Even in the games the Bucks had won against the Nets in their Eastern Conference semifinal series before Game 6, their grip on any lead felt weak, at best. Often it seemed that Milwaukee was just one leg away from letting Brooklyn take over.
At Thursday night’s competition, that feeling, that uneasy feeling, are they going to spoil it again? It came up several times, but something changed. Or rather, someone changed.
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With the Bucks facing elimination, Khris Middleton posted his best performance of the postseason, with a total of 38 points (11 of 16 shots from the field), 10 rebounds, five assists and five steals in Milwaukee’s 104-89 victory. But Middleton’s impact cannot be measured by her stat line alone, as pretty as that may sound. The two-time All-Star also stabilized the boat whenever the Bucks approached rough waters.
After falling behind by double digits in 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 3s before halftime, giving Milwaukee an 11-point cushion.
Brooklyn once again cut the deficit to five with less than two minutes left in the third quarter. Middleton responded with two mid-range jump shots and a layup that hit the bell in transition, bringing the lead to 11.
And finally, when the Nets cut the lead to five early in the fourth quarter, Middleton fouled Joe Harris from beyond the arc and made all three free throws. That sparked a 14-0 streak for the Bucks, effectively ending any chance of a Nets comeback.
“The playoffs are 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 advantage here at halftime. We were able to maintain that advantage and then extend it there in the fourth quarter. They ran out, we know they are going to race, but we still have to maintain our composure and fight.”
Giannis Antetokounmpo (30 points, 17 rebounds in Game 6) is arguably the Bucks’ best player, but even the two-time MVP knows that Middleton’s skills can make him a better offensive option at the decisive moment, especially when he’s as locked up as he was on Thursday.
“Those moments, love those moments”, Antetokounmpo said. “He’s going to make the right play. We know that when he’s feeling good, we have to give him the ball. I’ve said that in the past. We have to play through him, and we know he’s going to make the right play. They never scare him. these moments “.
Middleton stepped up when Milwaukee needed him most, but the job isn’t done yet. The Bucks will now head to Brooklyn for Game 7, and there will almost certainly be more times when the pressure and intensity builds as both teams battle for a spot in the Eastern Conference finals.
When shots aren’t falling, when the Nets are increasing, when the lead is shrinking, that’s when the Bucks will turn to Middleton to calm them down.