It was just last month that the Bucks found themselves on the verge of elimination after being torched by Nets star Kevin Durant in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference semifinals. It was do-or-die for Milwaukee in Game 6, and a loss to an injury-plagued Brooklyn squad would have resulted in potentially serious and far-reaching ramifications for the franchise.
In the biggest moment of their season, to whom did the Bucks turn? Not toward two-time NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo, though 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 steadying 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.
So it should have been no surprise that, when Antetokounmpo went down with a hyperextended left knee after an ugly fall against the Hawks, it was Middleton who delivered on the Eastern Conference finals stage. Middleton scored a game-high 32 points in Milwaukee’s 118-107 victory 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 his team enough of a cushion to withstand a late Hawks surge.