Milwaukee Bucks: Khris Middleton has his playoff moment

LAKE BUENA VISTA, FLORIDA - SEPTEMBER 06: (Photo by Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images)
LAKE BUENA VISTA, FLORIDA - SEPTEMBER 06: (Photo by Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images) /

By tooth and nail, the Milwaukee Bucks staved off elimination in Game 4 Sunday afternoon against the Miami Heat, thanks to the gutsy effort of Khris Middleton.

It turns out the Milwaukee Bucks wouldn’t go down without a fight.

Their 118-115 Game 4 overtime victory over the Miami Heat Sunday afternoon saved the Bucks from the embarrassment of enduring a four-game sweep, all while they had lost their superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo after he re-aggravated his sprained ankle near the start of the second quarter.

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Of course, all of this wouldn’t have been possible if not for Bucks All-Star forward Khris Middleton stepping into the shoes of his superstar teammate and steering them to an incredibly unlikely victory.

Being thrust into such a role hasn’t been in Middleton’s nature, but it’s certainly one that he has increasingly embraced over this series specifically. But none of it could compare to the gargantuan workload he took on after Antetokounmpo went back to the locker room.

From the moment that Antetokounmpo was lost for the game, which came at the 10:17 mark of the second quarter, to the end of the overtime period, Middleton compiled a 40 usage percentage, per All while he played 36 minutes and 59 seconds out of a possible 40 minutes and 43 seconds.

It wasn’t lost on any Bucks fan that it took for Game 4 and facing elimination for head coach Mike Budenholzer to turn his players loose for extensive minutes, nor was it lost just how immense Middleton was under such circumstances.

The two-time All-Star’s measured shotmaking ability was on full display as he and other Bucks looked to routinely set up switches and mismatches for Middleton to feast and launch up quality looks from his favorite spots on the floor. It certainly set the stage for Middleton’s incredible 21-point third quarter and the fact that he scored 34 points on 23 shots (3-for-5 from three, 9-for-9 from the free throw line) from the moment that Antetokounmpo left the floor.

With the Bucks’ offense tilted so much toward his presence and often under high-pressured situations, Middleton provided a spark and a balance for a Bucks team that has been in desperate need of some all series, especially on that end of the floor. To that point, the difference in the Bucks’ offensive rating when Middleton is on versus when he is off the floor is +20.7 points per 100 possessions.

Middleton has done that while providing excellent defense throughout the series, especially on Heat sharpshooter Duncan Robinson. Middleton’s length, anticipation and ability to dodge screens set by the likes of Bam Adebayo or Kelly Olynyk to free up Robinson has bothered Robinson into going 5-for-15 from three over 62.2 partial possessions across the series.

Averaging 26.3 points on .446/.375/.957 shooting splits, 7 assists and 5.8 rebounds as Middleton is doing this series certainly stands on its own and in the face of the Bucks’ natural order of operation breaking down. In many ways, Middleton’s performance in Game 4 served as a fitting metaphor for how he’s lifted the Bucks all throughout their series against the Heat.

After completing the overtime win Sunday evening, Bucks guard Eric Bledsoe summed it up best when talking about Middleton’s efforts to Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s Matt Velazquez and reiterated that it has been nothing new for he and his teammates:

"“He did an amazing job. It’s nothing new for us,” Bucks guard Eric Bledsoe said. “The way he stepped up offensively for us, man, he did what he’s supposed to do.”"

Middleton has certainly taken on the role of the Bucks’ iron man, so to speak, in past playoff runs.

One can only think of when the Bucks bowed out of their first round series to the Toronto Raptors back in the 2017 NBA Playoffs, a series in which Middleton played with a severe case of strep throat all throughout and was even hospitalized after the heartbreaking Game 6 defeat. ESPN’s Zach Lowe detailed the severity of Middleton’s illness during a profile on Middleton last year after his first All-Star appearance, which included this anecdote:

"“When John Hammond, then the Bucks’ GM, learned the extent of Middleton’s health issues, he took a Middleton bobblehead from his office cabinet, perched it on his desk, and used it as a prompt during exit interviews, teammates recall: We all need to put ourselves on the line like this guy.”"

There’s differing circumstances across many levels this time around, but the same sentiment applies more than three years later and with the Bucks clinging to this current lifeline. Even as the odds still remain stacked against the Bucks after such a shocking series and Antetokounmpo’s status moving forward is shrouded in uncertainty.

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Middleton’s certainly had his moments of brilliance in past Bucks playoff runs, yet very few rank on the level of poise, valiance and triumph he enjoyed throughout Game 4. Whatever remains of the Bucks’ season, Middleton will make sure they will at least go down swinging.