MIAMI, United States, Sep 6 – Khris Middleton starred as the Milwaukee Bucks, their backs against the wall and star Giannis Antetokounmpo injured, beat the Miami Heat 118-115 in overtime on Sunday to stay alive in the NBA playoffs.
With reigning NBA Most Valuable Player Antetokounmpo ruled out after aggravating his sprained right ankle in the first half, Middleton stepped up to score 36 points — including nine of the Bucks’ 11 in overtime.
A Middleton three-pointer put Milwaukee up 116-112 with 6.9 seconds left in the extra session. Miami rookie Tyler Herro drained a three-pointer to close the gap before Middleton made two free throws to seal the win.
Milwaukee, the Eastern Conference top seeds after posting the league’s best regular-season record, trimmed the deficit in the best-of-seven East semi-final to 3-1.
In Western Conference action, Anthony Davis scored 36 points and grabbed 10 rebounds and LeBron James added 28 points, 11 rebounds and nine assists as the Los Angeles Lakers beat the Houston Rockets 117-109 to level their series at 1-1.
Milwaukee still have a mountain to climb as they try to become the first NBA team to rally from an 0-3 deficit to win a series.
“We all fought,” said Middleton, who led six Bucks players who scored in double-figures in the must-win game.
– ‘Giannis put it all out there’ –
“Especially with Giannis going down the way he did. He came out and tried to fight for us with a bad ankle. We wanted to have his back and just fight for him and fight for everybody.”
Antetokounmpo had rolled his right ankle in the Bucks’ game-three defeat and twisted it again and went down hard in the second quarter.
He stayed in the game and shot two free throws, making one, before limping to the locker room, clearly emotional as he was assisted by team personnel.
“Giannis put it all out there for us,” said Milwaukee’s Eric Bledsoe, who scored 14 points and pulled down 10 rebounds. “We wanted to come out and get this win by taking it one play, one possession at a time.”
Heat forward Jimmy Butler said Antetokounmpo’s exit affected Miami, too.
“I think that we relaxed a little bit,” said Butler, who scored 17 points. Bam Adebayo led the Heat with 26 points, 12 rebounds and eight assists.
It wasn’t clear if Antetokounmpo will be available when the Bucks again try to fend off elimination in game five on Tuesday.
Middleton came through in his absence, scoring 21 points in the third quarter to send the Bucks into the final frame trailing by three.
Middleton was 0-for-6 in the fourth, but Brook Lopez poured in 10 of his 14 for the Bucks. After Herro put the Heat up 107-106 with a three-pointer Milwaukee’s Donte DiVicenzo drained one of two free throws to force overtime.
Butler remained confident the Heat have what it takes to close out the series, if they bring the same urgency they did to the first three games.
“We did what I always say you can’t do, which is get comfortable,” he said. “We thought this one was going to be easy and it was not.”
– Lakers ‘dug down deep’ –
James said the Lakers can’t expect anything to be easy against the potent offense of the Rockets after he and Davis led the Los Angeles side to a series-levelling win.
Stung by a game-one loss in which they were outscored 27-18 in the fourth quarter, the Lakers came out firing. A James dunk pushed their lead to 21 early in the second quarter.
Reserve Markieff Morris scored 16 points for the Lakers — 12 of them in the first quarter.
The Rockets roared back, out-scoring Los Angeles 41-23 in the third quarter to seize the lead before the Lakers regrouped.
James scored eight points in the fourth, revving up the Lakers with a couple of early dunks. His dominant defensive effort included two blocked shots — one that sent a shot from Russell Westbrook out of bounds.
“We got dominated in the fourth quarter last game and after that third-quarter rally, that flurry of threes they hit, I knew that the team that dug down deep, tried to get as many stops as possible, pushed the tempo, would get an opportunity to win this game,” James said.
“I’m happy I was able to make a few plays for my teammates to even the series up.”
James Harden scored 27 points and Eric Gordon made six three-pointers on the way to 24 for Houston, who made 22 three-pointers on 53 attempts.