Jimmy Butler and the Miami Heat are a game away from the Eastern Conference finals.
And the NBA’s best regular-season team is on the brink of getting swept.
Miami’s stunning run through the NBA playoffs continued Friday night, with Butler scoring 30 points and the Heat putting together a dominant fourth-quarter rally to beat the Milwaukee Bucks 115-100.
The Heat outscored Milwaukee 40-13 in the fourth quarter – the biggest such final-quarter margin in NBA playoff history – to take a 3-0 series lead. No team in NBA history has ever successfully rallied from a 3-0 deficit.
“We’ve been proving people wrong all year,” Bam Adebayo said.
Adebayo had 20 points and 16 rebounds, and Jae Crowder had 17 points to help the Heat improve to 7-0 in this postseason. Brook Lopez scored 22 points for Milwaukee, which got 21 points, 16 rebounds and nine assists from Giannis Antetokounmpo – who twisted an ankle in the first quarter and appeared to labor at times.
Butler had 17 of his points in the fourth, and the Heat pulled off their biggest fourth-quarter playoff comeback ever. They were down 10 going into the fourth quarter of Game 6 of the 2013 NBA finals against San Antonio, the game where Ray Allen sent it to overtime with a three-pointer with 5.2 seconds left on the way to Miami’s most recent title.
Milwaukee led 87-75 going into the final quarter, up 12 with 12 minutes to go in a game that the Bucks knew they almost certainly had to win to keep any realistic hopes of winning a championship alive.
Miami had other ideas.
Tyler Herro opened the fourth with a three-pointer, Goran Dragic made another three about three minutes later to cut the deficit to four, and the Heat were off and running. Butler had the next nine Miami points as the Heat went back on top, and he set Adebayo up for a short basket with 4:20 remaining to restore a 100-99 lead.
And Butler might have delivered the dagger with a pass; he found Jae Crowder for a left-wing three-pointer with 2:15 left to put Miami up 107-100.
Butler knew it was good – he was running the other way, his arm in the air, before Crowder’s shot even found the inside of the net. It was part of a 15-1 run that sealed the deal.
Milwaukee needed less than five minutes to go on a 21-6 run that put the Bucks up 87-73 late in the third. Lopez and George Hill combined for the first 11 points of that run.
But the fourth, all Miami.
Rockets 112, Lakers 97
The Houston Rockets may play small, but they don’t use size to determine toughness.
And in Game 1, their style caused big problems for the Los Angeles Lakers.
James Harden scored 36 points and the Rockets ran away from the Lakers 112-97 on Friday night, the second straight round the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference lost its opener.
“It doesn’t matter how tall you are. If you have the heart and you’re a competitor you can be out there on the court,” Harden said.
Russell Westbrook added 24 points, nine rebounds and six assists, and Eric Gordon had 23 points for the Rockets, the No 4 seed who had just one day of rest after needing seven games to win their first-round series.
They sure didn’t look tired, flying around the court all night to make up for the size disadvantage they face with their small-ball style. They forced 17 turnovers that led to 27 points and played the much bigger Lakers even on the backboards.
“We’re small out there so we’ve got to be scrappy,” Westbrook said. “We’ve got to play hard.”
The Lakers never led after the first quarter and the Rockets blew it open by starting the fourth with a 16-3 run, turning a six-point advantage into a 101-82 cushion on Harden’s basket with 7:15 to play.
Anthony Davis had 25 points and 14 rebounds for the Lakers. LeBron James had 20 points, eight rebounds and seven assists.
He compared the Rockets to the speedy St. Louis Rams’ Super Bowl championship team of two decades ago, nicknamed the “Greatest Show on Turf.”
“There’s no way you can simulate their speed,” James said. “So getting out on the floor and having a Game 1 gives you a good feel for it.”
Game 2 is Sunday.
The Rockets committed to playing small in February, believing they weren’t built to compete with the best of the West playing conventionally. They debuted their style with a victory over the Lakers in Los Angeles and proved again why it they think it can work.
They were constantly on the move defensively, deflecting passes and corralling loose balls.
It’s the kind of plays they have to make while staring a lineup that has nobody taller than 6ft 8in Robert Covington. They opened the game with the 6ft 3in Gordon guarding the 6ft 8un James and Harden defending seven-footer JaVale McGee.
The Lakers were playing for only the second time in 11 days. They beat Portland in Game 4 of their series on 24 August, but then didn’t play again until five nights later after the playoffs were delayed as players and the NBA committed to finishing the season following the Bucks’ decision not to play a game as a statement against racial injustice.
They didn’t appear to have any rust at the start, breaking to a 7-0 lead. But the rest of the first quarter was tight from there, Houston leading 29-28 after Rajon Rondo’s final shot came after the buzzer. The Lakers never led again.
“The Game 7 versus a team with rest – I’ve always felt that the team that played a Game 7 has a slight advantage,” Lakers coach Frank Vogel said. “But you can’t look at that as any type of excuse. We’re not an excuse team. We’ve got to come out and compete to win a game. This one’s behind us. We lost it. Got to move on to Game 2.”
The Lakers are one of sports’ marquee franchises, their 16 championships one behind Boston for most in NBA history. But they are in the second round for the first time since 2012, a month before James won his first NBA title and Davis was drafted with the No 1 pick.
And it was a rocky start to it, just as it was when the Blazers beat them in Game 1 of the last round.
Gordon scored Houston’s first nine points of the fourth quarter before Westbrook’s 3-pointer extended the lead to 97-82 with 9:07 remaining. Gordon then scored again before Harden’s basket while Davis was trying to draw a charge ended the run.
Harden made a three-pointer for the last basket of the half and a 63-55 lead, giving him 25 points in the half.