The infuriating and mercurial Milwaukee Bucks have had a tumultuous run through the NBA playoffs, but almost in spite of themselves, they’re just a game away from the Finals.
This is a team that trailed in a game against the Brooklyn Nets by 49 points, in a series where they came back to win four of the next five games and win in seven. They don’t seem resilient, because resilient teams don’t find themselves in 49-point holes, and yet here they are.
The Milwaukee Bucks are one win away from the NBA Finals even without Giannis Antetokounmpo, and Khris Middleton’s moment of heroism has arrived.
The Bucks probably lead the NBA playoffs in befuddling player and coaching decisions (every Giannis Antetokounmpo 3-pointer, Mike Budenholzer drew up a Brook Lopez curl late in Game 7 vs Brooklyn that was aptly punished, etc etc etc) per 48 minutes, and yet, even without their best player, they stand on the verge of greatness.
In large part, Khris Middleton has not been great on the level you would expect from a potential NBA Finalist team’s second-best player. Too often, he has been average or worse, with occasional breakout games to buoy the averages and help his team stay afloat. He’s broken past the 30-point barrier three times this postseason, but he scored under 20 points in seven of his 16 games in the playoffs, including three such games in the Eastern Conference Finals against the Atlanta Hawks.
The time for an average Khris Middleton is over. From this point forth, he needs to take on the hero mantle for the Milwaukee Bucks.
With a 3-2 lead and their superstar sidelined with a hyperextended knee, Middleton and the Bucks need to pounce on their opportunity. The Atlanta Hawks are also without their own superstar, Trae Young, and giving the Hawks a new lease on life another couple of days to let him heal up from his bone bruise by losing Game 6 could be catastrophic.
By all measures, the Bucks without Giannis should be better than the Hawks without Young, and they showed that in Game 5 in a comfortable 123-112 victory. But letting the Hawks up off the mat would be a mistake of epic proportions.
That means Game 6 should be seen as a do-or-die game for the Bucks, and nobody should feel this heat more than Khris Middleton. His average scoring output in these playoffs of 22.9 points per game isn’t enough, nor are his shooting splits of 43-33-87. Middleton needs to put forth the game of his life in the most important game of his career.
If the Bucks lose this game, Antetokounmpo will likely feel compelled to play through his injury in a must-win Game 7. Not only would they likely be getting a diminished Giannis due to his hyperextended knee, but having to play him would short-circuit his recovery process for a potential NBA Finals appearance.
One more great game from Bucks role players like Bobby Portis and Brook Lopez could be enough to edge them past the Hawks and into the Finals, but the ultimate power rests in Khris Middleton’s hands. If he is great in Game 6 and the best player on the floor like he should be, victory for the Bucks is all but assured.