Giannis Antetokounmpo scored 33 points and Damian Lillard added 32 on Tuesday as the Milwaukee Bucks beat the Miami Heat 131-124 to reach the knockout rounds of the NBA In-Season Tournament.
On the final night of group-stage play in the NBA’s inaugural version of a World Cup, the Bucks won the East Group B crown 4-0, taking the top Eastern Conference seed in the fight to reach next month’s semi-finals in Las Vegas.
“We completed the task,” Milwaukee’s Khris Middleton said. “To get to Vegas now, we’ve got to do a little bit more... We want it. We’re hungry for it. It’s exciting times for us. We want to go to Vegas so we’re happy.”
The quarter-finals find the Boston Celtics at the Indiana Pacers and the New Orleans Pelican at the Sacramento Kings on Monday, with the New York Knicks at Milwaukee and the Phoenix Suns at the Los Angeles Lakers on Tuesday.
Boston routed the Chicago Bulls 124-97 to win East Group C and advance while New York, second behind Milwaukee in Group B, beat the Charlotte Hornetts 115-91 and advanced as a wild card based on a superior point differential over the Cleveland Cavaliers 42-29.
Sacramento edged the Golden State Warriors 124-123 to win West Group C, rallying from 24 points down in the second quarter to advance.
The Warriors knew they had to win by 12 points to win the group on a point differential tiebreaker and took a 72-55 halftime lead before the Kings, led by 29 points from De’Aaron Fox, rallied late to trim the margin and then swipe the victory.
“We still wanted to win the game, it counts for the regular season, but we knew what the number was,” Fox said.
Phoenix took a West wild-card spot when the Minnesota Timberwolves beat Oklahoma City Thunder 106-103, while the New Orleans Pelicans won West Group B when the Dallas Mavericks downed the visiting Houston Rockets 121-115.
At Miami, the Bucks opened a 15-2 lead, Miami answered with a 16-4 run, then Milwaukee closed the first quarter on a 12-4 spurt for a 31-22 lead.
“We started out great, but it’s hard,” Middleton said. “You’re just not going to knock a team down in the first five minutes. They did a great job coming back. We did a great job keeping our composure and finding a way to close this thing out.”
Miami, lacking Jimmy Butler and Tyler Herro due to ankle sprains, led 97-93 after three quarters.
Middleton, who had 17 points and eight rebounds, hit back-to-back jumpers for a four-point lead and dunks by Brook Lopez and Antetokounmpo settled matters.
“Thankfully I was able to hit a couple shots,” Middleton said. “I’m just happy we won a tough game.”
Antetokounmpo made 11 of 16 from the floor and 10 of 13 from the free-throw line and grabbed 10 rebounds with five assists while Lillard, 9 of 18 from the floor and 10 of 10 from the line, added nine assists.
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