Jae Crowder on Monday scored 18 points off the bench as the Miami Heat locked down Giannis Antetokounmpo to hand the Milwaukee Bucks a 105-89 defeat.
Crowder led the scoring for the Heat as NBA Most Valuable Player Antetokounmpo was held to a season-low of 13 points at Miami’s American Airlines Arena.
The defeat was only Milwaukee’s ninth loss of the season and helped Miami improve to 39-22 in the Eastern Conference playoff race.
The Bucks remain firmly in control of the conference standings, leading with a 52-9 record ahead of second-place Toronto, who are 42-18.
However, the previously all-conquering Bucks were given plenty of food for thought ahead of next month’s playoffs after a superb Miami display.
Miami coach Erik Spoelstra said his team finally produced the defensive display that he had believed them capable of.
“We’ve had moments like this in us and that’s what we’ve been trying to work on,” Spoelstra said. “I’m not saying we can hold great offensive teams like this under 90 points regularly. That’s not realistic, but we’ve got this version of us in us. Tonight there was a lot more focus, commitment and urgency, because of the respect level for who we were playing. It was one of our better performances this season.”
Crowder and Jimmy Butler led the Miami scoring, with the two putting up 18 points apiece.
No fewer than six Miami players cracked double digits, including center Bam Adebayo, who had a huge night defensively as well.
The 22-year-old Adebayo finished with 14 points, pulled down 12 rebounds, forced five turnovers and made four blocks.
Brook Lopez led the Milwaukee scoring with 21 points, but it was a night to forget for Antetokounmpo, who made only six-of-18 shooting attempts.
Antetokounmpo said the Bucks were outplayed and outfought.
“They’re a team that play hard and that’s what they did tonight,” Antetokounmpo told reporters. “It wasn’t just tough for me, it was tough for everybody.”
Elsewhere on Monday, the Houston Rockets suffered a shock reverse to the New York Knicks, losing 125-123 at New York City’s Madison Square Garden.
James Harden led the scoring with 35 points — including 16 free throws — while Russell Westbrook added 24.
However, the Rockets were always chasing the game after falling behind in the first quarter, as the Knicks pulled away to lead by 21 points at one stage.
R.J. Barrett was the top scorer for the Knicks, who had seven players make double figures.
Barrett sealed the win with a driving layup with 7.6 seconds remaining to mark the era of new team president Leon Rose — who officially joined the Knicks earlier on Monday — with a victory.
Power forward Julius Randle had 16 points — and 16 rebounds — while Bobby Portis and Wayne Ellington delivered 15 points apiece from the bench.
Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni said that his team were not mentally prepared for the game following Sunday’s overtime win over Boston.
“We won a big game against Boston, and came here and we weren’t ready to play for the first 20 minutes. They did well, played a good game, but our first three quarters were lackadaisical,” D’Antoni said. “When you don’t have the appropriate fear or force, stuff happens, and they started hitting shots. Give them credit, they played well.”
The victory lifted the Knicks into 13th place in the Eastern Conference standings with 19 wins and 42 defeats.
The Rockets fell to 39-21 in the Western Conference, where they remain in fourth spot.
Also on Monday, it was:
‧ Bulls 109, Mavericks 107
‧ Trail Blazers 130, Magic 107
‧ Grizzlies 127, Hawks 88
‧ Jazz 126, Cavaliers 113
‧ Pacers 116, Spurs 111
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