Finding a strong bench combination has been an issue all season long for the Milwaukee Bucks.
Wednesday was no different, as head coach Jason Kidd moved Greg Monroe back into the starting five while relegating Miles Plumlee back to the bench.
The move paid off, as Plumlee hit 8 of 12 shots and scored 18 points as the Bucks rallied down the stretch for a 114-108 victory over the Miami Heat at the Bradley Centre.
“Sometimes, we try to take a step back and try to not put an emphasis on starting,” Kidd said. “You just play your minutes. Miles played the same way as he did when he was starting.”
Plumlee and Monroe had switched places 12 games ago as Kidd tried to add some punch to his bench, which had been plagued by injuries and general ineffectiveness.
Both players responded well to the move, especially Plumlee, who averaged 6.9 points and 5.6 rebounds in 19.1 minutes a night.
He wasn’t the only reserve to step up in a big way for Milwaukee. Little-used point guard Tyler Ennis was pressed into action thanks to the season-ending injury to Michael Carter-Williams and a stomach virus that kept O.J. Mayo away Wednesday night.
He scored eight points with five assists in 25 minutes of work and had five in the fourth quarter as the Bucks re-took the lead and pulled away for the victory.
“We needed it tonight,” said Khris Middleton, who finished with 22. “Those guys have been working hard all year long. They finally got a chance to play some minutes and really produced out there for us.”
The Bucks held an eight-point lead early in the third quarter before Miami got on a little bit of a roll and grabbed the lead on a hook shot by Luol Deng that made it a 76-74 game with 3:49 left in the quarter.
Deng scored 11 of his 20 in the third and added seven more in the final quarter, but Milwaukee answered and tied the game at 89 on a Middleton jumper with 8:15 remaining.
Wade found Deng open in the corner to put the Heat back up three, but a bucket and two free throws by Plumlee put Milwaukee back in front.
A layup by Giannis Antetokounmpo pushed the lead to five with 6:07 remaining and Milwaukee held on for the victory.
“I don’t think they really knew what they wanted to do with me and Giannis in the pick-and-roll, so it worked out for us,” said Middleton.
“It’s something that we’ve been doing lately with smaller guys guarding me and him, so it’s been working for us.”
Miami and Milwaukee both shot 52.5 percent from the field, hitting an identical 42 of 80 shots.
And while the Heat outperformed from beyond the arc, hitting 6 of 15 compared to 4 of 8 for Milwaukee, the Bucks held an advantage at the free-throw line, making 26 of 37 while Miami made just 18 in 19 trips, and also capitalised on second-chance points, scoring 19 off 12 offensive rebounds.
But Miami’s good shooting was nullified by carelessness; Milwaukee forced 17 turnovers which the Bucks flipped for 23 points.
“They had 66 paint points, we had 60. They beat us at the line. They beat us in second chance points,” said Dwyane Wade, who scored 18 but was forced to play with four fouls for much of the final quarter.
“But as a team, we had just too many turnovers.”
Josh Richardson hit three 3-pointers and finished with 14 points while Hassan Whiteside scored 23 off the bench to lead Miami, which had its five-game winning streak snapped.
The Bucks got 24 from Antetokounmpo and 23 from Jabari Parker while Monroe finished with 10 and eight rebounds.