Milwaukee Bucks: Khris Middleton continues to rise to the moment

Jun 27, 2021; Atlanta, Georgia, USA: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports
Jun 27, 2021; Atlanta, Georgia, USA: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports /

In a season where the Milwaukee Bucks have been focused on rising to the biggest moments, Khris Middleton continues to prove himself capable of doing so.

Middleton’s 38-point performance powered the Bucks to a 113-102 win over the Atlanta Hawks in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals and putting the Bucks up 2-1 in the series. He did so while shooting15-for-26 from the field (6-for-12 from three), 11 rebounds and seven assists in nearly 42-and-a-half minutes of action.

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Just as he did to start out the Bucks’ series with the Brooklyn Nets last round, Middleton outscored his production from Games 1 and 2 (30) in Game 3, all of which was certainly due to his scoring spree in the fourth quarter.

As the Bucks clawed their way back after falling into such a massive deficit from the opening tip Sunday night in Atlanta, they searched for their breakthrough repeatedly throughout the second half. It’s safe to say Middleton wound up being the breakthrough the Bucks needed.

Middleton’ 20 points in the fourth quarter, including a personal 7-0 run midway through the period, proved to be the difference to outscoring the Hawks in the final frame (Atlanta finished with 17 fourth quarter points).

The two-time All-Star sprayed in shots from all of his favored spots on the floor and was in such a groove as he burned a Hawks team that was struggling to keep up, especially in light of Trae Young’s ankle injury. It was this catch-and-shoot triple from Middleton after the swing pass from P.J. Tucker that propelled the Bucks to a 101-98 lead with 5:13 to go in the fourth quarter and the Bucks didn’t look back from that moment on.

Khris Middleton keeps on rising to the occasion over the Milwaukee Bucks’ playoff run

Of course, this postseason hasn’t been short on big moments for Middleton and the Bucks.

There was the off-balanced game-winning shot in Game 1 of the Bucks’ first round series against the Miami Heat that set the tone for what was to come. Over the course of the Nets series saw Middleton deliver 38 points in an elimination game and hitting the decisive shot the Bucks needed to outlast Brooklyn in an epic Game 7 win.

Now 10 days removed from his career playoff performance, Middleton matched his highest scoring total for a playoff game and did so when the Bucks needed it most again.

Middleton’s performance left his superstar teammate, Giannis Antetokounmpo, and Bucks head coach Mike Budenholzer in awe of Middleton’s decisive scoring outburst. And as Antetokounmpo said to Yahoo! Sports’ Vincent Goodwill after the Game 3 win, the trust Middleton’s teammates have in stretches like he had over the fourth quarter certainly spoke for itself:

"“I’d take that every day,” Antetokounmpo said. “I have the whole game to be the guy. If he wants to be the guy, if PJ, if Bobby, and it helps us win the game, that’s what I care about.“I trust this guy to death. If he wants the ball, he gets it. You better give him the ball.”"

This is Middleton at his most idealized role and like the Bucks overall, he has taken the ups and downs he and the team have gone through over the last few playoff runs and have been made better for it. Where Middleton and the Bucks once shrunk in the moments that mattered most, Middleton is the embodiment of why this time around is different for Milwaukee.

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Middleton wrote nearly two years upon re-upping with the Bucks that he and the team “have unfinished business and are on a mission to win a championship.” Now, thanks to Middleton’s help, the Bucks are once again two wins away from their first trip to the NBA Finals in 47 years and he’s not letting this opportunity go to waste.