Basketball: Middleton winner lifts Bucks over Heat in playoff opener

Khris Middleton (centre) makes a basket in overtime against Duncan Robinson of the Miami Heat during Game 1 of their Eastern Conference first-round playoff series. PHOTO: AFP

LOS ANGELES (AFP) - Khris Middleton nailed a clutch two-pointer with less than one second remaining as the Milwaukee Bucks snatched a thrilling 109-107 overtime victory against the Miami Heat in their NBA Eastern Conference playoff opener on Saturday (May 22).

Middleton kept his composure superbly to drain the decisive jump shot from 18 feet with just 0.5 seconds on the clock, handing the Bucks a 1-0 lead in the best-of-seven first round series.

Middleton's dramatic winner marked the final act of a pulsating battle between the two Eastern Conference rivals, who also met in last year's playoffs with the Heat winning that series 4-1.

Heat talisman Jimmy Butler had taken the game to overtime at the end of the fourth quarter, driving to the basket to make it 99-99 as time ran out at Milwaukee's Fiserv Forum.

But Middleton's late winner settled the game in overtime and gives the Bucks the chance to take a grip on the series with game two at home on Monday.

Middleton led the Bucks scorers with 27 points, six rebounds and six assists, with Giannis Antetokounmpo, who appeared to be struggling with a sore left arm, adding 26 points with 18 rebounds and five assists.

The Bucks were almost left to rue another shaky performance from the free throw line from reigning NBA MVP Antetokounmpo, who made only six of 13 free throw attempts for a 46.2 per cent completion percentage.

Jrue Holiday added 20 points for Milwaukee while Brook Lopez finished with 18 points as the Bucks scraped home.

"It's a good start," Middleton said afterwards. "A lot of mistakes, a lot of missed free throws, lot of threes from them, and we missed threes. But it's a great start to what we want to do and where we want to be."

Middleton meanwhile praised Antetokounmpo for battling through an uneven personal performance.

"I don't think he had his night the way he wanted to," Middleton said. "But he battled, and defended well and that's what he's supposed to do - when it's not your night, do other things."

Goran Dragic led the Miami scorers with 25 points, while shooting guard Duncan Robinson finished with 24 points. Butler, the star of Miami's run to the NBA Finals last season, finished with 17 points.

Milwaukee's opener against Miami marked the opening game of the 2021 playoffs.

In other games on Saturday, the Los Angeles Clippers were hosting the Dallas Mavericks at the Staples Centre while the Brooklyn Nets face the Boston Celtics.

The Denver Nuggets host the Portland Trail Blazers in the late game.

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