LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – Jimmy Butler sent the ball out to Jae Crowder, then started celebrating before his teammate even took the shot.
He knew what was about to happen.
The Miami Heat did it again — and have the Milwaukee Bucks, the No. 1 overall seed in the NBA playoffs, on the brink of leaving the bubble weeks earlier than they anticipated.
Butler scored 17 of his 30 points in the fourth quarter, the Heat outscored the Bucks 40-13 in those final 12 minutes — the biggest fourth-quarter margin in NBA playoff history — and topped Milwaukee 115-100 to take a 3-0 lead in the Eastern Conference semifinal series.
“No, I'm not surprised," Butler said. “I think everybody else in the world might be. But not us here. Not if you wear a Heat jersey, if you're one of these coaches, if you're part of this organization, if you've been seeing what we've been doing all year long, that doesn't surprise us."
No team in NBA history has ever won after trailing 3-0.
“It can be us," reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo said. “It can definitely be us."
Bam Adebayo had 20 points and 16 rebounds, and Crowder had 17 points to help the Heat improve to 7-0 in this postseason. Brook Lopez scored 22 points for Milwaukee, which got 21 points, 16 rebounds and nine assists from Antetokounmpo — who twisted an ankle in the first quarter and appeared to labor at times.
He said he was fine afterward.
The Bucks' spirit, that has to be hurting. They led by 14 late in the third, and by 12 going into the fourth. Then, disaster: Milwaukee shot 6 for 23 from the field, 0 for 10 from 3-point range and got outscored 17-13 by Butler alone.
“They made every play," Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said. “And we didn't make enough, obviously."
The Heat pulled off their biggest fourth-quarter playoff comeback ever. They were down 10 going into the fourth quarter of Game 6 of the 2013 NBA Finals against San Antonio, the game where Ray Allen sent it to overtime with a 3-pointer with 5.2 seconds left on the way to Miami’s most recent title.
Milwaukee led 87-75 going into the final quarter, up 12 with 12 minutes to go in a game that the Bucks knew they almost certainly had to win to keep any realistic hopes of winning a championship alive.
Miami had other ideas.
Tyler Herro opened the fourth with a 3-pointer, Goran Dragic made another 3 about three minutes later to cut the deficit to four, and the Heat were off and running. Butler had the next nine Miami points as the Heat went back on top, and he set Adebayo up for a short basket with 4:20 remaining to restore a 100-99 lead.
And Butler might have delivered the dagger with a pass; he found Jae Crowder for a left-wing 3-pointer with 2:15 left to put Miami up 107-100.
Butler knew it was good — he was running the other way, his arm in the air, before Crowder’s shot even found the inside of the net.
“It just shows how good of a basketball player Jimmy is," “It's not just about his scoring. ... He does whatever's necessary to help your team have a chance to win and that's on both ends of the court."
Crowder's 3 was part of a 17-1 run to end the game.
Milwaukee needed less than five minutes to go on a 21-6 run that put the Bucks up 87-73 late in the third. Lopez and George Hill combined for the first 11 points of that run.
But the fourth, all Miami.
“We’re still here in the bubble," Hill said. “It’s not the first one to win three games. It’s the first one to win four games. We still have basketball to play."
Bucks: Milwaukee fell to 0-7 against Miami in playoff games. ... Antetokounmpo’s struggles from the line continued, with him going 3 for 8 in the first half — dropping him to 19 for his last 42 in the playoffs. He was 4 for 4 after halftime. ... The Bucks missed their last 10 shots.
Heat: With Kelly Olynyk (bruised knee) out, Meyers Leonard got his first minutes of the playoffs. Leonard started for much of the season before a nasty ankle sprain in early February; Friday marked just his third appearance in the last seven months. ... Miami took 47 3-pointers (making 18). The 47 3s were a playoff team record and second-most in team history overall.
A dunk in the fourth quarter gave Antetokounmpo 19 points on the night and 1,000 in his 42-game playoff career. He’s the 32nd player to score at least 1,000 points in his first 42 NBA playoff games; Michael Jordan has the most in that span, at 1,495.
Miami’s plan of turning its home arena into an early voting location starting next month was denied Friday by elections officials in Miami-Dade County. “(If) forces involved in making this decision think this will quiet our voice on the critical importance of voting, they should know that we will not be deterred,” the team said. Many NBA teams are trying to host voting centers this fall, in part because of the agreement struck last week when players elected to continue the season.
Game 4 is Sunday.
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