Every overtime game in NBA history, by definition, has been tied at the end of regulation as time ran off the clock.
Often, one team got off a final shot at the buzzer, while the other worked awfully hard to contest it. Frequently, that meant some amount of contact.
No matter, game after game, year after year, the contact -- certainly, if incidental -- has often been ignored or waved off as the shot bounced away. Such games were allowed to slip into overtime, where the players and coaches got at least five more minutes to determine the outcome.
Not Wednesday night, though, in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference semifinal between Milwaukee and Miami. With the score tied at 114 and a network television audience poised for a tasty overtime session between the rattled and desperate Bucks and an increasingly scrappy Heat team, the game -- pffft! -- abruptly ended.
Turns out Jimmy Butler, whose last-chance jump shot from the left baseline missed, had been fouled ever-so-slightly as he followed through. Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo had doubled-team Butler in the corner with Wesley Matthews, putting a hand near Butler’s waist that was apparently judged to have gotten under the Miami wing on his landing.
So for the Bucks, instead of OT, it was Oh no! Climax, into anti-climax.
After a video review, Butler was sent to the line all by himself, nobody along the lane, few in the bubbled building. His first free throw rattled in to win it, his second was for the bettors, and the teams walked off. Milwaukee, down 2-0, is a No. 1 seed in trouble. Miami, the East’s No. 5 seed, already has exceeded most everyone’s expectations besides their own.
And instead of five more minutes of intense playoff basketball, viewers were treated to, well, a little history.
It’s curious enough that there were 69 overtime games in the 2019-20 regular season, with six that required double OT. Out of those 75 opportunities, not one of them ended on a free throw with :00.0 left on the clock.
But none ended like that two seasons ago either. Or three. Or four. You have to go back to March 4, 1991 to find an NBA game that was decided at the foul line with no time left. That night in Dallas, Mavericks guard Rolando Blackman beat the New Jersey Nets.
So it was a rare sort of angst the Bucks felt as they stood or sat helplessly by and waited for Butler to decide their night’s fate.
“I’d say we’re disappointed with the judgment, the decision, the timing,” said Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer, a little more composed a few minutes after, but his true expression half-masked. “It’s a tough job. I have a lot of respect for the officials. We have our way of seeing things. We’re going to disagree.”
The ref said there was contact. Maybe there was. It is what it is."
Antetokounmpo had sat down just off the court as the review sent Butler to the line. “I tried to make it tough for Jimmy,” he said. “The ref said there was contact. Maybe there was. It is what it is. I tried to contest the shot.”
Said Butler: “I got fouled. Pushed me in the back. Can’t deny that.”
If there was any consolation for Milwaukee in what seemed a soft, ticky-tack verdict against them, it was the fact they benefitted only seconds earlier from a softer, tickier-tackier call against the Heat.
Out of a timeout with 7.7 seconds left, Milwaukee’s Khris Middleton rose up for a 3-point shot on the left wing. Miami guard Goran Dragic stood ramrod straight in front of him, both arms upraised, doing that verticality thing the big men do. Middleton missed but his shooting momentum carried him into Dragic, who apparently was whistled for not giving the Bucks shooter sufficient room to land.
No easy feat, Middleton hit all three free throws to tie at 4.3 seconds. The Heat were almost as exasperated then as the Bucks would be moments later. Except, of course, they didn’t and wouldn’t lose.
“You’re all over the place emotionally,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said.
Spoelstra acknowledged that the officiating crew of Marc Davis, Sean Wright and Kevin Scott Wednesday had their work cut out for them, as well any other refs who work this series.
“Neither team is an easy team to officiate,” Spoelstra said. “You have aggressive players who are creating contact. You have to do things with incredible discipline and technique. And a lot of these calls, you have to go to a replay almost every single time.”
If karma counts, the Bucks and their fans caught two major breaks. One came in the third quarter, when the Bucks won a review that enabled Antetokounmpo to avoid his fourth foul and a certain sitdown. Milwaukee won that quarter, though their star was a minus-8 in the period.
Down the stretch, Bucks George Hill and Kyle Korver trapped Butler, who recklessly floated a pass that got picked off by Brook Lopez. The Bucks center made a layup to get his team within 113-111.
So the funky finish should not overshadow Miami’s superiority in Game 2 or so far in the series. Seven Heat players scored in double figures, making it impossible for the Bucks to pick their proverbial poison. Butler, after scoring 40 points in Game 1, had 13 this time and seemed almost insignificant until he got very significant.
Milwaukee won’t be going anywhere if it lets itself get outscored from 3-point range by 30 points -- the Heat shot 17-for-45, the Bucks 7-for-25. And while the refs at least were consistent in their late-game adjudicating, the Bucks were inconsistent when it mattered most. They went up 91-90 early in the fourth, got outscored 13-2, responded with a 9-2 spurt of their own, then went four minutes without scoring again. Everything was tough because Miami’s defense made it so.
The NBA’s Last 2 Minutes report for this one, however, shouldn’t be tough at all. Skip the first 115 seconds, please, and just focus on the final five.
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