The Miami Heat appeared to be on their way to a huge victory at home against the NBA’s top team the Milwaukee Bucks on Friday night after one of their best first half performances of the season. Unfortunately reality set in and the Bucks would settle down and systematically take apart the home team in the second half for the 113-98 win.
Justise Winslow put together an All-Star worthy display in the first half with a career-best 20 points through two quarters but he was never the same after momentarily going to the locker room with a bruised thigh. By extension, the Heat never recovered after their best player returned to the game and lacked the explosiveness he was utilizing to devastating effect against the Bucks defense. Not only did he showcase his usual trademark defense that led to transition buckets, but his 3-point shooting, playmaking, and hustle were the catalyst for the Heat as they continued to increase their lead in the first half.
The home team looked sharp from the outset, knocking down their first four shots to race out to a quick 10-4 lead. Miami converted on their first five 3-point attempts, allowing them to open an 18-8 lead after a Kelly Olynyk 3-pointer. Soon afterward, Winslow would follow up a deep three to beat the shot clock with a nifty back pass to Bam Adebayo for the easy basket to make it 25-8 with less than five minutes left on the strength of a 20-4 run.
Both the starters and the bench trio of Goran Dragic, Dwyane Wade and Hassan Whiteside had the Heat scoring at a blistering pace while also successfully limiting Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks. The Heat went 6-8 on 3s in first quarter while the Bucks missed 11 of their first 12 3-point shots and finished 1-14 for the first half from deep .
A halftime lead of 20 points was preserved after the Heat ended the second quarter on a 10-3 run to answer back when the Bucks cut the lead to 13. However, any hopes that the Heat would repeat their dominant third quarter showing from their last game against the Detroit Pistons were quickly dashed with Winslow briefly out and Giannis and the Bucks reminding everyone why they’ve been so dominant this season.
Poor free throw shooting would also doom the Heat, but the defense suddenly had no answer for Giannis running downhill on transition and scoring at will, whether he got wrapped up for an intentional foul or not. They also quickly corrected their shooting from deep, going 11-19 in the second half and simply wearing the Heat down with their superior ball movement.
Milwaukee would take their first lead at 81-80 to open the fourth quarter and never looked back as they cruised to what was ultimately a comfortable lead. At least the Heat can take solace that Winslow checked back into the game, though he was ineffective and looked nothing like the same player that was dominating the game in the first half, and that Dwyane Wade also returned after a scary fall on a driving attempt to the rim.