Three Things is NBC’s five-days-a-week wrap-up of the night before in the NBA. Check out NBCSports.com every weekday morning to catch up on what you missed the night before plus the rumors, drama, and dunks going that make the NBA great.
1) Dear basketball gods: Can we get seven games of Bucks vs. Heat?
For most of the second half Wednesday, the Miami Heat made the case for why they are serious title contenders.
However, during a 21-6 run to close out the game, the Bucks showed why they have a ring and exposed a hole in the Heat plan.
In a game that felt as much like a playoff game as a regular season game can, the Milwaukee Bucks came from behind in the final minutes and got the win over Miami 120-119 on Jrue Holiday‘s coast-to-coast game-winning bucket.
Miami still sits atop the East standings after the loss and most of this game showed why they both belong there and have a shot at a ring. They have versatile, switchable defenders who are disruptive and their rotations are sharp. In Bam Adebayo — playing the best basketball of his career in recent weeks — they have maybe the best one-man defender against Giannis Antetokounmpo there is in the league. Miami got Antetokounmpo in foul trouble, limiting him in the first half. Finally, the Heat have shooting everywhere — Tyler Herro scored 30 off the bench — plus guys like Jimmy Butler, who know how to make tough shots. This is a team built for playoff basketball, and this was a playoff-like game against the Bucks.
The Heat led by 14 points, 113-99, midway through the fourth quarter.
Miami’s Achilles heel is they can struggle to create good looks in the halfcourt down the stretch of a game, especially against a good defense like Milwaukee’s. Add in Kyle Lowry still being away from the Heat — family reasons — and things get worse (Gabe Vincent is a gamer, but these final seconds were too much for him). Milwaukee was able to overwhelm = Butler all game (2-of-14 shooting) and the rest of the Heat down the stretch, leading to bad shots late in the clock, and the Heat scoring just six points over the final 7:13 of the game.
Then, when it mattered most with 9.9 seconds left, the Bucks denied an inbounds play and forced a dangerous pass from Vincent and a jump ball between Antetokounmpo and Butler. (Yes, Heat fans, there could have been a foul call on that play, a couple of whistles didn’t go your way late, welcome to playoff basketball. Life ain’t fair. The best teams find a way to execute and win despite that.)
The Bucks themselves have struggled with late-game execution this season but got the ugly baskets they needed in this game. They were tough shot makers late, with Antetokounmpo getting to the line and Khris Middleton hitting a key 3-pointer.
For much of the game, Miami looked like the deep, versatile contender they are and can walk away saying if Butler shoots like he usually does, or Lowry plays, or they get a call late, this game ends differently.
But this is what playoff basketball looks like — it’s not pretty, it’s about resilience and grit as much as talent, all things Miami has in its bag but the Bucks had more of on Wednesday.
The Heat vs. Bucks has been an entertaining but short playoff series the past couple of years, this season it feels like it would go seven. And if it is the Eastern Conference Finals again this season, nobody is complaining.
2) Kevin Durant set to make return Thursday
The Heat go from the defending champs to Kevin Durant’s return game. Lucky them.
Durant was not listed on the Nets injury report for Thursday, but if you want more evidence there is this.
The return. pic.twitter.com/GxLDNfqWia
— Brooklyn Nets (@BrooklynNets) March 2, 2022
For all the focus on Kyrie Irving‘s vaccination status (he will not play Thursday because it’s in Brooklyn) and the Ben Simmons trade, this is Durant’s team. He is their best player, and they go as he goes. Durant played at an MVP level and averaged 29.3 points before Bruce Brown got knocked backward into KD’s knee. The Nets went 5-16 with him out.
It’s good to see him back on the court.
It’s the first step needed in the Nets starting to approach their incredibly high ceiling this postseason.
3) James Harden feels the brotherly love in Philadelphia
James Harden played his first game in Philadelphia and he felt the love from the fans.
"Number 1. The Beard."
James Harden is home ⬇ pic.twitter.com/UrxIbbW7s5
— NBC Sports Philadelphia (@NBCSPhilly) March 3, 2022
Harden finished with 26-9-9, Joel Embiid had 27 points, Tyrese Maxey is locked in as the third option on this team and scored 25. The 76ers were sloppy and choppy for the first half of this game, got yelled at by Doc Rivers at halftime (we assume), came out playing focused basketball in the second half and pulled away for the 123-108 win over the Knicks.
The honeymoon is over and the real tests for the 76ers come now; their next four games are the Cavaliers, at the Heat, Bulls, and Nets. Miami, in particular, is a good measuring stick game on Saturday.
Highlight of the Night: Donovan Mitchell goes Showtime with no-look pass
Donovan Mitchell isn’t just a scorer. Magic couldn’t have done it better himself.
— Utah Jazz (@utahjazz) March 3, 2022
Hornets 119, Cavaliers 98
Indiana 122, Orlando 114
Philadelphia 123, New York 108
Utah 132, Houston 127 (OT)
Milwaukee 120, Miami 119
New Orleans 125, Sacramento 95
The loss by the Sacramento Kings tonight extends an amazing streak:
Winning seasons in Sacramento with Rick Adelman as coach: 8 in 8 years
Winning seasons in Sacramento with anyone else as coach: 0 in 29 years
— Josh Dubow (@JoshDubowAP) March 3, 2022
Oklahoma City 119, Denver 107
Phoenix 120, Portland 90