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Nets vs. Bucks: Heroic effort from Khris Middleton in Game 3 helps save Milwaukee’s season

MILWAUKEE – Giannis Antetokounmpo is the Milwaukee Bucks’ best player, but when they really need a bucket, they pass the ball to Khris Middleton. It was clear in Game 1 against the Miami Heat when Middleton hit a winner at the last second, and it was clear again Thursday night in Game 3 versus the Brooklyn Nets when Middleton came hugely up the stretch to save the Bucks’ season.

Middleton’s 35 points and 15 rebounds were both game heights and helped the Bucks escape with an 86-83 victory in one of the ugliest playoff games in a long time. The decisive victory cut the series’ deficit down to 2-1

, and the Bucks now get a chance to tie things up on Sunday in Game 4.

“He made a couple of big ones,” Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said. “Both teams fought for every bucket they could get, so Khris was able to place us in a place where we had a chance to win, and then Jrue with a big basket late. So a few good games by both of these guys. “

After a brilliant start where Middleton and Giannis each got 15 points in the first quarter to get the Bucks out to a 30-11 lead, the game was turned into a grind. At one point in the fourth quarter, it got so bad that no one scored for over three minutes, and the normal anxiety that hovers in the arena during a big playoff game became ratcheting with every miss.

With less than three minutes to play, the game was a 76-76 draw and it felt perfectly set up for a devastating Kevin Durant race to ruin the Bucks night. This increase came, only it was not quite good enough because Middleton was just as equal.

First a pull-up jumper over Bruce Brown from pick-and-roll with Giannis to put the Bucks up 78-76. This was not the main basket of the game, but it was right up there considering the Bucks had not scored in four minutes and 22 seconds.

Then, after Durant tied it with his own bucket, Middleton hit another pull-up jumper over Brown to give the Bucks an 80-78 advantage.

Then, after Durant had ripped a 5-0 burst to put the Nets ahead 83-80 with less than 90 seconds to play, Middleton delivered again. Throwing Joe Harris with a quick rip through, Middleton mixed all the way to the edge for a layup that was targeted and cut the deficit to 83-82.

“Mostly it was shots I got in games 1 and 2 in Brooklyn,” Middleton said. It was just a matter of staying with it, taking some of the same shots and having the confidence to knock them down. ”

Later, after Jrue Holiday put the Bucks ahead and they held on to a point by one point, Middleton went to the line for two massive free throws. Maybe it’s easy to say now well after that, but there was really never any doubt – not from him, not from anyone in the building – that they were going to enter. And they did it to put the Bucks up by three.

All in all, Middleton scored eight of the Bucks’ last 10 points in the final two minutes and forty seconds in the fourth quarter. But perhaps even more telling was that he took five of their seven field goal attempts during this stretch.

Even with a two-time MVP standing right next to him, even after going in a combined 13-of-39 in games 1 and 2 of this series, this is who the Bucks trust to take them home . When the game is on the field, it’s Middleton time. The team believes in him, and more importantly, he believes in himself.

“I feel like I can score in a lot of different ways,” Middleton said. “Those are the shots they want me to take. I’m confident. I think I’m good enough. I worked hard on those shots to knock them down, and they went down for me tonight.”

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