The Milwaukee Bucks miss Khris Middleton. Their offense has struggled in the halfcourt against the Celtics, averaging 84.4 points per 100 possessions on their first shot in the halfcourt, the worst of any team in the second round of the playoffs and 10 points per 100 below their regular season average. Part of that is an elite Boston defense, but part of it is how much the Celtics lean on Middleton to create in the halfcourt.
Middleton remains out with a grade 2 sprain of the MCL in his left knee and the Bucks have given no official update. However, early in the week there had been rumors the Bucks were optimistic Middleton could return if the series went long enough. However, ESPN’s Brian Windhorst shot that down in a recent appearance (hat tip Real GM)
“Earlier this week, the folks I was talking to were giving me some optimism about Middleton playing this weekend, but that has not happened. That has not developed,” Windhorst said. “And now I would say there’s pessimism about Sunday, and frankly, I have been told that even if the Bucks advance to the conference finals, there’d be pessimism he’d be ready to start.”
In Game 6 on Friday, Giannis Antetokounmpo put up 44 points but it wasn’t enough to get the win. Part of that was the brilliance of Jayson Tatum, but the Bucks had an 82.4 halfcourt offensive rating in that game. If the Bucks’ defense can’t force turnovers — Boston only had eight in the game — and create some fast break opportunities, the offense can stall. That ties directly to Middleton, the All-Star and Olympian who is a tough matchup running the pick-and-roll because he is 6’7″ and can 3 or punish a smaller player on a post up. Middleton averaged 20.1 points, 5.4 rebounds and 5.4 assists a game this season, and the Bucks were +5.2 per 100 possessions when he was on the court.
The Bucks tanked their game against the Cavaliers on the final day of the regular season — knowing the Celtics had to win to avoid the No. 4 seed — which put Milwaukee as the No. 3 seed facing Chicago in the first round while Boston finished as the No. 2 seed and had to face Kevin Durant and Brooklyn. The price for that strategy comes now as Game 7 will be played in Boston on Sunday (although the road team has won four of the six games so far).