Despite being without reigning NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo for the majority of Game 4 because of an ankle injury, the Milwaukee Bucks were able to stave off elimination on Sunday afternoon against the Miami Heat. Antetokounmpo, who initially injured his right ankle in Game 3, played just 11 minutes before re-injuring it in Game 4. However, when Antetokounmpo went down, other members of Milwaukee were ready to step up. With their season hanging in the balance, the short-handed Bucks battled hard and took the Heat to overtime. From there, they outscored Miami by three points and pulled out a crucial 118-115 win.
Khris Middleton led the way for the Bucks in Game 4, as the All-Star forward embraced the role of Milwaukee's go-to guy with Antetokounmpo out of action. Middleton finished with 36 points, eight rebounds, eight assists and he hit several clutch shots for the Bucks with a massive 22-point third quarter and also down the stretch. He had some major help, too, as Eric Bledsoe and Brook Lopez combined to score 24 points, and Antetokounmpo also added 19 points before he was knocked out of the contest.
The loss was Miami's first of the 2020 NBA postseason. The Heat swept their first-round series with the Pacers and then went on to win the first three games of the series against the Bucks. Bam Adebayo paced Miami with 26 points, 12 rebounds and eight assists in Game 4, while Duncan Robinson also added 20 points. All five Heat starters scored at least 17 points, but ultimately their collective production wasn't enough. Down 3-1 in the series, the Bucks still face an uphill battle, especially since Antetokounmpo's status moving forward isn't known at this point. Still, they were at least able to avoid the sweep, and live to fight another day. Here are three major takeaways from Milwaukee's crucial Game 4 win over Miami:
1. Giannis' status moving forward
Looking ahead, the biggest storyline in this series will be the health of Giannis Antetokounmpo. He was originally listed as questionable for Game 4 after injuring his right ankle in Game 3, but he ultimately decided to play after going through warm-ups. The ankle is now even more of an issue after he re-injured it on Sunday afternoon, and him not being able to continue playing with his team facing elimination Sunday shows just how much it was bothering him. Coming back from a 3-1 deficit will be a tall task for the Bucks, but it will be 10 times tougher without the league's reigning MVP and Defensive Player of the Year. Sure, the Bucks were able to rally and pull out a win in Game 4, but doing that three more times if Antetokounmpo is unable to return will be extremely difficult.
2. Middleton thrived as Milwaukee's go-to guy down the stretch
With his team facing elimination and Antetokounmpo on the sideline, Khris Middleton had his best game of the series, by far, for Milwaukee. Middleton finished the game with 36 points, eight rebounds and eight assists, and all of that production was desperately needed in order for the Bucks to extend their season. Middleton hit big shot after big shot throughout the third quarter and again in overtime as Milwaukee ran its offensive attack through him:
Most importantly, Middleton was extremely aggressive -- something that Bucks fans have been calling for from him all series. When Middleton is active -- rather than passive -- and in attack mode, the Bucks become that much more difficult to beat, and that was certainly the case on Sunday. Moving forward, the Bucks will need Middleton to continue to be ultra-aggressive, regardless if Antetokounmpo is available or not. If he is able to sustain that level of aggression, the Bucks will have a chance to continue climbing back into the series.
3. Bucks won the battle of the benches
NBA teams tend to rely more heavily on starters during the postseason, but sometimes a bench performance can make the difference between a win and a loss. In Game 4, Milwaukee dominated the battle of the benches. Led by George Hill (12 points) and Donte Divincenzo (10 points), the Bucks bench outscored Miami's bench 32-17. With 11 points, Tyler Herro was really the only player who made a meaningful offensive contribution off the bench for the Heat. In a game that was ultimately decided by three points, a 15-point disparity in bench production is a big deal. Moving forward, the Bucks will need to continue to get some solid production from their whole roster, especially if Antetokounmpo is unable to go in Game 5.