Khris Middleton closes the show, helps save the Milwaukee Bucks' season
In the end, it was Brooklyn's superstar versus Milwaukee's second star.
And the second star won.
On Thursday, the Nets and Bucks faced off in a seesaw fourth quarter battle that would essentially decide the fate of the Bucks' season. And with 2:40 left to go in the game, and the score tied at 76, Khris Middleton and Kevin Durant happened.
Middleton and Durant traded baskets over the final two minutes and change, with Middleton scoring eight of the Bucks' final 10 points and Durant scoring Brooklyn's last seven.
But in the end, it was K-Mid that got the last laugh, taking over for the Bucks and helping Milwaukee avoid an 0-3 hole in the Eastern Conference semifinals, with Game 4 set for Sunday, a chance for the Bucks to tie the series at 2-2.
Middleton started the show hot – scoring 15 points in the first quarter – and closed the show even hotter. He finished the night with 35 points and 15 rebounds in 44 minutes. It was his first 30-point performance since April 29 when he scored 33 points at Houston.
Middleton's performance on Thursday was much-needed for the Bucks, but also, for his own psyche.
After putting up 21.5 points per game and shooting 54.8% from the field in Milwaukee's first-round sweep of the Miami Heat, Middleton was bad through the first two games of the Brooklyn series, putting up 15.0 points per game while shooting 13-for-43 from the field, including 3-for-13 from 3.
Each game resulted in a loss for Milwaukee – by eight points in Game 1 and by 39 points in Game 2.
So when Game 3 rolled around, the Bucks began their journey to make up major ground in the series. And even though the former back-to-back MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo scored 33 points – 26 of which came in the first three quarters – it was Middleton that guided the Bucks to the promised land.
Antetokounmpo has been oft-criticized for his clutch struggles, namely due to his poor free-throw shooting.
In the playoffs so far, he's made 27 of his 52 free-throw attempts, good for a 51.9% clip from the charity stripe. In this series, he's 6-for-19 from the line.
Middleton, on the other hand, has been "khash" from the line in the postseason and in this series, connecting on 26 of 30 free throws in the playoffs and going 8-for-9 on Thursday night, including giving the Bucks an 86-83 lead with 2.1 seconds left in the game by sinking two clutch free throws.
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