After their win streak was snapped by the New York Knicks on Christmas Day, the Milwaukee Bucks aimed to start a new one against the Brooklyn Nets.
This was an odd game. On the second night of a back to back, the Nets rolled out their usual starters who were not injured, but they did not play too much. Mikal Bridges, Cam Thomas, and Royce O'Neale all played 12 minutes or less in total. It seemed like Brooklyn wanted to give their younger guys a shot to show what they had against a top team in the Bucks.
For three quarters, that didn't look like a bad move. Despite their inexperience, the young Nets put up a tremendous fight against the Bucks and hung with them for most of the game. However, the Bucks kicked it into another gear in the fourth quarter, outscoring Brooklyn 44-30 in the last frame to secure a 144-122 road victory.
Khris Middleton shines, key reserve gives Milwaukee Bucks a jolt in win over Brooklyn Nets
There was certainly plenty of discourse surrounding Khris Middleton's slow start to the NBA season as he recovered from an off-season procedure. Despite how impatient fans were, everyone knew it would take some time for Middleton to find his groove, and it appears he has done so lately, which was on full display against Brooklyn.
The small forward clocked in 27 points and 10 assists, both of which were new season-highs for him. When he looked to score, he was incredibly efficient, shooting 11-of-18 from the floor (61.1 percent), including 3-of-7 from deep (42.9 percent). His shot looked pure right away, but even when he wasn't looking to score, he made an impact by finding his teammates with those 10 assists.
It's no secret that the Bucks need Middleton to be at his best if they will see any major success in the 2023-24 campaign, so his recent play, especially in this game, has been beyond welcoming.
Speaking of season-highs, backup point guard Cameron Payne tied his by scoring 18 points on an efficient 6-of-9 shooting, including 5-of-8 from deep. It was one of those games where it felt as if it was going in every time the ball left Payne's fingertips. Not only that, but Payne also handed out six assists of his own to give the Bucks a huge spark off of the bench.
Milwaukee's bench play has been hot and cold all season, so they will certainly take a game like this from Payne any day of the week. While his production hasn't been through the roof, he's shown that he can make a legitimate difference with his marksmanship and facilitating prowess. He'd been in a big slump lately, so hopefully this performance can help him snap out of it.
Giannis Antetokounmpo had an efficient outing that nearly resulted in a triple-double, having tallied 32 points, 10 rebounds, and eight assists. He shot 10-of-12 from the floor (83.3 percent), having had his way down low. On a night where the Bucks were also noticeably sluggish defensively, he picked up the slack mightily, especially with two huge blocks.
After going scoreless in his previous outing, Malik Beasley came out with a purpose against Brooklyn, having finished with 17 points on five made triples. There were several plays where Beasley was left wide open with the ball in his hands and was almost shocked because he was too wide open, but he knocked down the triple regardless. That's the gravity of Giannis, Middleton, and the other Bucks.
Elsewhere, it was a tough night for Damian Lillard, who had 12 points on 3-of-9 3-point shooting. Bobby Portis had 14 points, six rebounds, and four assists, and MarJon Beauchamp provided a boost by clocking in 11 points, five rebounds, two assists, and a steal. His biggest highlight was a dunk that got Milwaukee's bench on its feet.
Led by Middleton and Antetokounmpo, the Milwaukee Bucks tallied 41 assists as a team, as everyone was sharing the ball with one another.
For the Nets, Jalen Wilson had a career game off of the bench, tallying 21 points and 10 rebounds in extended minutes. Six other Nets finished in double figures, including a handful of younger players who were getting legitimate minutes.
Ultimately, it wasn't pretty for the first three quarters, but Milwaukee got the job done, which is the most important thing. It was also great to see that Middleton found his footing and continued to his recent stretch of strong play. Hopefully this is just the beginning for him as his minutes increase.
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