The 2021 NBA playoffs got off to a thrilling start as the Miami Heat and Milwaukee Bucks battled down to the wire in Game 1 of their best-of-seven series on Saturday. In the end, it was the third-seeded Bucks eventually coming away with a 109-107 victory in overtime, thanks to a game-winning jumper from Khris Middleton with less than a second left on the clock.
As we've seen throughout the season, the Bucks' trio of Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday led the charge on the offensive end as they combined for 73 of the team's 109 points. For the Heat, Duncan Robinson and Goran Dragic were the ones pacing the offense as Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo largely struggled from the field. While Miami did not shoot the ball well from the floor as a team, it did set a franchise record for made 3-pointers in a postseason game after knocking down 20 shots from beyond the arc.
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In the end, it was Milwaukee that made enough plays on the defensive end down the stretch to come away with the victory in Game 1 and take an early lead in this series. These two teams will meet again at Fiserv Forum on Monday night. Here are three takeaways from the exciting series opener.
The game-winning shot will be what's remembered from this game by Middleton, but he was dominant from start to finish against the Heat. He was patient with his shot selection, got to his spots and carried the Bucks early in the game when the Heat were swarming Giannis Antetokounmpo. He finished the night with 27 points, six assists, six rebounds and two steals. But let's get to that game-winner because it really was a thing of beauty:
He gets the switch on Trevor Ariza, then baits Duncan Robinson into coming out to guarding him, loads up then just nails the fadeaway mid-range jumper. That's just a gutsy shot to take, and while he had the defense scrambling, to take a fadeaway jumper with not a ton of room around him ... just wow. Some have questioned if Middleton can be the second-best player on this team for the Bucks to win a championship, and his game today -- and that shot -- certainly quieted some doubters. He left his mark Saturday in a big way and Milwaukee can now exhale with a 1-0 lead against a Miami team that just wouldn't go away.
Disjointed night for Jimmy and Bam
Despite Jimmy Butler finishing the game two assists shy of a triple-double (17 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists), he certainly had a performance worth forgetting aside from his game-tying layup to force overtime. Miami's other All-Star, Bam Adebayo also struggled to get into a rhythm offensively despite having a solid defensive performance on the other end of the floor. On the bright side, it'll probably be the worst performance the duo has all series long, but it's not ideal when neither of them are able to get going on offense in the same game.
Adebayo was being swarmed on offense, as the Bucks did a great job defensively of ensuring he wasn't getting any easy looks at the rim or in the paint. Giannis was a great help defender on multiple occasions on Adebayo, and reserve big man Bobby Portis held his own against the versatile Adebayo. He was able to contribute in other ways with his defense, but as the second-best player on the Heat, he has to contribute more than just nine points offensively in a playoff game.
For Butler, his woeful shooting night was more just missed shots than stifling defense by Milwaukee. On a handful of occasions, Butler clanked wide-open shots, and finished the night a lowly 4 of 22 from the field, including 2 of 9 from deep. Again, he knocked down a big-time shot to give the Heat new life and force overtime, but he scored zero points in the extra frame on six shots. If we're talking adjustments for Game 2, knowing Butler isn't going to have a repeat performance like this is the biggest thing Miami can rely upon. As far as Adebayo goes, finding opportunities to get him the ball in space and taking advantage of Milwaukee's bigs will be key in Game 2.
Have a day, Jrue Holiday
When Milwaukee traded for Holiday, some thought the haul it gave up for him was too big. Well, it's safe to say that trade has worked out pretty well for the Bucks so far. Holiday finished the game with 20 points, 11 rebounds, three assists and three steals and was integral on the defensive side of the ball. When the Bucks faced the Heat in the semifinals last season, they were missing a stabilizing guard who could get a bucket when Giannis or Middleton were struggling. They also needed a better defender in the backcourt to slow opposing guards down. Holiday offers all that, and more.
It felt like every important play happened because of Holiday in this game. He made two crucial hustle plays -- once in the fourth quarter and again in overtime -- to shift the momentum in favor of the Bucks. When Goran Dragic was slicing up Milwaukee for buckets left and right, Holiday picked his pocket and got a layup on the other end to give Milwaukee a lead with six minutes left in the fourth quarter. Then in overtime, after a missed shot, he grabbed the long rebound, outran Dragic and Robinson and finished in contact for the clutch layup. He was a difference-maker in Game 1 for the Bucks, and Milwaukee has to feel very happy with the trade it made to get him.