The second week inside the NBA's Disney World bubble got started on Thursday afternoon with an interesting matchup between the Milwaukee Bucks and Miami Heat. Keeping with the trend of entertaining games in Orlando, the Bucks came back from 23 points down to win, 130-116, and clinch the No. 1 seed in the East.
Milwaukee was lackadaisical in the first half, letting the Heat do whatever they wanted, especially from behind the 3-point line. Coming out of the halftime break, however, they looked much more like themselves. Turning up the energy on the defensive end, they surged back into the game in the third quarter, then dominated the fourth to get the win. Giannis Antetokounmpo looked like the MVP yet again, finishing with 33 points and 12 rebounds, while Khris Middleton added 33 of his own.
The Heat entered the game as the best 3-point shooting team in the league, making 38.2 percent of their attempts. They showed why early on, taking advantage of the Bucks' bad defense to hit 18 of their first 34 attempts. From there, however, they cooled off, going just three of 12 to close the game. And while their cold shooting was part of the story down the stretch, the main problem was they just fell apart defensively.
Here are three key takeaways from this game:
1. Bucks finish first in the East again
Prior to last season, the Bucks had finished with the best record in the Eastern Conference just once in 32 seasons. Now, they've done it in each of the past two. Though they haven't been particularly impressive inside the bubble, they had such a big lead over the Toronto Raptors for second place that they would have needed to completely collapse to not finish first.
Due to the circumstances, there's no homecourt advantage anymore, so the Bucks don't gain as much as they would have in a normal situation, but it's still an impressive accomplishment. Plus, they do get the reward of playing either the Orlando Magic or Brooklyn Nets in the first round, each of whom is far worse than the other six playoff teams in the East.
2. Middleton steps up
Giannis Antetokounmpo is likely going to win MVP for the second straight season, and he was awesome as always in this game, finishing with 33 points, 12 rebounds and four assists on 13-of-17 from the field. The big question with the Bucks, however, has never been about Giannis, but rather who is going to help him.
Most of that responsibility falls to Khris Middleton, and he has been fantastic this season. He kept up that trend on Thursday, finishing with 33 points of his own on a hyper-efficient 9-of-14 shooting, to go along with six rebounds and eight assists. He was so dialed in that he even scored two points by banking in a lob he was trying to throw to Giannis.
Now, the Bucks just need Middleton to keep this up in the playoffs. He disappeared in the Eastern Conference finals last season, which was a big reason the Bucks fell short. That can't happen a second time around.
3. Miami lights it up from downtown
In order to protect the rim, the Bucks are willing to let their opponents shoot pretty much however many 3-pointers they want. They allow the most 3-point attempts in the league at 39.2 per game, but teams have only shot 35.5 percent against them, which is right at league average.
The Heat, meanwhile, are the best 3-point shooting team in the league, and entering this game were making 38.2 percent of their attempts. That seemed like a bad situation for the Bucks, and a good one for the Heat. It certainly was, as the Heat knocked down 21 of their 46 3-point attempts. That kind of hot shooting night has been the main reason for many of the Bucks' defeats this season, but this time around it wasn't enough for Miami.
Part of that was they cooled off and came back down to earth after starting off 18-of-34, and part of it was the Bucks really ramping things up on the defensive end. But while the Bucks were able to pull out the win, this game was a reminder that they do have a weakness that good shooting teams can exploit.