A regular thorn in the Celtics’ side, Khris Middleton does it again in Game 2
Middleton poured in 3-pointers to help kickstart the Bucks' offense.
MILWAUKEE — Bucks starting forward Khris Middleton missed eight shots on Tuesday night, but at times, it sure felt like he was perfect.
Middleton seemed to have the hot hand in Game 2 of his team’s second-round playoff series against the Celtics, tallying 28 points on 10-for-18 shooting — including a dazzling 7-for-10 performance from behind the arc. Twenty of Middleton’s points came in the first half, highlighted by back-to-back 3s in the second quarter to give Milwaukee a 4-point lead and prompt Celtics coach Brad Stevens to call a timeout.
“He is an All-Star; he is one of the 12 best players in the East this year,’’ Stevens said after his team’s 123-102 loss. “We have to do a better job on him. We did not do a good enough job on him. He still might make it, but he got too many looks.’’
Tuesday wasn’t the first time Middleton has torched the Celtics.
During Milwaukee’s seven-game series against Boston in the first round of last year’s playoffs, Middleton shot 59.8 percent from the field and 61 percent from 3-point range. He averaged 24.7 points, and exploded for 30-plus in Games 1 and 7. Fans might remember when he drilled a jaw-dropping 35-footer to force overtime with 0.5 seconds left in the series opener.
“I think Middleton basically played seven playoff games against us last year like he was the MVP of the league,’’ Stevens said earlier this week.
The trend of Middleton roasting the Celtics seems to have only continued this postseason. In the first two games of this year’s series, the 27-year-old is shooting 50 percent from the field and an absurd 71.4 percent from three-point range.
Khris Middleton is shooting roughly 65 percent from 3 against the Celtics in his postseason career.
— Brian Robb (@BrianTRobb) May 1, 2019
His ability to knock down shots helps the Bucks offense operate at its best, as the team can play with pace and capitalize in transition. On Tuesday night, six of Middleton’s field goals came immediately after a Boston missed shot — four of which were misfires by point guard Kyrie Irving, who registered just 9 points on a noticeably off night. Another of Middleton’s makes was off of one of Boston’s 13 turnovers.
“They’re a great defensive team when they get set,’’ said Middleton, who also grabbed 7 defensive rebounds and dished an assist in Game 2. “The main thing is for us to get out, try to get a stop, and get out and run.’’
Middleton’s shot-making ability, as well as that of the rest of the Bucks lineup, also allows MVP candidate Giannis Antetokounmpo to operate at his best. While Antetokounmpo is as dangerous as it gets when attacking the paint, having Middleton, point guard Eric Bledsoe, and others available on the perimeter offers him an outlet when opportunities aren’t opening up around the rim.
Antetokounmpo, Middleton, and Bledsoe combined for 78 of Milwaukee’s 123 points Tuesday.
“I think in Game 1, I didn’t do a good job of finding my teammates,’’ Antetokounmpo said. “I think I could do a better job. Of course, I want to be aggressive, but, at the end of the day, you got to make the right play. I was just trying to find guys in the right spot and make the right play.’’
“We never stopped pushing on offense,’’ added forward Nikola Mirotic, who started the game in place of Sterling Brown. “Giannis [Antetokounmpo] was able to find shooters. Khris was great tonight on making those threes. That’s the routine. That’s how we played all season.’’
While the Bucks are certainly pleased they were able to generate the offensive rhythm that’s been successful all year long, they know better than to get too far ahead of themselves.
“It’s just one game,’’ Middleton said.