SportsPulse: The Milwaukee Bucks secured their superstar for another 5 years, but USA TODAY Sports’ Jeff Zillgitt explains why the team needs to continue developing a championship caliber roster. USA TODAY
MIAMI — Coming off a disappointing loss at New York and beginning the first of back-to-back games in Miami, Milwaukee Bucks head coach Mike Budenholzer ran out some different lineup combinations early in Tuesday night’s game.
Those combinations not only turned the Heat over but got the Bucks’ offense rolling in a big way to set up a record-setting 144-97 victory at American Airlines Arena.
During the blowout, in which the Bucks pushed their lead to as many 50 points, they set an NBA single-game record for 3-pointers with 29 in 51 attempts (56.9%) from long range. To complement the outside shooting, the Bucks (2-2) forced 22 turnovers and scored 31 points off them. Coming into the game, the Bucks were 29th in the NBA in opponent turnover percentage.
To get off to a hot start, Bucks center Brook Lopez was an offensive focal point early, and he scored a season-high 11 points in first five minutes of the game. The Bucks used four early Heat turnovers to jump out to 12-0 and 25-6 leads in the opening quarter.
Full highlights from tonight’s record-breaking performance. pic.twitter.com/6Wk1M4XoZP
— Milwaukee Bucks (@Bucks) December 30, 2020
“I think Brook really deserves the credit for kind of just stepping up and making plays out of the gate,” Budenholzer said. “He’s mixing in some drives and then he gets the 3-pointer with a foul. He just made two, three, four plays, set the tone early. But it was really more just him taking an aggressive mindset and taking what the game gives him.”
It was early, but without star Jimmy Butler and facing a relentless Milwaukee defense — and hot shooting hands — the game was effectively over for the Heat (1-2) after just one quarter.
To keep the pressure on, however, the Bucks rotated in D.J. Augustin and Bobby Portis off the bench. They were then joined by Pat Connaughton and Thanasis Antetokounmpo, who along with Jrue Holiday helped push the first quarter margin to as large as 24 points.
In the second quarter Bryn Forbes rotated in to join Thanasis Antetokounmpo, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Lopez and Connaughton to go up 31.
Nine Bucks combined to hit a franchise-record 16 3-pointers in the first half, and the variety helped create 14 Heat turnovers, which led to 21 points and an 83-51 halftime lead.
“It’s the sport,” Budenholzer said of seeing all the 3s fall for his team. “You need your team to make more and their team to make less of ’em. it was a good night. You gotta acknowledge it. Some nights the basketball gods are with you a little bit and it was probably one of those nights for us. But I liked our defense, too. I think the energy on both ends of the court feeds and builds on each other and good things will happen.”
The Bucks shot a blistering 56.9% from 3-point range in their record-setting performance. (Photo: Michael Reaves, Getty Images)
The Bucks coupled their hot 3-point shooting (59.3%) in the first half with 23 fastbreak points and 16 in the paint. All 10 players who saw court time scored, and the bench had 21 points in the half.
Khris Middleton continued his torrid start to the year, scoring 20 points on 8-of-9 shooting before the break. Holiday (13) and DiVincenzo (11) joined Lopez in double figures while Giannis Antetokounmpo handed out five assists to go with seven first-half points.
Tyler Herro tried his best to keep pace with the Bucks in the opening half, scoring 20 The Heat shot 50%, but they lost too many possessions to the Bucks with the turnovers.
“The defense is the important thing,” Lopez said. “I’m super proud of the way we played defense after we allowed 130 or whatever in New York and to allow 80-whatever, tonight, that’s even better.”
The Bucks’ 32-point halftime lead was the largest in franchise history on the road, per ESPN Stats and Information.
The Milwaukee starters opened the second half and maintained the large margin and energy on defense, and the Heat didn’t get a second player to join Herro in double digits until Bam Adebayo made a layup with just under seven minutes to go in the third.
Middleton (25 points, five assists), Holiday (24 points, seven assists, three steals), Lopez (14 points) and Giannis Antetokounmpo (nine points, six assists) were done for the game late in the third quarter with the Bucks up 101-66, so it was DiVincenzo who set the franchise mark for 3-pointers with 23 when his attempt with 1:06 to go in the third quarter swished through.
DiVincenzo was done shortly thereafter, hitting 5-of-6 3s to score 17 points. He added two steals.
Interestingly, some Bucks players knew they were on the verge of challenging the NBA record for 3-pointers in a game, but Budenholzer had no idea it was happening. Budenholzer didn’t find out until his postgame media session, but some like Lopez hoped it might happen.
D.J. Wilson then tied the NBA mark at 27 when his deep shot put the Bucks up 128-83 with 7:51 to go.
“I’ll be honest, I had my fingers crossed a little bit because it is a cool record,” Lopez said.
Sam Merrill then added his name to the record books, as the rookie pulled up with 6:07 left and knocked down the league-record 28th 3-pointer of the night for the Bucks.
Merrill, on the other hand, didn’t know his part in history until after the game.
“It’s exciting,” he said. “Happened to be in the right place at the right time and happened to make the shot.”
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