Jimmy Butler and the Miami Heat are headed to the Eastern Conference finals.
The fifth-seeded Heat finished off an upset of the NBA’s best regular-season team Tuesday, topping the Milwaukee Bucks 103-94 in Game 5 of their East semifinal series — while Antetokounmpo, the league’s reigning MVP, couldn’t play because of a sprained right ankle.
“We have deep, deep respect for that franchise and it’s unfortunate that Giannis couldn’t play tonight,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said.
WATCH | Heat complete upset of No. 1 Bucks:
Butler and Goran Dragic each scored 17 points for the Heat, who won the series 4-1 and will face either Boston or Toronto when the NBA’s final four gets underway next week. It’s Miami’s first time in the East finals since 2014, and the first time Butler has gotten this deep in the playoffs.
“It means a lot,” Butler said. “But that’s not my goal. That’s not my guys’ goal. That’s not the organization’s goal. We want to win ‘it.’ We want a championship and I think that’s what we’re focused on. These next eight are going to be much harder than the previous eight. We know that. But we’re ready for them.”
Jae Crowder scored 16, Tyler Herro scored 14, Bam Adebayo had 13 and Kelly Olynyk had 12 for the Heat.
The decision to not let Antetokounmpo play came down about 45 minutes before game time.
“I wanted to play,” Antetokounmpo said. “You know I wanted to play. I know I wanted to play. My coach knows I wanted to play, but at the end of the day, the organization put my health over Game 5. That’s big.”
Antetokounmpo did what he could — cheering from the bench throughout, rebounding for teammates during pregame warmups and again at halftime, offering words during time-outs.
And the Bucks were inspired from the jump.
But the NBA’s No. 1 overall seed in these playoffs — a league-best 56-17 in the regular season — just didn’t have enough. A very memorable ride ended, after a season where Milwaukee likely had a back-to-back MVP, the best record in the game and led a player boycott earlier in these playoffs to reiterate the primary mission of this restarted season, that being using the NBA platform to highlight a need to end racial injustice.
“You always want to realize those expectations, but the relationships, the character, what this group did … it would be great if you could have both, but I think if you’re going to choose one, I’d like to be with guys with high character who stand for something,” Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said.
In the end, Miami just had a bit more. They became the lowest-seeded team to make the East finals since eighth-seeded New York in 1999.
“We want people to continue to count us out,” Butler said.
Lakers use 4th quarter to burst past Rockets
LeBron James scored 36 points, Rajon Rondo sparked a fourth-quarter rally and the Los Angeles Lakers beat the Houston Rockets 112-102 on Tuesday night to take a 2-1 lead in their Western Conference playoff series.
James earned his NBA-record 162nd playoff victory, surpassing former Lakers guard Derek Fisher’s 161.
Rondo had 21 points and nine assists as the Lakers broke open a close game in the final period. He scored eight straight points during a 10-0 run early in the fourth quarter that put the Lakers ahead for good. Rondo assisted on the other basket during that stretch.
Rondo assisted on a layup by James that put the Lakers ahead with about 10 minutes remaining. Rondo then hit a 3-pointer to give the Lakers an 89-85 advantage, their largest lead to that point.
After a Houston timeout, Westbrook missed a shot and Rondo sank another 3. Rondo then stole the ball from Harden and made a layup to cap the 10-0 run.
LA controlled the final period for the second straight game. The Lakers blew a 21-point lead in Game 2 but outscored Houston by 10 in the fourth quarter to win 117-109.
Donovan out as Thunder head coach
Billy Donovan won’t return as coach of the Oklahoma City Thunder after five seasons, the team announced Tuesday night.
Donovan, who was at the end of his contract, took the Thunder to the playoffs every year and was a finalist for Coach of the Year this season after his squad outperformed expectations and pushed the Houston Rockets to seven games in the first round of the playoffs.
Donovan went 243-157 with Oklahoma City. Before that, he led the University of Florida to two national championships and four Final Four appearances in 19 seasons.
The team and Donovan described his departure as a mutual decision. Thunder general manager Sam Presti said he couldn’t give Donovan the assurances he wanted about the future.
“It became apparent that we couldn’t provide him the information on the future direction of the team over the next several seasons to give him the level of clarity that he understandably desires at this stage of his career,” Presti said.