Miami: Giannis Antetokounmpo scored 33 points and grabbed 12 rebounds as the Milwaukee Bucks clinched the Eastern Conference top seed in the NBA playoffs Thursday by beating Miami 130-116.
After trailing by as many as 23 points in the first half, the Bucks rallied in the second half to handily dispatch the Heat, improving the NBA’s best record to 55-14.
Khris Middleton had 33 points and eight assists and along with Greek star Antetokounmpo combined to shoot 22-of-31 from the floor to spark the Bucks, who also had 17 points from Brook Lopez.
Duncan Robinson scored 21 points to lead Miami and Tyler Herro came off the bench to score 20 for the Heat, who are fourth in the East at 43-26, but only one game ahead of Indiana.
If the standings stay as they are, the Bucks and Heat could meet in the second round of the playoffs.
The Heat played without Jimmy Butler because of a foot injury and Goran Dragic due to an ankle injury, but in the first half it didn’t seem to hurt.
Miami sank 13 3-pointers in the first half, the last by Bam Adebayo at the buzzer to give the Heat a 73-56 lead at half-time against the NBA’s top-rated defensive squad.
The Heat, who led by as much as 23 in the first half and who won both prior season meetings with the Bucks, could not hold off Milwaukee in the third quarter.
The Bucks opened the second half with a 26-8 run to pull ahead 82-81, their first lead since 17-16 in the first quarter, on an alley oop dunk by Brooks Lopez with 5:11 remaining in the third quarter.
“Overall, our defensive attention to detail was better,” Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said.
The Heat clung to a 98-92 lead entering the fourth quarter and were aided when Antetokounmpo was whistled for his fifth foul early in the period.
But the Bucks went on a 10-0 run, seizing a 104-103 lead with 7:55 remaining and launching what became a 31-8 spurt over much of the closing part of the quarter to secure victory.
It was the feature of the eighth day of NBA games in a quarantine bubble at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida, to finish a regular season shut down on March 11 by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Bahamian big man Deandre Ayton scored 23 points and grabbed 10 rebounds while Devin Booker added 20 points and 10 assists as the Phoenix Suns improved to 4-0 in the bubble by defeating another isolation unbeaten, the Indiana Pacers, by 114-99.
The Suns improved to 30-39, one game behind ninth-place Portland in the Western Conference in the chase for a spot in the playoffs.
Teams finishing eighth and ninth in the West will meet in a play-in series Aug. 15-16 for the last West playoff berth and a first-round date with the top-seeded Los Angeles Lakers.
The Pacers, led by 25 points from Malcolm Brogdon, fell to 42-27, fifth in the East but only a half-game ahead of Philadelphia.
Serbian guard Bogdan Bogdanovic scored a career-high 35 points, 19 in the first quarter, and backcourt partner De’Aaron Fox added 30 points and 10 assists to lead the Sacramento Kings over New Orleans 140-125.
Pelicans star rookie forward Zion Williamson and Brandon Ingram each scored 24 points to pace the Pelicans, who fell to 29-39, the same record as the Kings, who had been 0-3 in the bubble