Jimmy Butler scored 56 points, including 20 in the fourth quarter, to lead the Miami Heat’s comeback win over the Milwaukee Bucks.
MIAMI — Jimmy Butler doesn’t take stepback jumpers very often, but there wasn’t anything common about Monday night’s performance. The Miami Heat had trailed by 12 in the fourth quarter before Butler took over, scoring on two-handed dunks, leaning layups and then, with 58.2 seconds left, a stepback jumper over the outstretched arm of Jrue Holiday to highlight one of the great playoff performances in NBA history.
The Miami Heat star scored 56 points, including 19 over the final 6:13, to deliver a 119-114 win, snatch victory from the Milwaukee Bucks and put the Miami Heat up 3-1 in the series and on the doorstep of one of the great playoff upsets in recent memory.
“There’s a brilliance about how he competes at the game of basketball,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said of Butler. “I think that probably sums it up the best.”
Let’s be clear: The Heat had no business winning this game. The Heat trailed by 12 with 6:09 to go in the fourth quarter. Giannis Antetokounmpo had returned from his two-game absence and looked every bit the MVP candidate he is. Brook Lopez dominated in the paint on his way to 36 points. The Bucks defense had held everyone other than Butler in check, as Bam Adebayo struggled and few others stepped into the shot-making voids left by the injured Tyler Herro and Victor Oladipo.
But then, something changed. The Heat defense revved up the intensity and started creating turnovers. Rebounds began bouncing in their direction and the Bucks started missing shots. The Heat outscored the Bucks 30-13 over the final six minutes.
“It’s the makeup of this group,” Spoelstra said. “We have great competitors in that locker room and you just keep on plugging away. Probably more games than not this season, we had to win frustrated.”
The Bucks frustrated the Heat for 40 minutes. They out-rebounded them for most of the game, scored 24 points off Miami turnovers, baited Adebayo into tough shots and led by as many as 15. Even after Butler scored 20 straight points for the Heat in the first quarter, the Bucks still took a five-point lead into the second quarter. It just felt like the Heat never could quite get back into it.
But Butler kept grinding. Kept hunting mismatches or, even more impressively, not. On several occasions, he took it right to Jrue Holiday and Khris Middleton, and even tested Giannis. Butler, who was averaging 30 points on 60% shooting coming into this game, was even more efficient. He made 19 of his 28 shots, including 16 of 20 on 2-pointers to go along with three made 3-pointers.
“I’m just hooping,” Butler said. “Playing basketball the right way, taking the shots that the defense gives me, staying aggressive.”
From 5:16 on, Butler made a pull-up jumper over Holiday…
… A bank-shot over Middleton, plus the foul.
… A transition dunk off after Lowry stripped the ball from Middleton to take the lead.
… A pull-up jumper over Holiday’s outstretched arm.
… And then the step-back jumper, over Holiday, to push the lead to three with 58.2 seconds to go. It was the dagger to the heart of the Bucks, after which Butler ran to the middle of the court, flexed and yelled “THIS IS MY S–T.”
“I think he’s the best closer in the game,” Kevin Love said, later adding, “Lions like to hunt.”
Butler’s 56 points are a Heat franchise record. So are the 32 second-half points, which had been a Dwyane Wade-held record. He tied Wade with 22 points in the first quarter. He tied Wilt Chamberlain, Michael Jordan and Charles Barkley for the fourth-most points in a playoff game in NBA history.
Beyond the historical record keeping, Butler’s performance is even more impressive given the context. This wasn’t some 56-point, comeback performance in a random regular-season game in December. Butler’s efforts were the difference between the Bucks coming into Miami and tying the series 2-2, and the Heat being up 3-1.
If not for Butler’s last six minutes, the story coming out of this game is how the Bucks host two of the next three games, have Giannis back and all the momentum.
Instead, the Heat only need to win one of the next three. Winning this series is far from a guarantee. The Bucks will have an answer. Giannis will roar. Homecourt advantage could matter in a potential Game 7.
And it’s true that what the Heat did tonight and how they’ve won three games is not sustainable. A 60% 3-point shooting performance by the team in Game 1, a near-50% 3-point shooting outing in Game 3 and then Butler’s all-timer in Game 4. None of those things can be counted on to repeat.
But sustainability matters less the closer you get to the end of a series. The Heat don’t need to beat the Bucks four times anymore, only once.
A Duncan Robinson or Max Strus outpouring, a vintage Kyle Lowry game or Bam Adebayo eruption could be all it takes for the Heat to win the series and advance.
Or, maybe, another Butler masterclass. Which is something that is beginning to feel almost routine when the stakes are highest. Game 5 is Wednesday night.
“I feel like Pat [Riley] and Spo wanted me here for a reason,” Butler said. “The job’s not done. We got one more to get.”