NBA

'Heaven' for Giannis as Lillard and Middleton help Bucks overcome Heat

By Sports Desk November 29, 2023

Giannis Antetokounmpo said playing with Damian Lillard and Khris Middleton was "like heaven" after the trio combined to guide the Milwaukee Bucks to the quarterfinals of the inaugural NBA In-Season Tournament.

The Bucks moved to 13-5 for the season and 4-0 in East Group B for the In-Season Tournament with Tuesday's 131-124 win over the Miami Heat at Kaseya Center.

Milwaukee found themselves down 118-115 with three minutes and 25 seconds to play, but they finished on a 16-6 run to tee up a home game in the last eight, with Antetokounmpo leading the way with 33 points, 10 rebounds and five assists.

The two-time MVP was ably supported by Lillard, who posted 32 points and nine assists, and Middleton, who finished with 17 points and eight rebounds. 

After the game, Bucks head coach Adrian Griffin revealed Antetokounmpo had suggested feeding the ball to Middleton more often, and the star forward said doing so made Milwaukee less predictable.

"It's great, for me it's like heaven when you have two guys that can create their own shots, and I don't have to make something happen," Antetokounmpo said.

"It's great. My whole career it's been that way, and now also we have Khris and Dame that can do that. It makes the game easier for everybody. 

"Them breaking down the defenses is great, but if they can't, they can give the ball to me and I'll spread it to the corners or play one-on-one.

"Offensively, I think guys got to the spots and were able to execute, a few pick and rolls with Dame as the ball handler, a few pick and rolls with Khris as the ball handler… it was great. 

"I think it helps the flow of our offense when it doesn't always have to be Dame and Giannis, then we can play from there.

"I feel like that's where we are, all playing as a team, the energy is better, everybody has more touches of the ball, I think we can be more effective that way."

The Heat were made to pay for the absence of Jimmy Butler, who missed the game with an ankle sprain after averaging 37.6 points as Miami eliminated Milwaukee from the playoffs last season.

Bam Adebayo scored 31 points for Miami, with Kyle Lowry adding 21 and Josh Richardson contributing 20, and head coach Erik Spoelstra was broadly pleased with their display, despite the result.

"I felt like we played a very good basketball game," Spoelstra said. "A very good offensive game, in particular."

Now 10-8 for the campaign and eliminated from the In-Season Tournament, Miami will look to halt their three-game losing streak when they face the Indiana Pacers in a home double-header later this week. 

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