Middleton winner lifts Bucks over Heat, Nets rally to beat Celtics

MILWAUKEE: Khris Middleton #22 of the Milwaukee Bucks reacts after scoring in overtime against Duncan Robinson #55 of the Miami Heat during Game 1 of their Eastern Conference first-round playoff series between the Milwaukee Bucks and the Miami Heat at Fiserv Forum on Saturday in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. – AFP

LOS ANGELES: Khris Middleton nailed a clutch two-pointer with less than one second remaining as the Milwaukee Bucks snatched a thrilling 109-107 overtime victory against the Miami Heat in their NBA Eastern Conference playoff opener on Saturday. Middleton kept his composure superbly to drain the decisive jump shot from 18 feet with just 0.5 seconds on the clock, handing the Bucks a 1-0 lead in the best-of-seven first round series.

In other series openers, the Brooklyn Nets rallied from a 12-point second-quarter deficit to beat the Boston Celtics 104-93. In the West, the fifth seeded Dallas Mavericks rallied late in the fourth quarter to down the fourth-seeded Los Angeles Clippers 113-103 at the Staples Center. Middleton’s dramatic winner marked the final act of a pulsating battle between the two Eastern Conference rivals, who also met in last year’s playoffs with the Heat winning that series 4-1.

Heat talisman Jimmy Butler had taken the game to overtime at the end of the fourth quarter, driving to the basket to make it 99-99 as time ran out at Milwaukee’s Fiserv Forum. But Middleton’s late winner settled the game in overtime and gives the Bucks the chance to take a grip on the series with game two at home on Monday. Middleton led the Bucks scorers with 27 points, six rebounds and six assists, with Giannis Antetokounmpo, who appeared to be struggling with a sore left arm, adding 26 points with 18 rebounds and five assists.

The Bucks were almost left to rue another shaky performance from the free throw line from reigning NBA MVP Antetokounmpo, who made only six of 13 free throw attempts for a 46.2% completion percentage. Jrue Holiday added 20 points for Milwaukee while Brook Lopez finished with 18 points as the Bucks scraped home. “It’s a good start,” Middleton said. “A lot of mistakes, a lot of missed free throws, a lot of threes from them, and we missed threes. But it’s a great start to what we want to do and where we want to be.”

Middleton meanwhile praised Antetokounmpo for battling through an uneven personal performance. “I don’t think he had his night the way he wanted to,” Middleton said. “But he battled, and defended well and that’s what he’s supposed to do — when it’s not your night, do other things.” Goran Dragic led the Miami scorers with 25 points, while shooting guard Duncan Robinson finished with 24 points. Butler, the star of Miami’s run to the NBA Finals last season, finished with 17 points.

In Brooklyn, Kevin Durant scored a game-high 32 points and pulled down 12 rebounds to lead the Nets, who had 29 points from Kyrie Irving and 21 from James Harden. It was just the ninth time all season that the Nets’ “Big Three” played together, and Durant acknowledged it took them awhile to settle in before a crowd of 14,391 at the Barclays Center. “Most of it was settling down,” he said of the Nets’ struggles in the first half, in which they made just one of 13 from three-point range.

“I think we rushed a lot of shots early. Our fans were in the stands for the first time at this capacity, I think there was a lot of adrenalin out there. “We calmed down a little bit in the second half,” Durant added, “and we were able to be smart with our defensive principles and we made some shots.” Consecutive three-pointers from Harden, Irving and Durant in the opening minutes of the third quarter saw the Nets gain a lead they wouldn’t relinquish.

Doncic propels Mavs
They led by as many as 17 in the fourth quarter. “It was one of those games where we stayed with it when our shot wasn’t there and our defense was there for us,” Durant said. Jayson Tatum led the Celtics with 22 points. Marcus Smart added 17 and Kemba Walker had 15 for a Boston team that will try to fight back in game two in Brooklyn on Tuesday.

Mavs star Luka Doncic scored a 31-point triple double with 10 rebounds and 11 assists as Dallas pulled away to win after trailing by three points with five minutes remaining. Tim Hardaway Jr had 21 points while Dorian Finney-Smith added 18 as the Mavs took a 1-0 series lead against the Clippers, who beat Dallas in six games at the same stage of the playoffs last season. “I hope it’s going to be different this time, I hope it’s not going to be the same story,” Doncic said afterwards. “I forgot how much fun it was to play in the playoffs.”

Kawhi Leonard led the Clippers scorers with 26 points, with Paul George adding 23. In the late game, Damian Lillard scored 34 points to power the Portland Trail Blazers to a 123-109 win over the Denver Nuggets in the opener series. Lillard finished with five threes as the Blazers hit 19 of 40 shots from three point range. Carmelo Anthony and Anfernee Simons added four each as the Blazers outscored Denver by two dozen points in three point shooting. CJ McCollum added 21 points and Anthony scored 18. Nikola Jokic, who is in the running for league MVP, led Denver with 34 points, and Michael Porter chipped in 25. – AFP

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