That’s the only word I can use to describe the final regular season game between the Milwaukee Bucks and the Miami Heat. The first three meetings between the budding rivals involved two blowouts (137-95 for the Heat and 124-102 for the Bucks), plus one semi-comfortable victory for the Heat (113-104).
The game started off strong for the Bucks, who finished the first quarter ahead 36-28, but then dealt with a counterpunch from a tough Heat squad that retook a two-point lead at halftime. The two squads spent the third quarter trading blows, with the Heat narrowly winning to bring a 97-93 advantage into the final stanza.
Miami then turned it on in the early part of the fourth quarter, where they eventually pushed their lead to 14 points with 7:12 left on the clock. They likely felt confident in their ability to win the game at that point, but seven minutes is an eternity to hold onto the lead when you’re facing the reigning NBA Champions – even when Tyler Herro was shooting the lights out and going 11 of 21 from the field.
Last year’s NBA Finals MVP, Giannis Antetokounmpo, had a relatively quiet first half, as he finished with seven points after was stymied by former teammate PJ Tucker and Miami’s suffocating team defense. That didn’t matter, though, because he came alive in the second half. After eventually adjusting to the Heat’s defensive schemes, Antetokounmpo poured in 21 points in the second half, including 14 in the fourth quarter. He finished with a strong 28 points, 17 rebounds, five assists, two steals and a block.
True to form, though, Antetokounmpo helped keep his team in the game in the waning moments, but then was just as happy to watch his teammates close out the game.
I might have to watch the final stretch of this game again on replay, because it was so goddamn epic. With 1:39 left in the game, Antetokounmpo sank a pair of free throws to cut the Bucks deficit to 115-113. Herro then answered with this shot to make it 117-113.
With 1:05 left, Antetokounmpo again made two free throws to make it 117-115, but Bam Adebeyo then bailed the Heat out of a bad possession by sinking a 12-footer to make it 119-115 with 44.7 left in the game. Antetokounmpo then missed a layup with 34.6 left on the clock, giving the Heat the possession, but Bobby Portis stole the ball and Khris Middleton hit a transition three-pointer with 13.5 seconds left in the game to make it a 119-118 game.
Everything was on the line in the next possession, and Milwaukee showed championship defense in a wild final sequence. After the Heat called their first timeout, the Bucks blitzed every potential receiver and almost forced the five-second violation. Watching the in-game live replay showed that the Heat may have actually even been late to call the timeout, or got it off with milliseconds left. That’s how close it was.
The Heat managed to get the ball onto the floor on their next attempt at inbounding, but then Antetokounmpo when he forced a jump ball after smothering a desperate Jimmy Butler, who had fallen to the ground after catching the ball while being swarmed with 9.9 seconds left.
I don’t think words would do justice for the final sequence, so I’ll just share a video of it below.
Holiday’s winning basket meant he finished the game with 25 points, six rebounds and 11 assists. Middleton ended the game with 26 points, four rebounds and three assists.
So, facing the prospects of losing their season series 3-1, the Bucks instead rescued the season series in a dramatic finish. Instead of letting themselves get deflated by a 14-point lead, they instead answered with a 21-6 run to end the game.
We don’t get to see these two teams meet again in the regular season, but as an NBA fan, I definitely want to see them meet in the playoffs. The two teams have established something of a rivalry ever since Jimmy Butler arrived in Miami. The Bucks lost their first series with them in 2020 in a painful 4-1 series defeat, where Antetokounmpo hurt himself, but then sent the Heat packing with a 4-0 sweep in the first round last year. Game 1 was the only close game of that series, and the Bucks blew the Heat out of every other contest.
It feels like the two teams are more evenly matched this year, as shown by their regular season record. Even with both sides missing key contributors like Kyle Lowry, Brook Lopez, and Pat Connaughton, they seem to relish playing against each other. Butler also missed two of the games this season, so I really want to see these two sides face each other at full strength. Jimmy Buckets had an awful game this time around, too, with six points on 2 of 14 shooting, and I expect he wants to make up for that.
Today really felt like a playoff game, and I wouldn’t complain if we got to see seven more contests between the two sides this year. Both teams had a double-digit lead, came back from them, and the game then finished with the slimmest of margins.