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With or without Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton has established himself as the Bucks’ closer.

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With or without Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton has established himself as the Bucks’ closer.

It was just last month that the Bucks found themselves on the brink of elimination after being torched by Nets star Kevin Durant in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference semifinals. It was life or death for Milwaukee in Game 6, and a loss to an injury-plagued Brooklyn team would have resulted in potentially serious and far-reaching ramifications for the franchise.

At the height of their season, who did the Bucks turn to? Not to two-time NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo, although he was still excellent in the series. It was Khris Middleton who stepped up and took control when it mattered most. The 29-year-old became the stabilizing force Milwaukee needed in that contest, and he did it again in Game 7 to eliminate the Nets and send the Bucks to the next round.

MORE: Complete schedule for the 2021 NBA Finals

So it shouldn’t have come as a surprise that when Antetokounmpo fell on a hyperextended left knee after a nasty fall against the Hawks, it was Middleton who delivered in the final stage of the Eastern Conference. Middleton scored 32 points in Milwaukee’s 118-107 win over Atlanta on Saturday night, propelling the Bucks to the NBA Finals for the first time since 1974. He had 23 points in the third quarter alone, giving him give your team a sufficient advantage. cushion to withstand a late surge from the Hawks.

“My teammates and my coaches told me to keep being aggressive.” Middleton said of his outburst in the third quarter. “One of the coaches always tells me to throw it to the basket instead of a turnover. Just shoot, be confident and try to play the right way.”

This was Middleton’s follow-up to nearly a triple-double in the previous win against the Hawks. In the last two games of the Bucks’ last two series, Middleton averaged 29.8 points, 9.3 rebounds and 6.5 assists with shooting divisions of 47.6 / 41.9 / 92.9 (field goals / triples / free throws).

Play PTS REB AST FG-FGA 3PT-3PTA FT-FTA
Game 6 against Nets 38 10 5 11-16 5-8 11-12
Game 7 against Nets 2. 3 10 Sixth 9-26 2-7 3-3
Game 5 against Hawks 26 13 Eighth 10-20 2-6 4-5
Game 6 against Hawks 32 Bedroom Seventh 10-22 4-10 8-8

“At the end of the day, Khris took us”, Bucks guard Jrue Holiday said after Game 6. “He put us on his shoulders. I’m going with him until the final.”

In an era where NBA debates often focus on the stars being No. 1 and possessing the “clutch gene,” Milwaukee has landed in a gray area. Antetokounmpo is clearly the best player on the team, a two-way monster at the center of everything dollars do, until the game gets tight. Then it’s Middleton’s time to shine, a fact Antetokounmpo has even acknowledged.

Whether Antetokounmpo is available to play in the NBA Finals against the Suns or trapped on the bench with his knee injury, the ball will continue to fall into Middleton’s skilled hands. And if you ask any of Middleton’s teammates, that’s where it should be.

“The things he does, his calm, calm and collected nature, it’s amazing to see him put himself in position to have the kind of series and postseason that he’s had.” Bucks guard Pat Connaughton said. “Because we all see the hours he has put in, but for the world to see it, it’s amazing for him. It’s a joy for me, as a boy who has been with him for three years, to see him have this moment and watch him continue. To show. why he’s an All-Star, why he’s the second best player on a team competing for the championship.

“He can be that, and he is that.”

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