The Heat has endured some painful losses, especially early in the season, but none more excruciating, none more gut-wrenching, none with potentially more big-picture ramifications, than this disaster here Tuesday night.
Ahead by 16 early in the fourth against a team that had lost six in a row, the Heat frittered all of that cushion, then lost when Khris Middleton hit a three at the buzzer. Milwaukee’s 89-88 win gave the Bucks a 4-0 sweep of the season series and hurt on many levels, including in the standings.
A win would have pulled Miami (32-38) within one half game of the sixth seed. Instead the Heat fell 2 1/2 games behind the No. 6 Bucks, with Milwaukee owning the tiebreaker, and just a game ahead of the No. 8 Celtics, who play host to Miami on Wednesday.
The Bucks outscored the Heat 24-9 during the fourth quarter, with Miami shooting just 3 for 14 and committing eight turnovers in the quarter.
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“Everything that could go wrong went wrong,” Dwyane Wade said. “It had to be a perfect storm. We had a part in it. [But] they got every bounce they needed. It hurts.”
Here’s how the deciding moments unfolded:
After the Bucks tied the game at 85 with 1:20 left, Wade hit a layup when he picked up a loose ball, putting Miami ahead by two with 1:03 to go.
Middleton then committed a turnover with 48 seconds left, and Wade was off on a jumper with 29 seconds to go. But Zaza Pachulia missed a contested layup with 18 seconds left, and the Heat was awarded the ball after a replay review.
Wade made 1 of 2 free throws with 17 seconds left, leaving the Heat’s lead at three. Middleton then missed a three, and Ersan Ilyasova was fouled on a shot attempt on the rebound but made only 1 of 2 free throws with 12 seconds left.
Michael Beasley lost the ball on the rebound, and the scrum resulted in a jump ball between 6-3 Jerryd Bayless and 6-9 Beasley, which Milwaukee somehow won. Beasley didn’t seem ready for the jump.
“You think Bayless can outjump me?” Beasley said.
Bayless got the ball back and missed a driving layup, but Pachulia tipped the ball out to Middleton, who hit a 24-foot three at the buzzer, leaving the Heat in stunned silence while Bradley Center erupted in pandemonium. Middleton had shot 4 for 16 until that point.
The Heat initially took control after intermission, stretching a two-point halftime lead to 14 entering the fourth. But Miami’s only fourth-quarter points were five from Wade, two from Goran Dragic and two from Mario Chalmers.
“They stepped up their pressure,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “We couldn’t get shots. We struggled to get into our offense. Very few clean looks. It’s disappointing we couldn’t execute, get more shots on goal. Thank God we play [Wednesday]. At least we’ve shown we can bounce back.”
Snakebitten by health and injury issues for much of the season, Miami had gone a couple of weeks without a new one, but that fortuitous stretch ended when Hassan Whiteside left for good midway through the second quarter with a laceration between the middle and ring fingers of his right hand, which required 10 stitches. He said the injury happened when he slammed his hand on the rim while trying to block a shot.
Whiteside had been playing splendidly, with seven points, eight rebounds and two blocks in 12 minutes.
Whiteside said he needed a shot to numb the pain and thus had no feeling in his hand after the game.
“I don’t know if I can play [Wednesday],” he said. “I’ll see how it feels.”
His departure led Spoelstra to move 6-8 Udonis Haslem from power forward to center to open the second half, with 6-9 Beasley at power forward initially, alongside 6-9 Luol Deng.
That left the Heat with a size deficit against a Bucks frontline that starts two 6-11 players and another who’s 6-10.
The Heat’s perimeter players more than picked up the slack in the third quarter, helping Miami build a double-digit lead. Henry Walker hit three three-pointers in the third, which helped. But everything fell apart in the fourth.
“Our offensive space was bad,” Wade said. “Our fourth-quarter offense sucked.”
Wade closed with a game-high 21, with Dragic adding 16 and Chalmers 14.
▪ Heat guard Tyler Johnson was unavailable because he was sick. … Wade said he would vote for Houston’s James Harden if he had an MVP vote.
Wednesday: Heat at Celtics
Wednesday: Heat at Celtics
When, where: 7:30 p.m., TD Garden, Boston.
TV, radio: Sun Sports; WAXY 104.3 FM, 790 AM and WAQI 710 AM (Spanish).
Series: Celtics lead 62-43.
Noteworthy: The Celtics entered play Tuesday in eighth place in the East, 11/2 games behind No. 7 Miami. The Heat won the first two games of the season series — including an 83-75 win in Boston on Feb. 1 — but lost the last meeting, 100-90 on March 9. A Heat win would clinch the tiebreaker for Miami should the teams finish even in the standings.