Even before Game 6, in the Bucks’ victory over the Nets in the Eastern Conference Semifinal Series, their grasp of any lead was negligible at best. It seems that Milwaukee is only one step away from giving Brooklyn control.
In the game on Thursday night, the feeling—the anxiety, Are they going to blow again -Appeared many times, but something has changed. In other words, someone has changed.
With the Bucks facing elimination, Chris Middleton scored 38 points (11 of 16 shots), 10 rebounds, 5 assists and 5 steals in Milwaukee’s 104-89 victory. His best performance in the playoffs. But Middleton’s influence cannot be measured by his data line alone, even though it looks beautiful. Whenever the Bucks approached rough waters, the two-time All-Star can also hold his ground.
After trailing by double digits in the first half, the Nets narrowed the Bucks’ lead to five points with two minutes left in the second quarter. Middleton made two of the five three-pointers before halftime, giving Milwaukee a buffer of 11 points.
With less than two minutes left in the third quarter, Brooklyn once again reduced the score to five points. Middleton responded with two mid-range jumpers and buzzer layups during the transition, pushing the lead back to 11.
Finally, when the Nets narrowed their lead to 5 points early in the fourth quarter, Middleton caused a shooting foul on Joe Harris from outside the three-point line and made three free throws. This caused the Bucks to score 14-0, effectively ending any chance for the Nets to make a comeback.
“When you go from one game to another, the playoffs are all about adjustments. We definitely know [in Game 5],” Middleton told ESPN’s Scott Van Pelt“We were slightly ahead at halftime. We were able to maintain the lead and then extend the lead there in the fourth quarter. They continued to run-we knew they would continue to run-but we still had the ability to remain calm and Fight back.”
Giannis Antetokounmpo (30 points and 17 rebounds in Game 6) is undoubtedly the best player on the Bucks, but even the two-time MVP knows that Middleton’s skills can make him a better player at critical moments. Good offensive option, especially when he is locked out on Thursday.
“Those moments, he likes those moments,” Antetokounmpo says“He will play the right ball. We know that when he feels good, we have to pass the ball to him. I said in the past. We just need to play through him and we know he will make the right game. He Never afraid of those moments.”
Middleton came forward when Milwaukee needed him most, but the work was not done yet. The Bucks will now go to Brooklyn for Game 7 and as the two teams compete for a seat in the Eastern Conference Finals, there will almost certainly be more moments of pressure and intensity increase.
When the shooting is not falling, when the Nets are soaring, when the lead is shrinking, the Bucks will turn to Middleton to calm them down.