How Jimmy Butler, Heat pulled off stunning Game 1 upset of Bucks

The gap between the 1-seed and 8-seed is as big as it is for a reason. As the Denver Nuggets showed in their debut performance in the 2023 NBA playoffs, their sustained excellence throughout the course of the regular season can be too much to overcome, especially for a team that just came out of the play-in tournament gauntlet. But as Jimmy Butler and the Miami Heat showed on Sunday night, anything can happen in any given seven-game series, especially when a team has been through as much playoff adversity as they have.

Despite entering the night as +9.5 underdogs, the Heat inexplicably took home Game 1 against the Bucks at Fiserv Forum. But the Heat did not just squeak by the Bucks. They won with authority, as they commanded a double-digit lead for much of the second half en route to a 130-117 victory.

Only a select few outside the most loyal Heat fans gave this ragtag group of veterans a chance against the mighty Bucks, the team that finished with the best record in the association. However, as the Heat showed in Game 1, this could very well end up being a long series for the team that entered the 2023 NBA playoffs as the favorites to take home the NBA championship.

So how did the Heat manage to hold off the Bucks? And can what they did in Game 1 end up being sustainable to at least make the Eastern Conference 1-seed sweat?

Here’s a cursory look at how Jimmy Butler and the Heat managed to pull off a stunning upset against the Bucks.

Playoff Jimmy is here

Jimmy Butler is not a perfect postseason performer. As much of a myth there is surrounding his playoff alter-ego, Butler is fallible, susceptible to poor performances like most of his peers. This was the case during the Heat’s play-in contest against the Atlanta Hawks where nothing seemed to go Butler’s way. Butler finished that game with just 21 points on an inefficient 6-19 shooting from the field, failing to be the hero the Heat needed to set themselves up for a rematch against the Boston Celtics.

Nevertheless, Butler came back with a vengeance with their season on the line against the Bulls, dropping 31 points on 11-24 shooting. Evidently, he’s still feeling good, as he carried over his stellar scoring with yet another 30+ point performance in Game 1 against the Bucks, dropping 35 to go along with five rebounds and 11 assists.

Jimmy Butler put the Bucks to the sword in different ways, but he mostly did his damage rampaging towards the hoop. Butler, despite coming up against Jrue Holiday, Joe Ingles, and Wesley Matthews, three solid to stifling perimeter defenders, had his way, scoring from the mid-post area and the shaded lane even with Brook Lopez protecting the rim.

When Butler gets on a roll like this, he’s one of the most difficult players to stop in the entire league. Thanks to the 33-year old forward’s hot start to the game (he scored 14 points in the first quarter), the Heat had already built a comfortable lead which the Bucks weren’t able to overcome. (The Bucks’ last lead of the game was at 4-2.)

The Heat were on fire (pun intended) from deep

Losing Tyler Herro to a hand injury could have been a death sentence for the Heat’s inconsistent offense. Herro is the Heat’s best shooter, and he’s also their best shot creator outside of Jimmy Butler. But at least for one night, the Heat’s other shooters stepped up to the plate, which helped Miami hold on to the lead they built to begin the contest.

Kevin Love hasn’t been the best buyout acquisition for the Heat, as he shortly found himself in a limited role off the bench following his steep decline. But Love is someone who’s familiar with the bright lights of the playoffs. Love drained four triples, and it seemed to have a domino effect on his teammates. Gabe Vincent and Caleb Martin came to play, and so did Max Strus, the Heat’s play-in hero. Even Duncan Robinson drained a corner three in his limited stint on the court.

All in all, the Heat were on fire from beyond the arc, nailing 15 of their 25 attempts (60 percent), which surely isn’t a sustainable figure. But if the Heat continue to make it rain from deep, the Bucks will even have more trouble dealing with Jimmy Butler’s drives to the hoop.

Giannis Antetokounmpo injury

With how well the Heat played, it seems unfair to pin their victory on the absence of Giannis Antetokounmpo, who left the game after just 11 minutes of play after he hurt his back early on in the contest. But Antetokounmpo’s absence made it even more difficult for the Bucks to claw back from their first quarter deficit.

Antetokounmpo’s presence meant that the Bucks had an unstoppable offensive force of their own. There may not be a player in the NBA who puts more pressure on the rim than the Greek Freak. Giannis is also a headache to deal with on the defensive end, as his length and smarts enable to him to alter shots, especially when he has help defense responsibilities.

Kudos to the Heat for taking advantage of the opportunity in front of them against an Antetokounmpo-less Bucks.

The post How Jimmy Butler, Heat pulled off stunning Game 1 upset of Bucks appeared first on ClutchPoints.

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