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Heat oust depleted Bucks to reach NBA East finals

Miami’s Jimmy Butler drives to the Basket against Eric Bledsoe and Wesley Matthews in the Heat’s series-clinching NBA playoff victory over the Milwaukee Bucks.

The Miami Heat punched their ticket to the NBA Eastern Conference finals yesterday, beating top-seeded Milwaukee 103-94 as injured Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo watched from the bench.

Jimmy Butler and Goran Dragic finished with 17 points apiece as six Heat players scored in double figures and Miami completed a 4-1 series victory in a bruising encounter against the league’s top defensive team.

Khris Middleton led the Bucks with 23 points.

Antetokounmpo — tipped to scoop a second straight NBA Most Valuable Player award this season — aggravated his sprained right ankle in the first half of the Bucks’ game-four overtime victory over the Heat.

The Bucks declared him inactive less than an hour before tipoff yesterday.

The loss of Antetokounmpo, who averaged career highs of 29.5 points and 13.6 rebounds per game this season, was a huge blow for the Bucks, as they tried to do what no NBA team has done before: come back from an 0-3 deficit to win a seven-game playoff series.

It’s the second straight campaign that the Bucks built the best regular-season record only to come up short in the playoffs.

In 2019 they fell to the eventual champion Toronto Raptors in six games in the Eastern Conference finals.

The fifth-seeded Heat will face either the Boston Celtics or Toronto Raptors for a place in the NBA Finals.

The Celtics lead their series against the defending NBA champion Raptors three games to two.

Butler, who added 10 rebounds and six assists and was a perfect eight-for-eight from the foul line, said the Heat’s impressive 8-1 record so far in the playoffs means nothing now.

In Western Conference action, LeBron James scored 36 points and Anthony Davis added 26 as the Los Angeles Lakers powered to the finish in a 112-102 victory over the Houston Rockets.

The Lakers grabbed a 2-1 series lead and James notched an NBA record 162nd career playoff win.*AFP

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