Jimmy Butler and Giannis Antetokounmpo go head-to-head when the fifth-seeded Miami Heat and top-seeded Milwaukee Bucks open a best-of-seven Eastern Conference semifinal series Monday night at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex near Orlando.
The All-Star forwards dueled just once in the regular season, with Butler getting the upper hand in the Heat’s 105-89 home win on March 2.
Butler contributed 18 points to the win, while Antetokounmpo was held far below his average with 13 points to go with 15 rebounds and just three assists.
Butler sat out both other Miami-Milwaukee meetings in the regular season. The Heat won 131-126 in overtime on the road on the season’s opening weekend in October, before the Bucks finally got into the win column with a 130-116 triumph inside the NBA bubble earlier this month.
The Heat (2-1) were the only Eastern Conference team to win a season series with the Bucks this year. Dallas (2-0) and Denver (2-0) also accomplished the feat among Western clubs.
The rivals ranked fourth (Bucks, 13.8 per game) and sixth (Heat, 13.4) in 3-pointers made during the regular season, and shooting from beyond the arc played a major role in determining who won the three earlier meetings.
The Heat held the Bucks to 24-for-88 shooting on treys in the first two games, with Milwaukee floundering at 31.5 and 20.6 percent, respectively. But Milwaukee was a much improved 15-for-37 (40.5 percent) in the win in the bubble.
Miami, meanwhile, made 16, 18 and 21 3-pointers in the three games, hitting at 43.3 percent.
Both teams defended the 3-point line relatively well in the first round, with Miami holding Indiana to 12.0 triples per game at 37.5 percent, while Milwaukee limited Orlando to 15.0 per game at 37.7 percent.
The Heat haven’t played since finishing off their sweep of Indiana on Aug. 24. Butler insisted afterward that he and his teammates are enjoying the bubble experience, one in which the Bucks’ home-court advantage earned in the regular season has been taken away.
“We’re here to win man, home or away,” he boasted during the time off. “I think this is the type of environment we like to play in. We’re not worried about the fans booing us, or cheering for us for that matter. We’re just out here playing a Miami Heat style of basketball, playing with and for one another.”
One thing the Heat avoided by dispatching the Pacers so quickly was the postponement of games in the aftermath of the Jacob Blake shooting in Wisconsin.
The Bucks spearheaded NBA protests by walking out on their scheduled game against Orlando on Wednesday, before returning three days later to complete the 4-1 series win.
Antetokounmpo admitted after the triumph that he and his teammates are not totally focused on basketball right now.
“One thing that moved me as a human being was that, if you really want to accomplish something and get something done, you can,” he said of efforts to contact Blake’s family during the week. “We came together as a team. His dad was tearing up telling us how powerful what we did on that day was for him and his family, and that’s bigger than basketball to me.
“We’re going to remember the way we felt for the rest of our lives.”
–Field Level Media