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NBA highlights on May 22: Middleton saves Bucks and Antetokounmpo
Li Xiang
Khris Middleton (#22) of the Milwaukee Bucks celebrates after making the game-winning shot in Game 1 of the NBA Eastern Conference first-round playoffs against the Miami Heat at Fiserv Forum in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, U.S., May 22, 2021. /CFP

Khris Middleton (#22) of the Milwaukee Bucks celebrates after making the game-winning shot in Game 1 of the NBA Eastern Conference first-round playoffs against the Miami Heat at Fiserv Forum in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, U.S., May 22, 2021. /CFP

The Milwaukee Bucks edged the Miami Heat 109-107 at home after Khris Middleton drained a 0.5-second game-winning jumper in overtime (OT) at Fiserv Forum on Saturday. The victory gave the Bucks a 1-0 lead in the first-round playoff series of the NBA Eastern Conference.

Judging by how they lost to the Heat last season, the Bucks needed to make the following three things happen in order to avoid falling into the same rut again:

Duncan Robinson (#55) of the Miami Heat shoots in Game 1 of the NBA Eastern Conference first-round playoffs against the Milwaukee Bucks at Fiserv Forum, May 22, 2021. /CFP

Duncan Robinson (#55) of the Miami Heat shoots in Game 1 of the NBA Eastern Conference first-round playoffs against the Milwaukee Bucks at Fiserv Forum, May 22, 2021. /CFP

First, keep the Heat's shooters from having their way on the 3-point line; second, Giannis Antetokounmpo must figure out how to beat the Heat's defense on him; third, the Bucks need their go-to guy during clutch time.

The first thing did not happen. Despite Jimmy Butler's disappointing 2-9 3-point shooting performance, the Heat still drained 20 triples at 40 percent. Duncan Robinson (7-13) and Goran Dragic (5-10) stormed hard on the Bucks' defense from beyond the arc.

Giannis Antetokounmpo (C) of the Milwaukee Bucks loses the ball in Game 1 of the NBA Eastern Conference first-round playoffs against the Miami Heat at Fiserv Forum, May 22, 2021. /CFP

Giannis Antetokounmpo (C) of the Milwaukee Bucks loses the ball in Game 1 of the NBA Eastern Conference first-round playoffs against the Miami Heat at Fiserv Forum, May 22, 2021. /CFP

Neither were the Bucks able to do the second. Despite Antetokounmpo's 26 points, 18 rebounds and five assists, he only shot 10-27 from the field, 0-3 from the 3-point line and 6-13 from the free throw line. According to ESPN, the Greek Freak went 0-14 outside the paint, tying for the most attempts outside the restricted area without making even one shot in a playoff game for the past 25 years. Antetokounmpo was even called for a 10-second free throw violation, which is very rare in professional competitions.

Fortunately, for the Bucks, Middleton gave a shoulder to lean on when it mattered. The two-time All-Star was not in his best form for most time of the game, only shooting 3-9 from downtown, which somehow led the team. When Dragic made his last 3-pointer from the left wing for the Heat, the score was 107-107 and the Bucks had 20.7 seconds to make a difference.

Khris Middleton (#22) of the Milwaukee Bucks shoots to win in Game 1 of the NBA Eastern Conference first-round playoffs against the Miami Heat at Fiserv Forum, May 22, 2021. /CFP

Khris Middleton (#22) of the Milwaukee Bucks shoots to win in Game 1 of the NBA Eastern Conference first-round playoffs against the Miami Heat at Fiserv Forum, May 22, 2021. /CFP

Jrue Holiday dribbled the ball to the front court and handed it to Middleton, who then faced Robinson. Brook Lopez approached, set a ghost screen and tried to roll in. However, neither Robinson nor Trevor Ariza bought it. Instead of being double-teamed, Middleton moved right, facing Robinson, who's an easier defender than Ariza. Middleton took a jump shot and nailed it, taking the Bucks to victory in their first playoff game this season.

"I just wanted to get to a spot where I knew I could possibly or [Brook Lopez] for a roll. I ended up getting to the spot for a shot, so just raise up and just shoot it. I got to get the last one, taking as much time off the clock as I can, and I can live with the results afterwards," said Middleton in the post-game interview.

"That's what he does. Having a guy like Khris with the ball down the stretch, you know what's going to come," said Antetokounmpo.

Luka Doncic of the Dallas Mavericks looks on in Game 1 of the NBA Western Conference first-round playoffs against the Los Angeles Clippers at Staples Center in Los Angeles, California, U.S., May 22, 2021. /CFP

Luka Doncic of the Dallas Mavericks looks on in Game 1 of the NBA Western Conference first-round playoffs against the Los Angeles Clippers at Staples Center in Los Angeles, California, U.S., May 22, 2021. /CFP

Dallas Mavericks 113-103 Los Angeles Clippers

Luka Doncic dominated Game 1 at the Staples Center on Saturday as the two teams met for the second time in the postseason. He posted a 31-point, 10-rebound and 11-assist triple-double while going 5-11 from the 3-point line, helping the Mavericks start the series with a 1-0 lead.

