National Basketball Association

Beating the Heat

September 7

You know what they say: if you can't stand the heat, make your way up out the kitchen.

Well, as of Monday, Khris Middleton and the Milwaukee Bucks are still cooking. 

With a little over 10 minutes left in the first half of Sunday's Game 4 between Milwaukee and Miami, disaster struck for the Bucks. 

Reigning NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo missed the remainder of Game 4, a fact that many thought would doom the East's top seed, already buried in a 0-3 hole against the Heat. 

Middleton thought different.

Before Giannis' injury, Middleton had only scored 2 points. But with Antetokounmpo officially out of the lineup, Middleton went off.

He scored 21 points in the third quarter, en route to scoring 34 over the final three regulation frames and overtime to save Milwaukee's playoff life, including a dagger three to seal the win.

K-Mid finished the day with 36 points, 8 rebounds and 8 assists in 48 minutes, and made history by Milwaukee's standards.

The performance was a revelation for the Milwaukee franchise and its fans, considering Middleton had only scored 25 points once in eight playoff games, after having 18 such games this regular season. 

Before Sunday, Middleton was averaging 18.0 points on 37.7% shooting, a dropoff from his regular season average of 20.9 points on 49.7% shooting. 

He was also shooting 31.8% from three coming into Sunday, way down from the 41.5% he shot from deep in the regular season.

It all changed in Game 4 without Giannis, and on Monday, Shannon Sharpe lauded Middleton's resilience without Antetkounmpo.

"Khris Middleton said, 'Nope' ... 'We're not going out like this.' ... It was him. This game was gonna get outta hand. If he doesn't heat check in the third quarter and get that 21, it's over. He couldn't miss and [Miami] couldn't do anything with him."

Sharpe was surely not the only onlooker who thought the Bucks were dead in the water, and the stats backed up his beliefs.

After winning the first five games in which Antetokounmpo did not play this season, Milwaukee has lost five in a row without their superstar forward. 

However, Skip Bayless thinks there was something different about Sunday, considering there is something different about the Heat defensively.

"I would never try to make the case that the Bucks are better off without Giannis, but against this team in this situation yesterday, they had a better of winning that game without Giannis. He scored 19 points in 11 minutes [but] they were down a point, because ... they get so Giannis-centric, against a defense that makes it very hard for him."

Again, the numbers back up the claim, especially prior to Sunday.

Former NBA center Kendrick Perkins did go as far as to say the Bucks are better off without Giannis in this series, but his real point harkened back to Miami's defense schemes with Antetokounmpo on the floor.

"[Milwaukee is] so predictable to guard. [The Heat] know all they have to do is wall-up Giannis and recover out to three-point shooting. With Giannis being out, there's more motion and more player-involved movement going on."

Game 5 is set for Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. ET., as the Bucks look to stave off elimination for a second time. 

It's yet to be determined if Giannis will be available for Game 5.

But if Antetokounmpo is out, maybe Middleton can keep the Bucks' hearts beating one more day.

Sunday proved he's more than capable. 


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