The Milwaukee Bucks hoped to make a statement against the Miami Heat after what many agree was their worst performance of the season in Miami back on Dec. 22.
Their second half Friday night was worth about three statements.
The Bucks turned a 20-point halftime deficit into a 113-98 victory with an inspiring second half, possibly their best half in a season that has seen many strong halves.
Giannis Antetokounmpo led the way with 33 points, 16 rebounds and nine assists, but he got some major help in a huge second half. Khris Middleton (21 points) and Ersan Ilyasova (15 points) each had 10 points in a 37-18 third quarter, and the hits just kept on coming in the fourth quarter.
D.J. Wilson’s layup to open the period gave the Bucks their first lead of the night at 81-80, and the Heat never led again. Nikola Mirotic’s 3-pointer gave the Bucks an 84-81 lead, and Pat Connaughton (13 points) made two 3-pointers just 43 seconds apart a 92-86 lead with 8:23 left.
Miami took a timeout at that point, but the Bucks just kept rolling. The lead reached 108-90 on Ilyasova’s third 3-pointer of the night.
After going 1 for 14 in the first half, the Bucks made 11 of 19 3-pointers in the second half.
Eric Bledsoe finished with 17 points, 12 in the second half.
The first 24 minutes offered no indications of a Milwaukee victory.
The Bucks went 1 for 14 on 3-pointers and were just as bad on defense. The Heat made its first six 3-pointers. and Goran Dragic’s layup with 1:00 left in the first period gave the Heat a 37-14 lead.
The Bucks cut it to 37-19 at the end of the period, but the Bucks had received more bad news by that point as Malcolm Brogdon was ruled out for the rest of the night with a sore heel.
Miami (32-36) took a 62-42 lead into the half, and the Bucks retired to the locker room to lick their wounds and regroup.
Justise Winslow had the first 20-point half of his career. He led the Heat for the night, but didn’t score in the second half, going 0 for 4.
The Bucks had lost their previous five games at American Airlines Arena, including a 94-87 defeat Dec. 22. Antetokounmpo was held to nine points in that game, the only time he’s failed to reach double figures this season.
With the Bucks in the top spot in the East and the Heat in the eighth spot, they could be meeting in the first-round of the playoffs. With the first 72 minutes of the two games in Miami, that could have been a matchup to fear.
Instead, the Bucks (52-17) made a huge statement and clinched another winning (2-1) road trip.
The Bucks come home to host the Philadelphia 76ers in a national television game Sunday afternoon.