:21 mark of the third quarter when Duncan Robinson nailed a 27-foot three to give the Heat a three-point edge. Miami scored four of the final seven points to take a four-point lead heading into the fourth quarter thanks to a Josh Richardson layup, 97-93.
The Bucks found an unlikely source to begin their fourth-quarter comeback. Early on, rookie Andre Jackson Jr. nailed a couple of threes to get the Bucks back within one. However, Miami hit two shots in a row to give themselves a 104-99 lead with 9:16 left, forcing a timeout from Griffin. Milwaukee struck back to retake the lead thanks to a Malik Beasley three and a Cam Payne layup, sparking a 9-2 run to take a 108-106 lead with 6:49 left to play. Later, with the Bucks up by two, Josh Richardson was called for a foul and Spoelstra a technical for arguing the call, leading to three Lillard free throws. That put Milwaukee up by five. After a bank shot from Lowry, Brook Lopez threw down a two-handed jam to put the Bucks back up by five with 38 seconds left. The Heat could not muster any further offense as the Bucks held onto win, 131-124.
What Did We Learn?
Khris Middleton may have found his place in this new big three. Much of the discussion has been devoted to how Giannis and Dame would fit together as a new All-NBA duo. However, if the Bucks ever want to get back to the NBA Finals, they have to incorporate Middleton's new role as the third option on the offensive end. Middleton showed that he could operate in that capacity and be a secondary closer on the perimeter if Dame is having an off night. With the shot clock about to expire, Middleton hit this fadeaway mid-range jumper to give the Bucks a two-point lead with 2:15 left:
Then Khash made a turnaround fadeaway shot over Jaquez with 1:38 left to give the Bucks a four-point lead, helping to seal the Bucks win. Teams will start adjusting to what Dame can do on the perimeter in clutch time, but if Middleton can get going like that, there's not much teams will be able to do to stop the Bucks' big three.
Three More Clutch Bucks
Giannis Antetkoumpo is clutch!
There isn't a game that goes by where Giannis doesn't have his fingerprints all over it. He once again put up a double-double, this time with 33 points, 10 rebounds, and five assists, the 108th time he has done that in his 11-year NBA career. However, his impactful free throw shooting towards the end of the game made this performance truly special. Giannis has been much maligned for bad free throw shooting in clutch and non-clutch situations. We all remember his bad misses against the Raptors in the 2019 Eastern Conference Finals.
Four years later, he hits some big free throws when the time comes. In this game, with the Bucks up by two with 1:18 to go, Giannis drew a foul on Jaquez to send himself to the free-throw line. Giannis made both to push the cushion back to four points for the Bucks. Milwaukee will need to see that every night from Antetkoumpo, especially when it matters the most.
Damian Lillard is clutch (duh)!
Speaking of clutch plays, there must be a discussion on Damian Lillard's play. He has always had a reputation for being clutch, going back to the game-winning shot he hit against the Houston Rockets in the 2014 Playoffs. Now, though, he has made it look so easy that some take his ability to do so for granted. In this game alone, he scored 13 of his 32 points in just the final six minutes of the night. While the hope is that the Bucks won't need Dame to pull off these performances every night, the fact that he could is something the Bucks didn't have last year and haven't had in a very long time.
Malik Beasley is clutch!
When the Bucks brought in Beasley on a veteran minimum deal, I had expected him to bring some three-point spacing and not a whole lot else. However, since the start of the preseason, Beasley has bought into being more active on the defensive end, and last night proved it. The former Timberwolves' guard picked up his third double-double of his career with 16 points and 10 rebounds, with all 10 boards coming on the defensive glass. He also shot 54.5% from the field and 50% from three-point range. This signing is genuinely becoming a steal for the Bucks, and it makes me wonder how he couldn't get any playing time with the Lakers during their playoff run last season.
Malik Beasley tonight vs Heat:— (@Bucks_Take) November 29, 2023
38 mins pic.twitter.com/7oMf05VUvv
Bonus Bucks Bits
- Pat Connaughton went out in this game with a right ankle sprain. As of this writing, there is no update on how long he could be out.
- Before he left the game, Pat Connaughton had a good game off the bench with seven points on 3-for-5 shooting. Two of those baskets came as high-difficulty layups, including the play on which he would end up being injured.
- It was a game to forget for MarJon Beauchamp. The former first-round pick only saw nine minutes of game action due to him picking up four fouls in his first five minutes on the court. He finished his second game in a row without scoring but had four rebounds and an assist.
MarJon Beauchamp has picked up four fouls in five minutes tonight and he has gone back out of the game.— Eric Nehm (@eric_nehm) November 29, 2023
- While not known as a three-point shooter in college, rookie Andre Jackson Jr. has nailed some important shots from beyond the arc for the Bucks. Tonight was the most significant example, with him hitting two big threes that helped the Bucks narrow the deficit down to just one point.
Andre Jackson Jr. with back-to-back HUGE threes pic.twitter.com/OS4nQjdbGr— Bucks Nation (@BucksNationCP) November 29, 2023