The Miami Heat on Tuesday punched their ticket to the NBA Eastern Conference finals, beating top-seeded Milwaukee 103-94 as injured Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo watched from the bench.
Jimmy Butler and Goran Dragic finished with 17 points apiece, as six Heat players scored in double figures and Miami completed a 4-1 series victory in a bruising encounter against the league’s top defensive team.
Khris Middleton led the Bucks with 23 points.
Photo: Kim Klement-USA TODAY
Antetokounmpo — tipped to scoop a second straight NBA Most Valuable Player (MVP) award this season — aggravated his sprained right ankle in the Bucks’ overtime win against the Heat in Game 4 and was declared inactive less than an hour before tipoff on Tuesday.
The loss of Antetokounmpo, who this season averaged career highs of 29.5 points and 13.6 rebounds per game, was a huge blow for the Bucks.
The fifth-seeded Heat next face either the Boston Celtics or the Toronto Raptors for a place in the NBA Finals.
Butler, who added 10 rebounds and six assists and was a perfect eight for eight from the foul line, said that the Heat’s impressive 8-1 record so far in the playoffs means nothing now.
“All of that is behind us now,” he said. “We’ll wait and see who we get out of Toronto and Boston and then we’ll lock in on that. But it’s zero-zero now — we’ve got eight more to get.”
The Heat trailed 28-19 after a chaotic first quarter in which they committed six turnovers leading to nine Bucks points.
They trailed by as many as 13 in the first period, but settled down in the second, out-scoring the Bucks 33-18 to take a 52-46 lead into halftime.
However, Milwaukee, with Middleton leading the way, refused to go away.
After going scoreless for more than six minutes in the third period, the Bucks put together an 8-0 run to pull within five points.
Trailing 73-65 going into the final period, the Bucks trimmed the deficit to four points multiple times, but the Heat’s depth finally proved too much.
“Obviously, they missed their MVP,” Butler said. “But we knew we were going to have to get one out of the mud and I think this was the one.”
Antetokounmpo said he felt “lost” being unable to contribute.
“Mentally it was a battle, but at the end of the day you’ve got to trust your teammates and that’s what I decided to do,” he said after the Bucks medical staff persuaded him not to risk further injury by playing.
LAKERS 112, ROCKETS 102
In Western Conference action, LeBron James scored 36 points and Anthony Davis added 26 as the Los Angeles Lakers powered to the finish in a 112-102 victory over the Houston Rockets.
The Lakers grabbed a 2-1 series lead and James notched an NBA record 162nd career playoff win.
“It says that I’ve played with a lot of great teams,” said James, who won two NBA titles with the Miami Heat and one with the Cleveland Cavaliers.
James Harden scored 33 points with nine rebounds and nine assists, while Russell Westbrook added 30 points for Houston in a back-and-forth battle that saw 16 lead changes.
The Lakers bench scored 42 points, while the Houston bench’s only points were the 16 racked up by Jeff Green.
Rajon Rondo, who scored 21 off the bench for Los Angeles, hit back-to-back three-pointers, and came up with a steal and a layup as the Lakers surged ahead with a 17-5 scoring run to start the fourth quarter.
After scoring 64 points in the first half, Houston put up just 38 in the second and the Lakers posted their second straight win of the series.
SWEEP THE LEG: Poirier, determined to best McGregor, after losing to him in 2014, used low calf kicks to throw ‘Notorious’ off his stand-up game, before dropping him American underdog Dustin Poirier yesterday shook up the world of mixed martial arts, beating up the legs of Irish superstar Conor McGregor before knocking him out at UFC 257 in Abu Dhabi. “I’m happy, but I’m not surprised. I put in the work,” Poirier said, after the referee stepped in after 2 minutes, 32 seconds of the second round to save McGregor from further damage, after he was dropped by a fierce combination of punches. The 32-year-old Poirier was ranked second in the flyweight division going into the fight, but still rated a heavy underdog by bookmakers to beat his fourth-ranked opponent,
World No. 1 Tai Tzu-ying yesterday eased past her Thai opponent to advance to the second round of the Toyota Thailand Open. The Taiwanese star toppled world No. 46 Supanida Katethong 21-16, 21-11 in 29 minutes at the Impact Arena in Bangkok. “I think I played OK today. I am feeling a little better than last week,” Tai said. Tomorrow, Tai faces Indonesia’s Gregoria Mariska Tunjung. The two have faced each other six times, with Tai beating the world No. 21 in all six matches. Tai on Sunday reached the final of the Yonex Thailand Open before losing decisively against Carolina Marin of Spain.
LOOKING TO REPEAT: World No. 7 Lee Yang and Wang Chi-lin advanced to the round-of-16 at the Toyota Thailand Open, after winning the Yonex Thailand Open on Sunday Taiwan’s world No. 7 duo yesterday eased past the US’ world No. 37 pairing at the Toyota Thailand Open to reach the round-of-16 in Bangkok. Lee Yang and Wang Chi-lin beat Phillip Chew and Ryan Chew 21-14, 21-11 in just 24 minutes. Lee and Wang, who won the men’s doubles title at the Yonex Thailand Open on Sunday, next face the world No. 34 pairing, Canada’s Jason Anthony Ho-Shue and Nyl Yakura. In men’s singles, Taiwan’s world No. 2 Chou Tien-chen again beat Thailand’s world No. 45 Suppanyu Avihingsanon, after edging past the Thai player in the opening round of the Yonex
Three new COVID-19 cases yesterday hit the Australian Open’s troubled buildup as a backlash grew against international tennis players flown in during a raging pandemic. Two of the new cases were players, state health officials said, taking the total infections to seven since more than 1,000 people arrived in largely COVID-19-free Australia on charter flights last week. The Victoria Department of Health and Human Services said that the two players and a third person associated with the tournament — a woman in her 20s, and two men in their 30s — had returned positive results. The year’s first Grand Slam, delayed three weeks,