Khris Middleton gives Bucks steadying force they need in Game 6 win over Nets

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Even in the games the Bucks hadwon against the Nets in their Eastern Conference semifinal series prior toGame 6, their grasp on anyleadfelt tenuous, at best. Itoftenseemed as though Milwaukee wasjust one poor stretchaway from letting Brooklyn take control.

In Thursday night’s contest, that feeling that uneasy, are-they-going-to-blow-it-again feeling emergedmultiple times, but something changed. Or rather, someone changed.

MORE: Breaking down 76ers’ Game 5 collapse vs. Hawks

With the Bucks facing elimination, Khris Middleton delivered his best performance of the postseason, totaling 38 points (11-of-16 shooting from the field),10 rebounds, five assists andfive stealsin Milwaukee’s 104-89 win. But Middleton’s impact couldn’t be measured by just his stat line, as pretty as it looks. The two-time All-Star also steadied the ship each timethe Bucks approachedrough waters.

After falling behind by double digitsin the first half, the Nets cut the Bucks’ lead to five with two minutes left in the second quarter. Middleton hit two of his five 3-pointers before halftime, giving Milwaukee an 11-point cushion.

Brooklyn once again cut the deficit to five with less than two minutes to go in the third quarter. Middleton responded with two midrange jumpers and a buzzer-beating layup in transition, pushing the lead back to 11.

And finally, when the Nets chopped the lead down to five early in the fourth quarter, Middleton drew a shootingfoul on Joe Harris from beyond the arc and hit all three free throws. That sparked a 14-0 Bucks run, effectively ending any chance of a Nets comeback.

“The playoffs are all about adjustments when you go from game to game. We definitely learned that [in Game 5],”Middleton told ESPN’s Scott Van Pelt. “We had a little lead here at halftime. We were able to keep that lead and then extend it there in the fourth quarter. They went on a run we know they’re going to go on runs but we’vestill got to keep our composure and fight back.”

Giannis Antetokounmpo(30 points, 17 rebounds in Game 6) is unquestionably the Bucks’ best player, but even the two-time MVP knows that Middleton’s skill set can make him a better offensive option in crunch time, especially when he’s as locked in as he was on Thursday.

“Those moments, he loves those moments,” Antetokounmpo said.”He’s going to make the right play. We know that when he feels good, we’ve got to give him the ball. I’ve said it in the past. We’ve just got to play through him, and we knows he’s going to make the right play. He’s never scared of those moments.”

Middletonstepped up when Milwaukeeneeded him most, but the job isn’t done just yet. The Bucks will now head to Brooklyn for Game 7, and there will almost certainly be more moments when the pressure and intensity increaseas both teams battlefor a spot in the Eastern Conference finals.

When the shots aren’t falling, when the Nets are surging, when the lead is shrinking, that’s when the Bucks will turn to Middleton to calm them down.


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