The Bucks have been chasing the Boston Celtics for the entire fourth quarter in Game 1 of their first round playoff series. After being down four at the start of the period, they’ve been unable to cut their deficit down to anything less than five and now trail 86-76 with 4:27 left in the game after a Marcus Morris jumper. They desperately need a run.
Starting with a Middleton jumper though, the Bucks rattle off an 8-0 run in just under two minutes to draw within two on a Giannis Antetokounmpo lay-in with 2:38 remaining. The next few minutes teeter back and forth until Malcolm Brogdon ties it at 96 with 11 seconds on the clock. The Celtics hold the ball for the final shot of regulation, which Terry Rozier hits just slightly too early, leaving 0.5 seconds on the clock.
The Bucks are still alive, technically. Half a second is just barely enough time to catch-and-shoot, but an open look from three will be tough to come by against one of the NBA’s most well-coached teams.
Overtime wouldn’t go nearly as well for the Bucks as they fell to the Celtics 113-107 in Game 1. The series would go to seven games and the Celtics would come out victorious, but Middleton played better than just about anyone else in the series. He effectively exorcised any playoff demons he might have had, averaging 24.7 points per game on 59 percent shooting from inside the arc and 61 percent shooting from outside. And to this day, he takes no solace in his human flamethrower numbers from the series.
“That series still doesn't sit well with me, even though I had a hell of a series that we lost,” Middleton said. “Last year was supposed to be our year where we get past the first round and see what happens after the first round. And we still couldn't do it. It still doesn't sit well with me. I felt like I played great, but, to me, at the end of the day, I don't feel like I did enough to actually win. It just keeps stabbing me this summer.”
Despite his own disappointment in the team’s final results, Middleton once again proved his naysayers wrong by showing he can perform in the playoffs and thus belongs in the conversation among the league’s best shooting guards. USA Basketball made it clear they agree with that sentiment by naming Middleton to the 2018-2020 men’s national team roster this past April as he was wrapping up a season in which he averaged over 20 points, five rebounds, and four assists per game. (He was one of just 11 players to average 20/5/4 this past year.)
Middleton was in Las Vegas for USA Basketball mini-camp last Thursday and Friday in an attempt to make the Team USA squad for the 2019 World Cup or 2020 Olympics. He’ll get a chance to measure himself up against the shooting guards there, but those aren’t the only players he compares himself to.
“I measure myself against everybody, not just the shooting guards,” Middleton said. “Kevin Durant, LeBron James, Giannis, seeing him every day, seeing how good he is, letting me know I still have a lot of work to do, stuff like that. The point guards - Kyrie Irving, John Wall, Damian Lillard, all those guys. I just like to see what those guys are doing and measure my game up to those guys and seeing how I compare to them.”
Sure. Khris Middleton can make some plays in the NBA, but there’s no way he can make the US Olymp…stop.
Khris Middleton hears you. And like always, he’s ready to prove you wrong.
“I love challenges,” Middleton said. “For somebody to say I'm not good enough if I get cut from these teams, that's them saying I'm not good enough, so that means I have to work harder and figure out a way to make myself better.”
If the past is any indication, that’s exactly what he’ll do.
“Nothing has ever been given to me,” Middleton said. “Second rounder, getting hurt, all of that. From Day One, I've always had to work to find my way onto the court or onto the top position or whatever it may be.”
Sure. Khris Middleton has reached a level higher than most of the rest of the league, but there’s no way people stop questioning him any time soon, so he’s just going to keep working. And keep proving them wrong.