Last updated on October 9th, 2023 at 06:27 pm
And yet, that’s exactly what the Heat did Wednesday night, riding 42 points from Jimmy Butler to beat the top-seeded Milwaukee Bucks — who entered the postseason as the clear favorites to lift the Larry O’Brien Trophy for a second time in three years — 128-126 in overtime at Fiserv Forum in Game 5 of this first-round series, sending Giannis Antetokounmpo and his teammates crashing out of the postseason in the process. Miami advances to face the New York Knicks in the conference semifinals beginning Sunday.
Less than two weeks ago, the Miami Heat were trailing with under five minutes to go in the final Eastern Conference play-in game against the Chicago Bulls. At that point, it was easy to see a world in which the Heat wouldn’t even make the playoffs — and more challenging to see them pulling off one of the biggest upsets in NBA history after doing so.
In many ways, Game 5 was a repeat of the one the teams played in Miami 48 hours earlier — up to and including the Heat pulling off a ridiculous comeback to stun the Bucks. While Miami controlled more of this game than it did Game 4, the Bucks were in control for large portions of it and took a 22-6 lead into the fourth quarter.
But after Milwaukee didn’t score for over three minutes to start the fourth and didn’t make a field goal for nearly five minutes, Miami slowly dragged itself back into the game — in large part because Milwaukee’s offense couldn’t get started in the final period.
The Bucks finally got a shot to fall when Jrue Holiday hit a corner 3 with just over 7 minutes remaining — but wouldn’t get a second until Wesley Matthews hit a triple nearly four minutes later. Meanwhile, Miami, behind another superlative effort from Butler, kept chipping away at Milwaukee’s lead until a Butler and-1 layup with 2:34 remaining made it 111-108 Milwaukee.
After Antetokounmpo missed a short runner at the other end, Butler pulled up for a game-tying 3-pointer with 2:11 to go, with Antetokounmpo and Bam Adebayo taking turns making buckets at both ends on the ensuing possessions to keep the score even.
Then, after Antetokounmpo and Jimmy Butler both missed clean looks to put their respective teams ahead, Kevin Love got caught in an awkward position and Khris Middleton created contact to draw a foul, sending Love to the bench with his sixth foul and giving Milwaukee a 115-113 lead after Middleton made both ensuing free throws.
Jimmy Butler then got a clean look from 3-point range — from very nearly the same spot he rose up for with roughly the same amount of time on the clock in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals against the Boston Celtics last season — to give Miami the lead. But, like that shot last season, it went wanting.
Still, the game wasn’t over. After Holiday hit a pair of free throws to give Milwaukee a four-point lead, Gabe Vincent hit a 3-pointer to cut Milwaukee’s lead to one — and then an errant inbounds pass turned into a jump ball at center court with 6 seconds left after a challenge determined Kyle Lowry didn’t commit a foul on the play.
After Brook Lopez won the jump ball, Antetokounmpo nearly threw it away, only for Middleton to save it to Holiday, who was fouled with 2.1 seconds to go. But Holiday went 1-for-2 from the foul line, giving Miami the ball down 2 with a chance to, once again, tie or win the game.
This time, Jimmy Butler caught a lob pass from Vincent and somehow muscled the ball into the basket with 0.5 seconds to go, sending the game to overtime.
In the extra session, Milwaukee’s offense continued to stall out. Antetokounmpo, who went 3-for-9 from the foul line from the start of the fourth quarter on, missed several in the fourth, as the Bucks continued to fail to hit a shot until Antetokounmpo made a layup with 59 seconds left to pull Milwaukee back to within two.
But after the Bucks had a chance to either tie or win the game in the closing moments of the game after a Vincent missed jumper, Milwaukee failed to get a shot off — despite having both of its timeouts remaining, but failing to use them — and the Heat celebrated on Milwaukee’s home court, sending the Bucks home in the most remarkable of fashions.
The Bucks were the consensus favorites to win the NBA title at sportsbooks entering the playoffs. Milwaukee was around a -1,200 favorite to defeat Miami in their opening-round series.
Milwaukee losing this series is an upset on a scale that few others can approach in NBA history. The Seattle SuperSonics were massive favorites when the Denver Nuggets famously beat them in 1995, but that was a five-game series. The Bulls were huge favorites in the first round of the 2012 playoffs against the Philadelphia 76ers, but that series irrevocably changed when Derrick Rose tore his ACL in the closing minutes of Game 1.
The best comparison is the 2007 Dallas Mavericks, who lost in six games to the “We Believe” version of the Golden State Warriors. But even that Golden State team won the season series with Dallas and matched up well with the 67-win Mavs.
Ultimately, though, this series’ exact placement on such a list doesn’t matter. What does, though, is that the top seed in the East — and the favorite to win the title — has seen its season end in stunning fashion far earlier than it was supposed to.