MILWAUKEE — Giannis Antetokounmpo showed up at his post-game news conference dressed as The Incredible Hulk to celebrate Halloween after Milwaukee’s win over Miami in the NBA.
Pretty appropriate, considering he had just helped the Bucks survive a late scare.
Antetokounmpo and the Bucks built a 25-point lead and saw most of it fade away against Miami’s reserves before holding off the Heat 122-114 on Monday night.
“Once you get over 20, you have to put them away,” said Antetokounmpo, who scored 33 points. ‘You have to put them away. We couldn’t do that tonight. Hopefully we can learn from this.”
“Don’t be afraid, come on!”
Giannis is having too much fun tonight 🤣 pic.twitter.com/wlCGNrOERN
— NBA (@NBA) October 31, 2023
After trailing 103-78 with less than 10 1/2 minutes remaining, Miami cut the margin to single digits over the next seven minutes. A Duncan Robinson jumper cut the lead to 115-109 with 1:22 left, but Antetokounmpo converted a three-point play six seconds later.
The Bucks’ lead didn’t dip below six the rest of the way.
“We earned that 25-point deficit,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “And then that young group came in and really fought, and did a lot of good things. I’m sure Milwaukee just wanted to play it out and hoped we would go away.
Damian Lillard scored 25 points and Bobby Portis had 16 for the Bucks. Tyler Herro had 35 points to lead the Heat, who played without two-time All-Star center Bam Adebayo because of a bruised hip.
This matchup had more intrigue than a typical October matchup due to the connections between the teams in the postseason and offseason.
The Heat stunned the top-seeded Bucks in last season’s playoffs, winning their first-round series in five games. The Heat ultimately went all the way from the play-in round to the NBA Finals, while the Bucks responded to the upset by firing coach Mike Budenholzer and replacing him with former Toronto Raptors assistant Adrian Griffin.
Milwaukee made its biggest move of the offseason by acquiring Lillard, who expressed a preference to play for the Heat when he initially requested a trade from the Portland Trail Blazers.
Lillard said before the game that he wouldn’t have any particular emotion about this game just because of this summer’s trade talks. He still had that feeling afterwards.
“It really didn’t take any extra energy on either side, I don’t think,” Lillard said.
The Bucks took the lead for good early in the second quarter and appeared headed for a blowout until the Heat’s late rally.
Miami outscored Milwaukee 41-25 in the fourth quarter, even though Herro was the only Heat starter on the floor during that final period. Spoelstra said he didn’t put Jimmy Butler or the other starters back in because the bench helped get the Heat back within striking distance.
Butler finished with 13 points in 29 minutes.
“Our guys changed the momentum,” Spoelstra said. “That can sometimes be frustrating when you’re on the other side. They just want you to leave. Our guys did it with a lot of energy and did a lot of good things. Part of me also wanted to see if they could just keep taking it over the top.
The Bucks are all too familiar with the Heat’s propensity for late rallies.
In last year’s playoffs, Miami posted a 119-114 Game 4 victory by outscoring the Bucks 30-13 in the final six minutes. The Heat rallied from a 16-point deficit in the fourth quarter to win the decisive game 128-126 in overtime.
“If you have the opportunity to put them away, you should put them away – because they will keep coming,” Antetokounmpo said.
Heat: Host Brooklyn on Wednesday.
Bucks: Wednesday at Toronto.