The Milwaukee Bucks knew they had to get Khris Middleton the ball and watch him work. He scored 38 points tonight, poured in 20 points in the fourth quarter as they beat the Atlanta Hawks 113-102 to take a 2-1 series lead in the Eastern Conference Finals. Middleton was 6-of-12 from three point range, and shot 57% from the floor.
“It was freaking unbelievable,” Giannis Antetokounmpo said of Middleton’s fourth quarter. “Carried the team at the end. He turned the ball over like two times and after that he was locked in. Like, ‘Pass me the ball,’ and we gave him the ball. … 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, get him the ball, take us home Khris.’ And that’s what he did.”
In this year’s playoffs Milwaukee is 7-1 when Middleton scores 20 or more points and 3-3 when he fails to hit the 20-point mark.
During the final stanza, Milwaukee outscored Atlanta 30-17, powered by Middleton’s 20 points. However, two things doomed the Hawks’ hopes Sunday night: First, Atlanta made only two baskets in the final 5:51 of the game. Secondly, point guard Trae Young stepped on a referee’s foot in the third quarter. He went into the locker room to get checked out but he’d later return. Young scored 35 points in Game 3, but only 3 points in the fourth quarter.
As the play developed, Young was along the sideline and tried to throw a pass that was deflected by Milwaukee’s Jrue Holiday. As ran back on defense, Young stepped back right onto the referee’s foot. He sprained his ankle in the process and stayed down until play was stopped.
Hawks head coach Nate McMillan confirmed Young’s ankle was sore. Also, Young said his ankle “sore” and “hurting,” will undergo an MRI on Monday to determine the severity of the sprain. During his post game press conference, Young said to play in Game 4 and promised to receive “as much treatment as I can” before Game Four.
Young did not definitively proclaim he would play Tuesday night.
Antetokounmpo had 33 points and 11 rebounds in 40 minutes of action. Bobby Portis chipped in with 15 points off the bench. Outside of Trae Young’s 35 points, Danilo Gallinari was a bright spot for the Hawks. His 18 points off the bench kept Atlanta in the game. Atlanta raced out to a 13 point lead in the first half. But, Milwaukee grew into the game, eventually taking an 82-80 lead with 1:48 remaining in the third. However, another tell tale sign of Milwaukee’s dominance, was on the glass. The Bucks out-rebounded the Hawks 50-35.
With game 4 set for 8:30 PM Tuesday night, the national audience will watch to see if the Bucks tighten their grip on this series.