Pregame Post-Ups: Middleton’s Timely Return has Bucks Surging

Wedesday, March 29 - Bucks at Celtics

Pregame – Middleton’s Timely Return has Bucks Surging

BOSTON – A lot hung in the balance for the Milwaukee Bucks on Feb. 8 when they lost Jabari Parker to a season-ending ACL tear during a game against the Miami Heat.

Parker had been one of Milwaukee’s primary producers up to that point, and with a 22-28 record, things were not looking good for the Bucks as they approached the final two months of the regular season.

“There might’ve been a little bit of confusion of where we were going,” head coach Jason Kidd said Wednesday evening before tipping off against the Boston Celtics. “But in that locker room no one gave up. We stuck together and we became closer.”

Fortune turned out to be on Milwaukee’s side. On the same day that Parker’s injury occurred, Khris Middleton returned to the lineup after missing the first 50 games of the season due to a hamstring injury.

Since Middleton’s return, the Bucks have gone 16-8, which is the second-best mark in the Eastern Conference behind Washington during that span. They have also risen from 10th place in the East to a tie for fifth with Atlanta.

“Getting Khris back into the fold and him playing at the level that we all know he’s capable of playing is what helped turn things around,” said Kidd. “And that locker room never once let go of the rope. They kept fighting, and they found a way back into the playoff race.”

Middleton was Milwaukee’s leading scorer last season with an average scoring tally of 18.2 points per game. Yet, he often goes unnoticed on the court because teams put so much attention on star point forward Giannis Antetokounmpo.

“For whatever reason, [Middleton] is underrated, so he doesn’t get a lot of attention,” said Kidd. “And he just goes about his business; he’s not going to waste any steps, he’s effective, he can shoot the ball, he’s improved on his playmaking skills, and he loves to play.”

The 6-foot-8 guard won’t go unnoticed tonight, however, as Celtics coach Brad Stevens said there’s a lot to account for when he’s on the floor.

“Middleton spaces the floor, he can run off screens and score,” said Stevens. “He’s a really good scorer cutting off the ball. He’s gotten better, I think, as time’s gone on in pick-and-roll and with the ball. And then he’s a knockdown shooter.”

Middleton has been lights out during March, averaging 16.8 PPG on 46.5 percent shooting form the field and 40.9 percent shooting from 3-point range, while guiding the Bucks to an East-best 12-4 record.

The first-place Celtics certainly can’t overlook those numbers tonight when they host Middleton and the Bucks at TD Garden.

- Taylor C. Snow