An NBA team has never come back from a 3-0 playoff series deficit to win.
The Milwaukee Bucks, the top seed in the Eastern Conference, still have a long way to go to defy that history. But after a dramatic overtime Game 4 win — played largely without injured star Giannis Antetokounmpo — against the fifth-seeded Miami Heat, the Bucks will aim to fend off elimination again in Tuesday’s Game 5 of the East semifinals at ESPN’s Wide World of Sports Complex near Orlando.
The Heat, meanwhile, will get their second chance to finish off the team that held the NBA’s best regular-season record (56-17).
“We’re gonna forget about it and move on — and learn,” Heat All-Star Jimmy Butler said after Game 4. “You learn from stuff like this, and how fragile this thing is and how you can’t take any of this for granted. How you can’t just walk into a game and expect to win.”
The health of Antetokounmpo, the 2019-20 NBA Defensive Player of the Year and frontrunner to repeat as MVP, remains the primary storyline. The Bucks listed him as questionable for Game 5.
After scoring 19 points on 8-of-10 shooting on a sprained right ankle in 11 first-half minutes of Game 4, Antetokounmpo re-aggravated the injury while driving in the paint early in the second quarter. He did not return to the game and left the arena in a walking boot.
After the game, Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said the team will monitor how Antetokounmpo’s ankle responds to treatment before Tuesday’s contest.
“When he went down, all our hearts, they stop for a second,” Budenholzer said.
Antetokounmpo had a very minor workload on Monday as Milwaukee waits to see how he progresses.
“Giannis is, like we’ve said, he’s getting treatment around the clock, doing everything he can to make himself available,” Budenholzer told reporters on Monday. “On the court, we literally just walked through a couple defensive things, a couple offensive things, just kind of stationary in the half court. He was able to participate in that, but I think it wasn’t much, so don’t read too much into that.”
Without Antetokounmpo, fellow Milwaukee All-Star Khris Middleton was sensational. He totaled 36 points, including a contested 3-pointer with 6.4 seconds remaining in overtime to seal the win, eight rebounds and eight assists in a season-high 48 minutes.
The fourth quarter is when the past two games of this series has flipped.
In Game 3, Miami outscored Milwaukee 40-13 — the biggest fourth-quarter margin in NBA playoff history — to pull away to a 115-100 victory. In Game 4, Milwaukee closed an eight-point gap, then nearly won in regulation before hanging on in overtime.
Heat stars Butler and Bam Adebayo were self-critical of their team’s Game 4 performance. Butler said the Heat did not stick to their defensive principles. Adebayo said they “fell apart” in crunch time. Most disappointing, to them, was that the team’s effort level relaxed.
“I feel like we played like we was up 3-0,” Adebayo said.
Added Butler: “We did what I always said we can’t do, which is get comfortable. We thought this one was gonna be easy, and it was not. You can say all that you want to say. We knew what we had to do coming into this game. So, going into the next one, we’ve just got to put them away.”
Cameras caught a barefoot Antetokounmpo congratulating teammates as they entered a victorious Bucks locker room.
They will get at least one more game together. At least one more chance to keep their season alive, with or without their superstar.
“We know he’s laying it on the line out there for us,” Middleton said of Antetokounmpo. “His ankle’s already in bad shape. …
“Hopefully, we’ll have him back again for the next game. But, if not, we still have to play as hard as we can. We’ve got to fight every night to keep on playing.”
–Field Level Media