The Milwaukee Bucks entered the fourth quarter of Game 3 trailing by two and, with 7:32 to play, were down by seven to the Hawks in Atlanta. For the last three years, one of the biggest critiques of the Bucks in the playoffs has been how much they’ve struggled to create good offense in late game situations, particularly in the halfcourt, but throughout this postseason they have shown a greater resolve than they’ve had in the past two playoffs that ended in disappointment.
On Sunday night, the answer for good offense was a simple one: get the ball to Khris Middleton. The All-Star caught fire in the fourth, scoring 20 points in the final period (38 overall) to outscore the Hawks (17 points as a team) by himself to lead Milwaukee to what became a runaway 113-102 win. Middleton got it rolling from three and once that happened, everything he put up seemed to go in the basket.
🔥 20 PTS in the 4th Q for @Khris22m
🔥 38 in game (ties playoff career high)
🔥 11 REB, 7 AST
— NBA (@NBA) June 28, 2021
It was nothing short of sensational for Middleton, who had a disastrous Game 1 performance that many pointed to as the reason (beyond Trae Young’s outrageous effort) the Bucks dropped the opener. He put that behind him once he got into rhythm and carried the Bucks home, with his Milwaukee teammates happy to get him the basketball, step aside, and watch him cook.
That includes Giannis Antetokounmpo, who had 33 points and 11 rebounds on the night in another dominant performance. Still, Giannis was happy to let his teammate go to work in the fourth and after had nothing but effervescent praise for Middleton’s fourth quarter effort.
“What I saw today was unbelievable. For me, it was greatness. Simple as that.”
Giannis on Middleton’s Game 3 performance. pic.twitter.com/UuW6KN4Ido
— NBA TV (@NBATV) June 28, 2021
As Giannis said, it was “greatness,” and Middleton put the team on his back to make sure they got homecourt advantage back and took their first lead of the series at 2-1. Moving forward, the Bucks will look to finally get Middleton and Jrue Holiday going in the same game, as Holiday was spectacular in Game 1 and terrific in Game 2 to pick up the slack while Middleton was struggling.
If they can manage that, it’s hard to see where the Hawks find the firepower to match the Bucks with Bogdan Bogdanovic still struggling (although he looked to be moving better in Game 3 on his injured knee) and Trae Young suffering an ankle injury late in the third quarter that left him unable to really explode off his right foot in the fourth. On top of this series, should they make it there, they’ll seemingly need all three rolling at once for the Finals, and Milwaukee will hope the fourth quarter will only be the start of a big run from Middleton.