Jimmy Butler seized control down the stretch, scoring a career-playoff high 40 points as the Miami Heat beat the Milwaukee Bucks in the opening game of their second round NBA playoff series on Monday.
Butler was a one-man wrecking crew, scoring 13 of Miami’s final 16 points in the NBA’s quarantine bubble in Orlando, Florida. He scored 27 of his 40 points in the second half.
Butler warned his teammates not to expect any passes with the game on the line.
“I told my teammates I probably wasn’t going to pass the ball. I made a couple of shots and they said, ‘That’s fine with me,’” Butler said.
In the Western Conference, Chris Paul scored 28 points as the Oklahoma City Thunder forced a decisive seventh game in their first round series with a 104-100 win over the mistake-prone Houston Rockets.
Butler is just the third player in Heat history with a 40-point game in the playoffs, joining LeBron James and Dwyane Wade.
“I took it up a level in the fourth. If that’s what needs to happen every game, I have got to do it,” he said.
Game two of the best-of-seven Eastern Conference series is Wednesday in Orlando.
Goran Dragic added 27 points as he helped the Heat clamp down defensively which set the stage for Butler’s offensive heroics.
With 52 seconds left, Dragic made a clutch defensive play by stealing the ball from Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo to preserve Miami’s seven-point lead, 111-104.
Bam Adebayo had 12 points and 17 rebounds and rookie Tyler Herro tallied 11 points for the Heat, who swept the Indiana Pacers in the previous round.
Fifth seeded Miami found a way to contain reigning NBA most valuable player Antetokounmpo, who was limited to just 18 points.
It was the Greek superstar’s fewest points in a playoff game since he was held to 12 by the Toronto Raptors in game three of the NBA semi-finals last season. He also missed eight of 12 free throws against the Heat.
Khris Middleton scored 28 points and Brook Lopez had 24 for the Bucks, who also lost the opening game of their first round series before winning four straight to beat the Orlando Magic in five games.
The Bucks came into the contest after setting a trend in the final week of the first round by staging a strike in order to draw awareness to police brutality and racial discrimination in America.
The Bucks’ actions led to the NBA coming to an agreement with players on engaging in social justice initiatives.
After falling behind in the first quarter Miami stormed back, cutting Milwaukee’s lead to 63-60 at halftime. The Heat took a 82-80 lead into the fourth quarter and then Butler carried them to the finish line.
Butler’s 40 points came on 13-for-20 shooting and 12-for-13 shooting from the charity stripe. His previous playoff high was 36 points for Philadelphia against Brooklyn last season.
The winner will face either the defending champion Raptors or the Boston Celtics in the NBA’s final four.
In the West, Paul tallied 15 points in the fourth quarter and nailed a pair of clutch three-pointers that pulled the Thunder even at 98-98 with just under three minutes left in game six of their first round series. His two free throws with 12 seconds helped seal the victory for Oklahoma City.
“This is who we are,” Paul said. “We are built for stuff like this. A lot of our guys have been pushed out and traded (from other teams). We just stick together and keep fighting.”
Paul’s 15 points in the fourth were more than Houston’s James Harden and Russell Westbrook had combined.
Westbrook finished with seven turnovers including a giveaway with seven seconds which spoiled any chance of a Rocket comeback. The Rockets had a total of 22 turnovers.
Harden paced the Rockets with 32 points, eight rebounds and seven assists.
“I had five (turnovers) so we’ve both got to be better with the basketball,” said Harden. “Twelve turnovers between the two. If we cut those in half, we give ourselves a better shot.”
Game seven is Wednesday at the Disney complex in Florida, with the winner advancing to face the Los Angeles Lakers in the conference semi-finals.