Five takeaways from the Heat’s 113-98 loss Friday night to the Milwaukee Bucks, a game in which the Heat squandered a 23-point lead:
▪ This was one of the biggest in-game swings of the season and the fourth time Miami has lost a game that it led by double figures at halftime. And Heat players have a theory why this is happening.
The CliffsNotes version from Josh Richardson and Justise Winslow: When things start going really badly at either end for this team, Heat players become deflated and can’t snap out of it.
Miami led 62-42 at the half, serving up some of its best basketball of the season and raising hopes that the Heat could be competitive in a potential first-round series with Milwaukee.
But the Bucks outscored the Heat 71-36 in the second half, dominating on both ends and leaving the impression that it could make short work of Miami if the teams meet in the first round.
With Miami outscored by 35 after intermission, this was the second-worst margin by which the Heat has ever been outscored after halftime. Miami was outscored by 48 points in the second half of a loss to Cleveland in 1991-92.
And the Heat made ignominious history in the process: According to ESPN, this was the largest margin of defeat by a team that led by at least 20 points at halftime during the NBA’s shot clock era (since 1955).
Miami was overwhelmed by the greatness of Giannis Antetokounmpo (33 points) and a barrage of Bucks three-pointers.
“Their hitting shots deflated us,” Winslow said. “We’ve got to find ways to fight through that deflation. That’s something we’ve been dealing with all year, whether we’re shooting bad or the other team is shooting lights out. We’ve got to stay even keeled, not get too high and not get too low.
“When teams are going to shoot like that, as we continue to grow, we have to find ways when things aren’t going our way to still play with that intensity and find different ways to ignite that passion and sense of urgency. We don’t want to be that front-running team that we only show emotion and play hard when things are going right. We want to be able to do that when things aren’t going right. We have to figure that out and find ways to be better.”
Richardson put it this way:
“You see what we’re capable of, but you see what we’re capable of at both ends. We can be great at times but when we start getting down on ourselves, our offense kind of slows down or we let it trickle down to the defensive end and that’s when they started getting momentum. You can’t let missing shots affect everything else in the game.”
Erik Spoelstra cited the team’s “management of our emotional energy” as the factor “that hurt us the most. We got distracted in the second half with the task at hand.”
Of not getting too high or too low, Dwyane Wade said: “A lot of guys in the league have to learn that. That comes with just experience, of course. It comes from being in big moments.”
▪ The Heat was simply helpless to stop MVP candidate Antetokounmpo or control Milwaukee’s three-point shooting in the second half.
Undeterred by the Heat zone, Antetokounmpo repeatedly drove to the basket, using a Eurostep and using his uncommon length and quick step off the dribble to convert at the rim.
He entered averaging an absurd 17 points per game in the paint and 27 points per game overall.
On Friday, he scored 18 of his 33 points during the Bucks second half mauling and finished with a masterpiece of a stat line: 33 points, 16 rebounds, nine assists, two steals and three blocks.
It was the most points he has ever scored against Miami.
“He was a force to be reckoned with,” Spoelstra said. “He made his imprints on this game on both ends of the court, attacking, drawing fouls, drew fouls on probably everybody. But that’s what great players do.”
Miami’s three-point field goal percentage defense has been among the worst in the league all season (26th) and remained an issue in the second half Friday.
Milwaukee shot just 1 for 14 on threes in the first half but 11 for 19 in the second half, with Ersan Ilyasova hitting three and Pat Connaughton two.
The Bucks solved the Heat’s zone defense and the Heat was too slow on rotations.
On one sequence just 2:27 into the third quarter, Dion Waiters failed to rotate quickly enough to defend a successful Khris Middleton three-pointer, and Spoelstra immediately yanked him, replacing him with Rodney McGruder.
“They put more shooters on the court,” Spoelstra said. “Their big time shooters hurt us; even with a defender there, they are shooting over the top of you. The only chance to win against this team is to fly around and make things happen. We take pride in rebounding and 50/50 balls. There are 8 to 10 of those and I think we lost every single one of them.”
▪ The Heat’s offense also unraveled.
After shooting 51 percent from the field and 6 for 12 on threes in the first half, Miami shot 27.5 overall in the second half ( 11 for 40) and 20 percent (2 for 10) on threes.
What’s more, Miami was 12 for 20 on free throws in the second half.
Winslow scored 20 in the first half (8 for 12 shooting, 3 for 5 on threes) but was 0 for 4 from the field in a scoreless second half, with Antetokounmpo spending more time defending him.
Winslow sustained a bruised right hip in the second half and said that affected him “a good amount. I just didn’t have the top gear that I usually like to play with on both ends of the court.” He left briefly in the third quarter before returning.
▪ Dwyane Wade gave the Heat a scare.
Wade seemed to be writhing in pain when he fell hard to the court late in the third quarter after a drive to the basket.
He went to the locker room but returned a short time later and re-entered the game with a bruised right hip.
“I’m OK,” he said. “I just got a little bruise.”
Wade finished with 10 points on 5 for 16 shooting.
He exchanged jerseys with Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Ryan Shazier, a Lauderdale Lakes native who reached out to Wade on Twitter.
Shazier hasn’t played since sustaining a severe spinal contusion late in the 2017 season but has said he intends to play again at some point.
▪ Miami lost ground in the playoff race.
With Detroit winning, the No. 8 Heat fell three games behind Detroit and Brooklyn, who are the sixth and seventh seeds. Considering the difficulty of the Heat’s schedule, it will be challenging – though not impossible - for the Heat to rise above the eighth spot.
Also, Miami (32-36) is only one game ahead of No. 9 Orlando and No. 10 Charlotte, which plays at Miami at 1 p.m. Sunday. And the Heat has a more difficult remaining schedule than the Magic and Hornets.
Miami won the first meeting between the Bucks and Heat, 94-87, on Dec. 22, but lost 124-86 on Jan. 15 in Milwaukee.
So that means the Heat has lost its last two games to the Bucks by 53 points. The teams meet again next Friday in Milwaukee, which leads Toronto by three games for the top seed in the Eastern Conference.
“This is a team we’re going to see one more time and potentially in the playoffs,” Winslow said of the Bucks. “We have to find a way to figure it out. I think we had it figured it out for a half, but we have to find a way to do it for a full game.”