LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — Milwaukee faced a dire situation. Not only were they down 3-0 to the Miami Heat, but Bucks MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo was ruled out for essentially the final three quarters with a sprained right ankle.
Yet, the Bucks relied on the competitiveness and character that coach Mike Budenholzer has mentioned frequently during this series and defeated the Heat 118-115 in overtime in Game 4 on Sunday, avoiding elimination.
All-Star Khris Middleton extended Milwaukee’s season with a game-high 36 points, and his 3-pointer with 6.3 seconds left put the Bucks ahead 116-112. It was a big-time bucket.
Miami guard Tyler Herro’s 3-pointer cut it to 116-15 with three seconds to go in OT, but Middleton’s two foul shots made it a three-point game, accounting for the final score.
Milwaukee guard Donte DiVincenzo’s made a free throw with 1.9 seconds left in the fourth quarter forced overtime at 107-107, and the Bucks outscored the Heat in OT.
Middleton scored 21 points in the third quarter and had nine in overtime. Eric Bledsoe had 14 points, 10 rebounds and six assists, George Hill had 12 points and Brook Lopez added 14.
“Khris was phenomenal,” Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said. “He’s such a great player. He makes big shots, makes big decisions and I thought guys stepped up around him – Brook, Donte, Bled, George, all those guys made enough plays around Khris. Certainly, the ball was in Khris’ hands a lot. He did a lot great things.”
It might be hard to see, but there is a glimmer of hope for the Bucks — though no team has come back from a 3-0 deficit to win a series in NBA history.
Antetokounmpo’s status for Game 5 and any other games is unknown, but the Bucks showed incredible toughness to force another game. Down 100-92 in the fourth quarter, Milwaukee could have folded with its star unavailable.
“It came down to getting stops, defending, running through the screens, grabbing the loose balls and 50-50 balls that they were getting,” Middleton said. “On the offensive end, just slowing down and executing our offense and getting the best look without rushing or having bad possessions or bad turnovers.
“We’re a veteran group. The first three games we did a bad job of executing down the stretch and rushed into bad possessions. This game, it just slowed down, made sure we got what we wanted each time down the court.”
Antetokounmpo was playing his best offensive game of the series, scoring 19 points in the first 14 minutes. He twisted his right ankle in Game 3 and was listed as questionable for Game 4. A game-time decision, Antetokounmpo started and was playing like the dominant player who is expected to win his second consecutive MVP award.
But with 10:18 remaining in the second quarter, Antetokounmpo re-injured the ankle while driving to the basket. He was fouled by Miami’s Andre Iguodala, made 1-of-2 two free throws, checked out of the game and never returned.
“We know he was laying it on the line out there for us,” Middleton said. “His ankle was already in bad shape. … We had to have his back, and we’ll have to have his back in the next game.”
Without their MVP, the Bucks relied on Middleton, who was 3-for-7 on 3-pointers and had eight rebounds, eight assists and two steals. He scored 34 points on 12-for-13 shooting after Antetokounmpo left the game.
“I just wanted to get the ball in certain positions, just play through me,” said Middleton who played 48 of 53 minutes. “I thought guys did a great job of cutting and finding open areas for everybody to be aggressive, not just myself.”
Bam Adebayo led five Heat starters in double figures, scoring 26 points with 12 rebounds and eight assists.
The Heat will not be happy with second quarter. They were outscored 21-17 after Antetokounmpo left the game. Instead of building a lead, Miami trailed 52-50 at halftime, and it scored just 19 points in the fourth quarter.
“You have to credit Milwaukee in this game,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “I thought in the fourth quarter when we went up six we had a chance to steal this game. But the reality is they deserved to win the game. They were playing harder. They were doing things with more force, more consistency, getting us off our spots in our offense. Their offense, they were able to get into their wheelhouse the entire second half. Even when they were missing, they were getting the shots they wanted, and we paid the price for it there at the end.”
Follow Jeff Zillgitt on Twitter @JeffZillgitt.