MIAMI (AFP) — Jae Crowder scored 18 points off the bench as the Miami Heat locked down Giannis Antetokounmpo to hand the Milwaukee Bucks a 105-89 defeat on Monday.
Crowder led the scoring for the Heat as National Basketball Association (NBA) Most Valuable Player (MVP) Antetokounmpo was held to a season-low 13 points at Miami’s American Airlines Arena.
The defeat was only Milwaukee’s ninth loss of the season and helped Miami improve to 39-22 in the Eastern Conference playoff race.
The Bucks remain firmly in control of the conference standings, leading with a 52-9 record ahead of second-placed Toronto, who are 42-18.
But the previously all-conquering Bucks were given plenty of food for thought ahead of next month’s playoffs after a superb Miami display.
Miami coach Erik Spoelstra said his team had finally produced a defensive display he had believed they were capable of.
“We’ve had moments like this in us and that’s what we’ve been trying to work on,” Spoelstra said. “I’m not saying we can hold great offensive teams like this under 90 points regularly. That’s not realistic.”
“But we’ve got this version of us in us. Tonight there was a lot more focus, commitment and urgency, because of the respect level for who we were playing.”
“It was one of our better performances this season.”
Crowder led the Miami scoring along with Jimmy Butler, with both players finishing on 18 points.
No fewer than six Miami players cracked double digits, including center Bam Adebayo who also had a huge night defensively.
Adebayo finished with 14 points, pulled down 12 rebounds and forced five turnovers. The 22-year-old also made four blocks.
Brook Lopez led the Milwaukee scoring with 21 points but it was a night to forget for Antetokounmpo, who made only six of 18 shooting attempts.
A subdued Antetokounmpo admitted the Bucks had been outplayed and outfought on the night.
“They’re a team that play hard and that’s what they did tonight,” Antetokounmpo told reporters. “It wasn’t just tough for me, it was tough for everybody.”
Elsewhere on Monday, the Houston Rockets suffered a shock reverse to the lowly New York Knicks, losing 125-123 at Madison Square Garden.
James Harden led the scoring with 35 points — including 16 free throws — while Russell Westbrook added 24.
But the Rockets were always chasing the game after falling behind in the first quarter as the Knicks pulled away to lead by 21 points at one stage.
RJ Barrett top-scored with 27 points for the Knicks, who had seven players make double figures.
Barrett sealed the win with a driving hoop with 7.6 seconds remaining to mark the era of new team president Leon Rose — who officially joined the Knicks earlier Monday — with a victory.
Power forward Julius Randle had 16 points — and 16 rebounds — while Bobby Portis and Wayne Ellington both delivered 15 points each from the bench.
Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni said his team had not been mentally prepared for the game following Sunday’s overtime win over Boston.
“We won a big game against Boston and came here and we weren’t ready to play for the first 20 minutes. They did well, played a good game, but our first three quarters were lackadaisical,” D’Antoni said.
“When you don’t have the appropriate fear or force, stuff happens and they started hitting shots. Give them credit, they played well.”
The victory lifted the Knicks into 13th place in the Eastern Conference standings with 19 wins and 42 defeats.