by Scott Howard-Cooper
Just being in the game was accomplishment enough for the Bucks. Just getting the final shot was improbable enough for Khris Middleton.
But then for Milwaukee to come from 16 points down with 9:53 remaining Tuesday night and from 12 behind with five minutes left to beat the Heat 89-88? For Middleton to go from missing six of seven shots behind the arc and 12 of 16 overall to the hero with the three-pointer at the buzzer? The finish was nothing short of unreal.
Given the jerking change of direction in the game, the potential long-term implications in the standings, the unlikely star of the night and the emotional value for a team that would treasure so much as an uneventful win, it would be hard to find many bigger March moments anywhere in the league.
It had that too. Middleton was standing at the arc, a few feet left of straightaway, so he was able to have his feet set. What he wasn’t able to get was an easy look. He had to hurry to beat the clock. He had a defender charging at him, right arm extended for the block.
The only easy part — of the entire possession, actually — was the decision to shoot. With the game an instant away from ending in a Miami victory, Middleton had no choice. The result was near-perfect. The ball barely touched back rim before going down without a fight.
It took Milwaukee outscoring Miami 21-9 in the fourth quarter just to get the Bucks within 88-86 with a final chance off a jump ball with 9.8 seconds remaining at the free-throw line close to the basket where the Heat were defending. It had taken a lot of uphill climbing just to get in position to complete the comeback. And then it took more.
Jerryd Bayless, a a 6-3 guard, won the tip against 6-10 Michael Beasley, knocking the ball backward to Middleton. Bayless’ drove down the right side of the lane and missed a layup amid a crowd of Heat defenders with about five seconds left. Milwaukee’s Zaza Pachulia saved the ball as it was going over the baseline, twisting his body back toward the court and flinging a two-hand pass in the direction of the top of the key. Middleton controlled the ball and fired from 24 feet out with about five-tenths of a seconds to go.
The Bucks were on a six-game losing streak and staring straight at No. 7. They were sinking in the Eastern Conference standings, to where they were beginning to get a decent view of the lottery, and Miami was one of the teams putting pressure on them from behind. A lot of the good of 2014-15 was unraveling.
To say Tuesday night was an important win, then, doesn’t begin to cover it. Huge is more like it. If the shot turns out to be the launching pad to a Milwaukee recovery and the Bucks find solid footing again to reach the playoffs, it becomes their regular-season highlight.
A finish like that deserved a reaction like that. Middleton turned toward the other basket and ran into the arms of teammates who had come off the bench. The Bucks who had been near the other end rushed down to join the party. Middleton quickly disappeared under the madness of a gang tackle near one of the sidelines, at the feet of fans. Fun had broken out again in Milwaukee.
Crazy finish, tough shot, playoff implications, bedlam on the court in all the right ways — the Bucks delivered everything. It’s still only March and not the very end of the regular season, but skidding Milwaukee needed that in a big way. Four Horrys.