[caption id="attachment_313474" align="aligncenter" width="1920"] (@MiamiHEAT)
Good morning, folks. Unfortunately, we're going to talk about the referees today. Let's talk NBA Bubble.
Late-game fouling gives Miami 2-0 series lead over Milwaukee
Both games on Wednesday night were robbed of the endings they deserved thanks to whistle-happy referees. We don't typically complain about the officials in our daily morning post, but it's not often that BACK-TO-BACK postseason games are heavily influenced down the stretch by phantom foul calls. In the instance of Milwaukee and Miami's Game 2 matchup, it didn't necessarily affect the final outcome, but it sure did create plenty of unnecessary drama.
It was like a scene out of a World Cup penalty shootout. Heat guard Jimmy Butler was sent to the free-throw line with all zeros on the clock after a foul was called while he attempted a game-winning baseline jumper. The Bucks recently crowned Defensive Player of the Year, who received criticism for not taking the challenge of guarding Butler during the closing minutes of Game 1, contested Butler's jump shot, but was called for a foul after Butler released the shot. The game was tied at 114 and Butler would step up to an empty paint before knocking down both free-throws with no time left. Miami takes a 2-0 series lead with the win.
The controversy wouldn't have been as pronounced had a similar call not been made on the other end of the floor just seconds before. Bucks guard Khris Middleton was fouled on a 3-point shot with his team down by three points and under eight seconds left in regulation. I'll let you be the judge of whether or not it was the correct call, but, in my nonprofessional opinion, Heat guard Goran Dragic established his guarding position before Middleton went up for the shot, putting him in a legal defensive position. However, the referees didn't exactly see it that way.
Middleton hit all three of his free-throws, which ultimately led to the Butler free-throws on the next possession down. While it never should have gotten to that point in the first place--Miami led 111-102 with under two minutes remaining--it was still a terrible ending to what was otherwise an exciting game.
Even still, the Heat became the first five-seed in NBA history to take a 2-0 lead over a No. 1 seed in a playoff series. They might just be flat out better than the Bucks, although the series still has a long way to go. Miami has experience with Dragic (who has played better than anyone else on the floor through the first two games) and Butler along with plenty of youthful production including Bam Adebayo
, Tyler Herro
, and Duncan Robinson. It also helps that all three of those youngsters have absolutely no fear, regardless of the circumstances. Adebayo finished the night with 15 points, nine rebounds, and three assists for Miami while Herro was key off the bench, dropping in 17 points, five rebounds, and four assists. The former Kentucky duo also linked up for a beautiful pick-and-roll lob that will have you reminiscing on the 2012 NCAA Championship squad.
Throughout the entire game, Adebayo and Herro were terrific. I'm always impressed with how confident Herro is, even in crunch time playoff minutes. Much like he did in Game 1, Herro drilled another important fourth-quarter triple that put the Heat up by seven halfway through the period. Then you have Adebayo, who touches the ball more than any other Heat player when they're trying to execute late-game plays. His goal isn't to score, but to open up opportunities for others. However, he was put in a situation on Wednesday where he had
to take--and make--a contested jumper late in the shot clock that put his team up by six with just 54 seconds left.
THAT is the shot that will turn Adebayo from an All-Star into an All-NBA player. It just makes me smile.
As for former Kentucky Wildcat Eric Bledsoe
, the point guard struggled in his first outing of the series. He sat out of Game 1 with a sore hamstring and came back to record 16 points and seven rebounds for Milwaukee in Game 2, but turned the ball over three times and couldn't do anything to stop Dragic on the other end. Maybe his hamstring is still bothering him, but Bledsoe was getting absolutely rocked as a defender on any and all pick-and-rolls and failed to score a single point in the fourth quarter.
But the outcome of last night's game was hardly Bledsoe's fault. If anyone is to blame, it's Milwaukee head coach Mike Budenzholer, who once again refused to play his best players when the game needed them the most. Neither one of Giannis Antetokounmpo or Middleton played over 36 minutes for Milwaukee and both of them saw significant breaks in the fourth quarter. For what reason, you might ask? Well, your guess is as good as mine. Middleton did have five fouls when he went to the bench during the middle of the fourth quarter, but this is Game 2 of the playoffs. He HAS
to be in the game. There was absolutely no excuse for Giannis to sit out 90 seconds in the middle of the fourth quarter, either. If your star players aren't prepared to pay upwards of 40 minutes in the postseason, that's a massive indication of awful preparedness. It's now cost them two playoff games and possibly the series.
Also, if anyone has seen the Bucks score out of a halfcourt offensive set this series, please let me know because I must be blind.
Harden's defense sends Rockets past Thunder
The refs were at it again in Game 7 of the Rockets-Thunder series, making ghost calls with only seconds left on the clock and the game coming down to the wire. Luckily, the calls weren't nearly as impactful as the Heat-Bucks game, but it did take away from the smoothness of what was otherwise another exciting basketball game to watch.
Rockets star guard James Harden, typically known for his offense, was not his usual self on Wednesday, scoring just 17 points on a 4-15 shooting clip, but he made up for every missed shot with a series-winning block on Lu Dort's (who randomly exploded for 30 points) shot from the corner that would have given Oklahoma City the win.
OKC would still have a chance to steal the series, though. After a lengthy review process by the officials, some time was added back to the clock and Houston was fouled on the ensuing play; Robert Covington would hit one of two attempts from the free-throw line and the Thunder were down two with the ball at halfcourt and another chance to win the game. But this is where things turned sour. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander
was the inbound man for OKC on the final possession and only one second left on the clock. The former Wildcat made an ill-advised pass to center Steven Adams and the play was immediately blown up. The Thunder would not get the chance to take another shot and Houston moves onto a second-round matchup against the Los Angeles Lakers.
Unlike Herro and Adebayo for Miami, SGA looked a bit uneasy down the stretch. While he did nail a huge
triple with under two minutes left that put the Thunder up by one, he was otherwise deferring. Granted, he has Chris Paul on his team who was hunting down shot after shot late in the game, but SGA's impact in the fourth quarter was less noticeable than the first three. Despite that, the second-year guard still managed to post 19 points, three rebounds, four assists, and two steals for OKC.
Oh well, onto the next year...
Series standings from Wednesday
EASTERN CONFERENCE SEMIFINALS
(5) Heat lead (1) Bucks 2-0
WESTERN CONFERENCE FIRST ROUND
(4) Rockets beat (5) Thunder 4-3
[table id=578 /]
TONIGHT IN THE BUBBLE
6:30 (TNT): Raptors @ Celtics (Kanter) [BOS leads 2-0]
9:00 (TNT): Nuggets (Murray)
@ Clippers (Patterson) [Game 1]