What a difference two nights makes.
Giannis Antetokounmpo returned to action after missing two games with a sprained ankle, and the Milwaukee Bucks offense came back to life in a 116-87 victory over the Miami Heat Friday night at Fiserv Forum.
Antetokounmpo recorded 27 points, eight rebounds and seven assists, and Khris Middleton posted 18 points, 10 assists and eight rebounds as the Bucks put a 107-102 loss at Cleveland Wednesday night in the rear-view mirror.
The Bucks delivered a statement to the Heat for the second consecutive Friday night. A week ago the Bucks outscored the Heat by 35 points in the second half of a 123-108 victory.
Combined with Toronto’s home loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder, the Bucks (54-19) lowered their magic number for clinching home court throughout the playoffs to six. Any combination of Toronto losses of Milwaukee wins will assure the Bucks of the top seed in the East.
Antetokounmpo scored the Bucks’ first 11 points of the night in a dazzling display of aggression going to the hoop.
He assisted on the Bucks’ final five points of the quarter as Milwaukee took a 33-32 lead after one. From there, the Bucks defense had a big say, holding Miami under 20 points in each of the final quarters.
Antetokounmpo gave the Bucks a scare early in the second quarter, going to the floor after a steal and clutching his ankle in pain. He got back up and remained in the game after a timeout, tipping in a missed shot and then drilling his one 3-pointer of the game.
Milwaukee pushed the margin to 63-51 at the half, then made it a laugher in the third quarter.
The Bucks made things easy on themselves throughout the night by making half of their 34 3-point attempts. Ersan Ilyasova (14 points) made all three of his triples and let the Bucks with a plus-26. D.J. Wilson made both of his 3-pointers.
The Heat (35-37) saw their lead over Orlando for the final playoff spot in the East slip to a half game.
Hassan Whiteside scored 14 points to lead six Miami players in double figures and also grabbed 10 rebounds.
The Bucks dominated on the boards, 52-40, with Pat Connaughton matching Whiteside’s total of 10 to lead Milwaukee.
Milwaukee won the season series, 3-1, with its two home victories coming by margins of 38 and 29.