Milwaukee Bucks: Trusting Khris Middleton in clutch time pays off in NBA Finals

Jul 14, 2021; Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA (Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports)
Jul 14, 2021; Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA (Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports) /

These are the moments that the Milwaukee Bucks have been increasingly built for and why they have entrusted Khris Middleton down the stretch of close games.

With a sold-out crowd at Fiserv Forum at the edge of their seats, the Bucks delivered a gritty, grimy 109-103 victory in Game 4 of their NBA Finals series with the Phoenix Suns that helped even up the series.

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Through all of the adversity and hard work spent chasing the game just in order to stay within striking distance of a Suns team that had Devin Booker delivering an all-time performance in his own right, Middleton and the Bucks kept chopping wood and carrying water as Bucks legend Marques Johnson would say.

Middleton finished with a team-high 40 points on 15-for-33 shooting (3-for-8 from deep, 7-of-8 from the free throw line), six rebounds and four assists in 43 minutes of run Wednesday night.

For as much as Middleton was the Bucks’ heartbeat for the night, he saved his best for last, just as the Bucks did as a whole. The two-time All-Star propelled the Bucks down the stretch where he scored 10 of his 14 points in the fourth quarter over the final two minutes and seven seconds in the frame.

The go-ahead bucket was just vintage Middleton as he snaked his way around a dribble handoff set up by Giannis Antetokounmpo and knocked down an off-balanced pull-up jumper over the outstretched arms of Deandre Ayton to put the Bucks up 101-99 with 1:29 to go.

And while Middleton’s late-scoring outburst was inflated by the Suns fouling him as they tried to claw back in the waning moments, it shouldn’t overshadow the magnitude of his performance during that stretch and all night long.

The Milwaukee Bucks have trusted Khris Middleton late in close games all season long

Nights and wins like the Bucks had in Game 4 don’t just come out of nowhere, no matter how it seemed in the moment.

Milwaukee putting trust in Middleton to carry them home late has been a natural progression all season long, both in the regular season and now in the playoffs. It’s now helped Middleton have a number of amazing clutch moments that have carried the Bucks this far and helped him match LeBron James with having the most game-tying or go-ahead shots in a single playoff run over the last 25 years, per ESPN Stats & Info.

The foundation of that trust comes over the course of the long journey Middleton and Antetokounmpo have been on since arriving to Milwaukee and as they have been the 1-2 punch to carry the Bucks to the NBA Finals this season. As Antetokounmpo discussed after the Game 4 win with ESPN’s Tim Bontemps last night, the trust that the two-time MVP has in Middleton has been earned:

"“I’m proud,” Antetokounmpo said. “I’m very proud. But, as I’ve said, it comes down to trust. I trust him.“You know, win or lose, I’m okay with it. Usually when you’re going down the stretch in a game like this, whatever game you play, you want to take it upon yourself. Win or lose, you’re like, ‘OK, I took a shot, I lost the game, I won the game.’“But it comes down to trust. I know [my teammates] are going to make the right play and I know they are going to deliver the ball when I’m open. But what [Middleton] did tonight was incredible.”"

Next. Takeaways from Bucks' stunning Game 4 win vs. Phoenix Suns. dark

It was far from pretty, but the Bucks got the job done to even up the series now as it goes back to Phoenix. They did so relying on the greatness of their best players, with Antetokounmpo delivering a block for the ages while Middleton put them over the top with everything on the line.