It certainly wasn’t the prettiest buzzer batsman you’ve ever seen, but it was a huge bucket of bringing the lead back to double digits and building some momentum going into the fourth quarter. It was also one of Middleton’s many key plays at the end of the second and third quarters that helped the Milwaukee Bucks secure a 104-89 victory over the Brooklyn Nets in Game 6 and keep their season alive.
“He had a great game with some opportune possessions,” Jrue Holiday said. “He really carried us through those times when we needed a lift. He’s been doing it all year and you know it’s winning or coming home, and he’s taken it upon himself to go ahead and do it. “
As he has been for much of the series, Middleton has been fantastic overall, finishing with 38 points, 10 rebounds, five assists and five steals while shooting 11 for 16 from the field. He set a new career playoff high in the process and also became the first player to get 10/30/5/5 with five 3s in a playoff game in NBA history. But it was the mini runs he pursued to close the second and third quarters that really made the difference.
Up 13 points earlier in the second quarter, the Bucks suddenly clung to a five-point lead with just over a minute to go into halftime. It was easy for the memories of Game 5 to start playing in everyone’s heads at that point, but Middleton stepped in and sorted it out.
First, the Bucks got a save and Holiday pushed the ball forward in transition. He let it go to Giannis who passed to Middleton for a 3-point wide open who only caught the net.
Next time on the ground, Giannis went to work in the midrange and looked like he was going to shoot a jumper. At the last second, however, he spotted Middleton open on the wing and found him for another huge triple. All of a sudden the Bucks were back by 11 – that’s where their lead would stay before the break – Pat Connaughton was weakening and the Fiserv Forum crowd was going mad.
“I mean, obviously we kind of pulled it out of the bag tonight,” Nets coach Steve Nash said. “We gave up a few open shots in transition and on offensive rebounds, things like that that move someone forward. So we have to eliminate some of those situations and play a little better, a little harder and a little more focus. ”
With the Bucks being the Bucks, that positive momentum didn’t last forever. At the end of the third quarter, after James Harden had made a few free throws, their lead was again reduced to five points. And, as we’ve seen before, doubts started to set in, but not for too long because Middleton was back to save the day.
After an offensive rebound from PJ Tucker, who did just about everything but score in this game, Middleton told Landry Shamet he was too short and took the Nets guard into the post for an easy turnaround jump.
Then, catching an assist from Holiday in semi-transition, Middleton passed Joe Harris for an easy midrange jumper.
Finally, he fired the aforementioned buzzer-drummer. Another personal run 6-0, another lead increased from five points to 11 points at the end of the quarter.
« [We just had to] keep playing, ”Middleton said. “We knew they were going to be racing, but we have to stay strong during those races and fight back or retaliate. Especially after failures, and we were able to do it. “
When the final minutes of the fourth quarter rolled around, the game was off balance and Middleton was on the bench, enjoying a well-deserved rest – one of the few he had had that night. There was no longer a need for heroism, but you can bet if there had been any, Middleton would have answered the call.
“He loves these moments,” said Giannis. “He’s never afraid of those moments. It’s been an amazing eight years having him next to me because I know in games like this he’s always ready. He will always do his best, whatever he has. “