It was Doncic's third career playoff triple-double, which is already the most in franchise history. In fact, he already had 30 points, seven rebounds and seven assists by the end of the third quarter. In order to limit him, the Clippers stopped at nothing to trap him. As a result, Doncic missed all five attempts and only scored one point via free throw in Q4, but he still got three rebounds and four assists.

Luka Doncic (L) of the Dallas Mavericks tries to penetrate in Game 1 of the NBA Western Conference first-round playoffs against the Los Angeles Clippers at Staples Center, May 22, 2021. /CFP

Luka Doncic (L) of the Dallas Mavericks tries to penetrate in Game 1 of the NBA Western Conference first-round playoffs against the Los Angeles Clippers at Staples Center, May 22, 2021. /CFP

"When they don't double, attack it. When they double, there's someone who's going to be open. I've just got to read the game," said Doncic.

The Clippers are one of the best 3-point shooting teams in the league, averaging 14.3 triples (No. 6) at 41.1 percent (No. 1).

That's why going 4-18 from beyond the arc in the first half was nothing but unacceptable for the team, especially when two of the four triples they made were from Rajon Rondo, whose career 3-point shooting rate is only 32.3 percent. When the game ended, the Clippers had shot 11-40 from three, far from enough to win.

L-R: James Harden, Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving of the Brooklyn Nets give each other a hi-five in Game 1 of the NBA Eastern Conference first-round playoffs against the Boston Celtics at Barclays Center in Brooklyn Borough , New York City, New York, U.S., May 22, 2021. /CFP

L-R: James Harden, Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving of the Brooklyn Nets give each other a hi-five in Game 1 of the NBA Eastern Conference first-round playoffs against the Boston Celtics at Barclays Center in Brooklyn Borough , New York City, New York, U.S., May 22, 2021. /CFP

Boston Celtics 93-104 Brooklyn Nets

Scoring 104 points is absolutely not what the Nets, the best offensive team in the NBA this season, expected from themselves in the game. Their Big Three – Kevin Durant, James Harden and Kyrie Irving – shot a combined 5-24 from the 3-point line. The whole team only made eight triples.

However, the Nets still won because they had Durant, Harden and Irving. Durant began the game 2-10 in Q1 but that did not keep him from going 7-12 to score 21 points in the second and third quarter; Irving only had nine points in the first half but scored 20 in the second half; Harden did not reach double-digits in any quarter but still finished with 21 points, nine rebound and eight assists.

Jayson Tatum of the Boston Celtics looks on in Game 1 of the NBA Eastern Conference first-round playoffs against the Brooklyn Nets at Barclays Center, May 22, 2021. /CFP

Jayson Tatum of the Boston Celtics looks on in Game 1 of the NBA Eastern Conference first-round playoffs against the Brooklyn Nets at Barclays Center, May 22, 2021. /CFP

That's how terrifying the Nets' depth is. With three of the league's best players in their lineup, the team could withstand an underperformance by one or even two of them because there would always be someone standing out.

By contrast, the Celtics did not have that luxury. They were the leading side in the first half, during which Jayson Tatum had 15 points. Nonetheless, when the 23-year-old grew cold in the third quarter, the Celtics had no one to go to. Kemba Walker was still trying to find out what went wrong with his touch; Evan Fournier was trying to figure out his role in the team; Marcus Smart worked really hard but he is just not built for that role.

Damian Lillard (C) of the Portland Trail Blazers looks on in Game 1 of the NBA Western Conference first-round playoffs against the Denver Nuggets at Ball Arena in Denver, Colorado, U.S., May 22, 2021. /CFP

Damian Lillard (C) of the Portland Trail Blazers looks on in Game 1 of the NBA Western Conference first-round playoffs against the Denver Nuggets at Ball Arena in Denver, Colorado, U.S., May 22, 2021. /CFP

Portland Trail Blazers 123-109 Denver Nuggets

This may be the most interesting matchup in the Western Conference playoffs. The Trail Blazers cannot stop Nikola Jokic, just like the Nuggets have no solution for Damian Lillard.

Nuggets coach Mike Malone did not want his players to double-team Lillard at the beginning and Lillard's response was five triples made and 34 points. When Malone was forced to change his plan, Lillard's passes continued to find the Trail Blazers' shooters, who shot a combined 14-28 from the 3-point line, recording 13 assists for their ace.

Nikola Jokic (#15) of the Denver Nuggets posts up against Jusuf Nurkic of the Portland Trail Blazers in Game 1 of the NBA Western Conference first-round playoffs at Ball Arena, May 22, 2021. /CFP

Nikola Jokic (#15) of the Denver Nuggets posts up against Jusuf Nurkic of the Portland Trail Blazers in Game 1 of the NBA Western Conference first-round playoffs at Ball Arena, May 22, 2021. /CFP

Coach Terry Stotts did not want to double team Jokic, and stuck to his plan. Jusuf Nurkic and Enes Kanter watched the NBA-MVP-to-be claim 34 points and 16 rebounds in front of them and there was no help on defense at all.

However, another consequence of that tactic was that Jokic, who averaged 8.3 assists per game in the regular season, only delivered one assist at Ball Arena on Saturday night. The Nuggets' offense was totally paralyzed. Without Jamal Murray or Will Barton, the team looked to Michael Porter Jr. to stand out, but he failed to do so.

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