Milwaukee Bucks: Jrue Holiday, Khris Middleton must turn the tide at home

Jul 6, 2021; Phoenix, Arizona, USA: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Jul 6, 2021; Phoenix, Arizona, USA: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports /

Finally making their long-awaited return to the NBA Finals for the first time since 1974, the Milwaukee Bucks have disappointed throughout the first two games.

The Phoenix Suns have jumped out to a 2-0 lead in this best of seven series after handling business on their home floor. They have done it authoritatively, showing basketball brilliance with their electric offense and top-notch defense to make the Bucks look like a shell of themselves on the biggest stage possible with the world watching.

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As evidenced throughout this turbulent playoff run, the Bucks are certainly not going to lie down and die at the first sign of adversity. This team has battled back from the grave before, and they will look to shift the momentum in this matchup as the series shifts back to Milwaukee for the next two contests.

The formula to getting the Bucks on the right track to make this series competitive is no secret. In fact, it sits right before them in Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday.

Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday simply need to play better in the NBA Finals for the Milwaukee Bucks to stand a chance

These playoffs have been an inconsistent roller-coaster ride for Middleton, as some nights he will play out of his mind, while others will see him be a non-factor. It is evidently clear that he has generally played his worst basketball on the road. Although there are a few exceptions to that claim, none can be made for his two games in Phoenix.

Game 1 saw Middleton score a team-high 29 points, but it took him 26 shots from the floor to get there. Still, the forward showed heart and effort in that opening contest, two characteristics that were nowhere to be found in Thursday night’s Game 2. Middleton would score a mere 11 points in that game, plagued by a brutal 5-of-16 shooting night, including 1-of-6 from deep. He was rightfully met with hefty criticism following another lackadaisical effort.

As for Holiday, he has not been the saving grace that many believed he could be in this particular matchup either. In fact, he has been downright terrible, to put it as lightly as possible. Offensively, the guard has scored just 27 points across these first two games, shooting an abysmal 11-of-35 from the field, including 1-of-7 from 3-point range. For whatever reason, he has lost all focus in trying to score the basketball, seemingly rattled even as he maneuvers his way into the paint for a better look at the basket.

Both Middleton and Holiday were horrendous in Game 2, which made it all the more frustrating as Giannis Antetokounmpo delivered a performance for the ages. Giannis would score 42 points in a dominant display of putting the team on his back, willing them back into this game after it seemed like they had reached the point of no return. Yet, with relatively no help from his supporting starts, the Greek Freak’s effort ended in a brutal defeat.

Following a 118-108 loss in Game 2, Middleton and Holiday spoke to the media side-by-side and delivered their usual dialogue. Holiday gave his schpeel about staying aggressive on the offensive end and Middleton followed suit by discussing how he must take better looks on that same side of the ball when the opportunity arises. The two even cracked smiles despite combining to shoot an abysmal 12-of-37 from the field in a disheartening loss.

However, that is just how this team operates. All they can do is leave the past behind them and focus on the task ahead, no matter how insurmountable it might seem. Despite losing the first two games, the Bucks are by no means finished in this series, but if they will battle their way back into it, they need Middleton and Holiday to get going from the jump next game.

As evidenced by the latter two matchups in the Eastern Conference Finals against the Atlanta Hawks, they are more than capable of stepping up. After all, with Antetokounmpo sidelined with that ugly knee injury, these two paved the way and helped the Bucks reach their first NBA Finals berth in nearly 50 years. During those two games, Middleton averaged 29 points, 8.5 rebounds, and 7.5 assists, while Holiday elevated the backcourt with averages of 26 points, 7.5 rebounds, and an impressive 11 assists.

Unfortunately, this lethal one-two punch has not managed to replicate that same success to start the Finals. Heading back to Milwaukee, these first two games have hopefully served as a wake-up call for these two. These next two matchups at Fiserv Forum will be telling for the both of them with their season and title dreams hanging in the balance.

Next. Milwaukee Bucks: 3 key X-factors vs. Phoenix Suns in the NBA Finals. dark

Giannis could have more historic performances in these Finals, but if these two are struggling to reinforce him, the Bucks are doomed to suffer a calamitous fate. If they rewrite the narrative and step up, this series is far from over after a poor two-game start.