Mid-Series Look

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Middleton, Bucks Take Series Lead, Suns Push Clippers to Brink of Elimination

It’s disappointing how overlooked Khris Middleton has become over the years by most NBA fans.

The Milwaukee Bucks wing has transitioned into an All-Star caliber player over the years, but playing behind a two-time league MVP in Giannis Antetokounmpo – in a smaller market no less – makes it easy to be forgotten.

Middleton once again put the entire league on notice on Sunday evening, scoring a game-high 38 points while grabbing 11 boards and dishing out 11 assists in what was one of the greatest postseason performances in Bucks history. Middleton turned his game into a completely different gear in the final frame, scoring 20 points in the fourth quarter – the Hawks only scored 17 as a team.

“What I saw today was unbelievable. It was freakin’ unbelievable,” commented Antetokounmpo on the play of his co-star. “Carried the team at the end. He turned the ball over like two times, and after that, he was locked in. He was like, ‘Pass me the ball.’ And we gave him the ball. There’s moments we know when to set screens for him, we know when he wants the ball, and that was the moment.

“We were like, ‘Get the hell out of the way, give him the ball, take us home, Khris,’ and that’s what he did.”

Antetokounmpo, of course, had an incredible game of his own, scoring 33 points and amassing 11 rebounds, helping secure the 113-102 victory for the Bucks.

Meanwhile for the Hawks, Trae Young led the way once again, finishing with 35 points – only three of which came in the final quarter. With just under a minute remaining in the third quarter, the Hawks star point guard suffered a sprained ankle after inadvertently stepping on the foot of an official.

“It’s sore right now,” said Young on the injury following the loss. “It’s hurting, it’s frustrating … it’s hurting a little bit and it’s sore. I got some treatment on it. I’m going to go get some more in the morning. That’s all I can do right now, is to get treatment.”

Young’s status for Game 4 is unclear, but the Bucks will look to take advantage of the crucial injury in hopes of pushing the Hawks to the brink of elimination.

Elsewhere, the Phoenix Suns are a game away from clinching an NBA Finals berth and with Kawhi Leonard expected to sit out of Game 5, the Suns certainly smell blood and will look to close out the series in a decisive Game 5.

Having Chris Paul back on the floor after the superstar point guard cleared COVID protocol surely helps, but it has been the dominant two-way play of former first overall pick DeAndre Ayton that has helped the Suns take a 3-1 lead and sit a game shy of the NBA Finals. The Suns big man is averaging 16.6 points and 11.4 rebounds in what has been a dominant playoff run.

“To see his growth, man, I get goosebumps. Seriously, man,” Paul said of Ayton’s steady playoff play. “We done had some heated conversations this season, especially earlier in the season, but man, I genuinely love him. You know what I’m saying? The person he is. And to see everything that’s coming to him, and the national audience getting to see who he is and why he was the No. 1 pick, I couldn’t be happier for him.”

As most players have over the years, Ayton credits Paul for  helping take the next step this past season.

“I love CP, man. Like I said, that’s really the only teammate that really push me. Like big bro type push. Knowing what I got and that I ain’t never thought that I had,” Ayton said after Game 4. “I think he was the best thing that happened to my career. I can say that every day.

“Just C is really a dude who pays attention to detail. It’s not how you say it, it’s what he’s saying. I think most people don’t get it. It’s just the message for real. And he cares so much, it’s actually great. I’ve never known a guy who cares so much about basketball and competing at everything. And it’s contagious, and that’s what he built in me as well, and just having him as a teammate and the experience that he’s went through and teaching me the little things has helped me. And it’s working.”

Game 5 goes on Monday night and the Clippers will rely heavily on Paul George once again to help them live to see another day in these NBA playoffs.

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