The Milwaukee Bucks’ hopes of winning their first NBA title since 1971 got off to a rocky start.
Nikola Vucevic scored a playoff career-high 35 points and had 14 rebounds, and the Orlando Magic stunned the top-seeded Bucks 122-110 on Tuesday in the league’s fan-free Disney World bubble.
Terrence Ross scored 18 points, Gary Clark added 15 and D.J. Augustin had 11 points and 11 assists for the eighth-seeded Magic, who were 14-point underdogs.
“We don’t care what other people have to say,” Vucevic said. “We focus on ourselves and we came out and played a great game on both ends of the floor.”
Giannis Antetokounmpo finished with 31 points, 17 rebounds and seven assists for Milwaukee. Last season’s MVP was held without a field goal over the final 11 minutes and seemed to get more frustrated as the fourth quarter went on.
“You have to really be ready for what they do,” Vucevic said. “Especially us against a team like Milwaukee where we have to make sure we know their stuff and we are prepared for everything. Tonight, we definitely were on top of that. We did a good job executing the game plan.”
The Bucks came into the post-season as the favourites to win the NBA title. But they went 3-5 in seeding games in the bubble, and that sluggish play carried over into the post-season.
George Hill said the Bucks needed to do some “soul searching.”
Antetokounmpo didn’t go that far, saying the Bucks’ energy level was fine, but that they need to make more shots. Milwaukee made 43 per cent from the field and was 14 of 42 from 3-point land.
“There’s no magic wand to point and things are going to change,” Antetokounmpo said. “You’ve got to come out, play hard, play even harder, play together and have fun.”
Milwaukee swept the season series against Orlando, winning four games by an average of 17 points, but struggled with the Magic’s stingy defence, which caused 16 turnovers and repeatedly clogged the lane, forcing Antetokounmpo to settle for jump shots.
The Bucks’ frustration was evident when centre Brook Lopez stomped on a chair — and then kicked it — in the bench area during a timeout.
“Obviously, our main focus was try to make it hard on Giannis, to protect the paint,” Vucevic said. “We did that as a team. Gary [Clark] did a great job fighting him and we were able to help.”
Butler, Heat get past Pacers
Jimmy Butler scored 28 points, Goran Dragic had 24 and the Miami Heat beat the Indiana Pacers 113-101 on Tuesday in the opener of their Eastern Conference first-round series.
The Heat pulled away in the closing minutes, long after the Pacers had lost star guard Victor Oladipo to an eye injury.
Indiana went 6-2 in the seeding games and Miami was 3-5, with the teams splitting a pair of meetings. The Pacers’ victory on Friday in the finale allowed them to take the No. 4 seed, which in other years would have been a bigger deal because it meant Indiana would have had home-court advantage.
Butler seemed to treat it like a road game, appearing to jaw at one point toward the virtual Pacers fans filling the sides of the arena in the NBA’s Disney World bubble.
T,J. Warren and Malcolm Brogdon scored 22 points apiece for the Pacers, who will try to even the series on Thursday.
Oladipo was limited to 8 minutes before he was scratched in the left eye with 3:26 remaining in the first quarter, appearing to be hit first by Miami’s Jae Crowder.
Rockets blast past Thunder
James Harden had 37 points and 11 rebounds, and the Houston Rockets rolled past the Oklahoma City Thunder 123-108 on Tuesday in Game 1 of their first-round Western Conference playoff series.
Houston all-star Russell Westbrook, who played his previous 11 years with the Thunder, was out with a quad injury. The fourth-seeded Rockets still made 20 3-pointers and shot 48 per cent from the field.
Danilo Gallinari matched a playoff career high with 29 points for the fifth-seeded Thunder. Chris Paul, who joined the Oklahoma City in the trade that sent Westbrook to Houston, finished with 20 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists. Steven Adams added 17 points and 12 rebounds.
Gordon scored 16 points and Harden had 15 in the first half to help the Rockets take a 68-52 lead. Oklahoma City cut its deficit to 10 at one point in the third quarter, but the Rockets pulled away and led 104-83 heading into the fourth.