Tyler Herro’s homecoming soured despite his efforts to prove a point after breaking his hand at Fiserv Forum 19 minutes into the Playoffs. This time, the Heat got Bucked, with Damian Lillard and Giannis Antetokounmpo leading the stampede. Bam Adebayo was absent with a hip injury and unable to shield the paint plus switch outside. Haywood Highsmith was still out with a left knee sprain. For three quarters, Orlando Robinson auditioned for a new squad – the Beijing Royal Fighters. And still, the Heat clawed back to within six points during the last 30 seconds.
Even with the missing contributors, Herro was the singular Heatle who came prepared until his colleagues picked it up late. A night earlier, the Atlanta Hawks thumped the Bucks by 17 points and, at one moment, had them down 31. Monday, there was no chance of that, given how Miami pantsed Milwaukee in the Postseason and was hurt going in. Cream City’s unit was sloppy in the first half but still in control.
In the opening quarter, the Heat used the 2-2-1 press to slow the Bucks, not allowing any fastbreak buckets. Herro exploited Milwaukee’s drop coverage, hitting consecutive high-difficulty floaters over Bobby Portis. Thomas Bryant scored eight points by cutting and posting. Jimmy Butler recorded nine early points before taking his foot off the gas.
The Heat was tied at 28 after a quarter, but the Bucks charged to a 7-0 run before coach Erik Spoelstra called timeout. He’d seen enough after Herro was blitzed and ripped on two possessions by Portis, and Butler looked disinterested not playing with Lillard. Rookie Jamie Jaquez Jr. then missed four shots in a row before the close of the half.
O. Robinson was BBQ and picked up two fouls in three minutes. One of his penalties was so obvious that when Spo instinctually cried flop on Cameron Payne, referee Tony Brothers walked past him, rolling his eyes. Josh Richardson left 3-point shooters open, but Herro kept the group on life support with the squad’s three final baskets of the quarter, pushing his output to 18 points.
At intermission, the Heat was down 52-62 following a last-second top of the key trifecta, swished by Jae Crowder when Herro over-helped on the wing. The Bucks scored 28 points in the paint and 11 were off Miami’s turnovers. Antetokounmpo and Portis repeatedly mauled the backline.
Next came the infamous turd quarter as the Bucks went on an 11-4 run before Spo called another break that failed to stop the bleeding. For the period, Herro was the team’s offense, but the Heat conceded 14 of 22 baskets to eight different Bucks, digging a 25-point ditch.
Milwaukee then committed the cardinal sin of not extinguishing the Heat’s embers. In the fourth, Spoelstra benched Butler, and the visitors chopped away with a bevy of 3-pointers and paint attacks. O. Robinson nailed a bomb from the corner, beat Portis off the dribble from the top to the cup, scored at close range off a roll, and had five rebounds and five assists. Duncan Robinson canned three triples.
With under two minutes left, D. Robinson cut the deficit to six as he maneuvered to the square for a transition floater. His leaning 3-pointer in front of two defenders on the right wing was the last retaliatory blow the Heat landed.
Milwaukee won 122-114.
After his third match with the Bucks, Lillard said as the team goes on, it will continue to get better. “We [have] a great starting group, but I think one of our greatest strengths is our bench, our depth. When we [have] guys coming in, moving the ball, playing with energy, getting deflections… we’ll be a hard team to beat.”
At the postgame presser for the losing side, Spoelstra said his group earned its 25-point deficit, but then the young crew battled back. “I’m sure Milwaukee was just trying to play it out, hoping we were going to go away, but our guys did some good things out there…we just need to move the needle this week.”
The Heat’s record is now 1-3.