MIAMI (AP) There was no yelling and screaming in the Milwaukee locker room at halftime. A little bit of film got reviewed, a couple adjustments got discussed, and the Bucks believed a 20-point deficit could be overcome.
They were right.
Giannis Antetokounmpo scored 33 points and finished an assist shy of a triple-double, and the Bucks tied a franchise record for second-half comebacks on the way to beating the Miami Heat 113-98 on Friday night. Milwaukee became the first team in NBA history to trail by 20 at half then come back to win by more than 15.
“It doesn’t matter if you’re down 20, 15, 10,” said Antetokounmpo, who also had 16 rebounds and nine assists. “We’re going to keep playing hard. It’s a process. You’ve got to win games like this. You’ve got to face adversity when you’re playing on the road. In the playoffs, it’s not going to be easy. We want to be a great team and that’s why we keep playing hard.”
The Bucks were 1-100 all-time – 0-77 on the road – when trailing by 20 or more at the half. They trailed 72-52 at the half against the New York Knicks on Feb. 18, 1977, and won 124-123.
On Friday, it was Heat 62, Bucks 42 at the half.
From there, Bucks 71, Heat 36. Milwaukee also became the first team in NBA history to trail by at least 20 at the break and wind up winning by at least 15 points.
“We lost our energy in the second half,” said Justise Winslow, who led Miami with 20 points – all in the first half. The Heat’s lead over Orlando and Charlotte for the No. 8 spot in the Eastern Conference was trimmed to just one game.
Hassan Whiteside had 14 points and 11 rebounds for the Heat, Josh Richardson scored 11 points and Dwyane Wade was one of four players with 10 for Miami. Wade bruised his right hip on a hard fall late in the third quarter.
Khris Middleton scored 21 and Eric Bledsoe had 17 for the NBA-best Bucks, who improved to 52-17. Antetokounmpo was in total control of the second half, grabbing an offensive rebound with 2:40 left and throwing a no-look, behind-the-head pass to Bledsoe for a layup and a 110-92 lead. Most fans didn’t see it – they were long gone by then.
“To do what we did in the second half, I’m just pleased with the guys the way they were able to flip it,” Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said. “Our defense fuels our offense. We want that to be our identity.”
The Bucks lost Malcolm Brogdon in the first quarter to a sore right heel. Brogdon was 0 for 3 in 6 1/2 minutes.
The rally from 23 down was the Bucks’ biggest of the season, one better than what they did against Chicago on Nov 16. It was only the fifth game all season where the Bucks trailed by 20 or more, and they’re now 2-3 in those games.
The Heat came out flying, leading 25-8 before any of the starters came out for their first rest of the night. The biggest lead was 37-14 with a minute to go in the opening quarter, and the Bucks pared that down to 13 on three occasions in the second quarter. Miami wound up closing the half on a 10-3 spurt to push the lead back to 20.
It all changed – and fast.
The Bucks made as many 3-pointers in the third quarter – five – as the Heat made field goals. Middleton and Ersan Ilyasova each had 10 points in the quarter, Miami shot 5 for 20 and got outrebounded 16-8, and the lead was down to one going into the fourth.
The lead didn’t last long, and Milwaukee kept pulling away.
“Sometimes you’re going to miss open shots,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “Sometimes you’re going to miss free throws. Sometimes there are going to be turnovers. Sometimes there are going to be things you don’t agree with the officiating. All of that in the second half really distracted us and they really took advantage of that.”