MIAMI — Jimmy Butler took a hard fall. Victor Oladipo took a harder one. And the Miami Heat still found a way to knock off the Milwaukee Bucks, reclaiming the lead in their Eastern Conference playoff series.
Butler scored 30 points before leaving with a sore glute, leading the eighth-seeded Heat past the top-seeded Bucks 121-99 on Saturday night for a 2-1 lead in their first-round playoff series.
But what should have been a celebratory postgame – big win, series lead, halfway to upsetting the NBA’s top overall seed – was anything but, after Oladipo left in the fourth quarter after a knee injury that had the Heat fearing very bad news.
“I feel probably like how everybody feels,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “It was a great win, but when you see a player go down like that – especially a player like Vic who’s gone through so much in the last three years … that’s definitely not a good feeling.”
Injuries have now become the biggest story in this series. The Bucks were without two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo for a second consecutive game because of a bruised lower back, an injury he suffered in Game 1. The Heat were already without Tyler Herro because of a broken right hand, also from Game 1.
Butler wasn’t moving well, and Oladipo’s situation – even without the Heat offering an initial diagnosis yet – did not seem good, based on the instant reaction of disbelief from teammates and staffers who rushed to his side as he grabbed at the knee.
“We’re all praying for the best,” said Heat guard Duncan Robinson, who scored 20 points on his 29th birthday for Miami. Kyle Lowry scored 15 for the Heat.
Khris Middleton scored 23 points, Jrue Holiday added 19 and Grayson Allen scored 14 for Milwaukee.
Game 4 is in Miami on Monday night, when the Heat will aim for a 3-1 lead. Miami took Game 1, Milwaukee took Game 2, Miami won Game 3 and now it’ll be the Bucks looking for another bounce-back.
“We need to be better,” Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said. “Like I said, give them credit. They played well. We need to be better. We need to deal with a lot of things better. That’ll be the challenge going into the next game.”
With the win, the Heat are halfway to what would be a stunner – a No. 8 seed over a No. 1 seed, something that’s happened only five times since the NBA went to the 16-team playoff format in 1984.
Those who pulled it off: Denver over Seattle 3-2 in 1994, New York over Miami 3-2 in 1999, Golden State over Dallas 4-2 in 2007, Memphis over San Antonio 4-2 in 2011 and Philadelphia over Chicago 4-2 in 2012.
Butler got hurt midway through the third quarter after trying a shot near the rim and landing on his back. He stayed in the game briefly, departed for a short stint in the locker room and returned with a large wrap on his back – with the Heat saying he would return.
He didn’t, because he didn’t have to. The game was in hand, and Miami eventually led by as many as 29.
“We still had our chances,” Middleton said. “Just couldn’t get it together.”
The first half couldn’t have gone better for Miami. Butler had 17 points in the opening quarter, the Heat had a 19-0 run at one point, they set a franchise record by making 12 3’s in a half – and it was still only 66-53 at the break.
The reason, again: Milwaukee was getting 3’s, again. The Bucks made 25 of them in their easy Game 2 win and were 10 for 18 from deep in the first half Saturday.
But the Bucks cooled after halftime, shooting only 5 for 21 from 3-point range, and the outcome was never in doubt.