Milwaukee Bucks forward Khris Middleton and center Giannis Antetokounmpo led the team to a critical Game 4 win over the Phoenix Suns with clutch performances down the stretch.
The bucks-suns game 5 is a critical Game 4 win for the Milwaukee Bucks. Khris Middleton and Giannis Antetokounmpo led the team to a victory with clutch performances down the stretch.
1:15 a.m. ET
ESPN’s Tim Bontemps
MILWAUKEE, Wis. — NBA Finals challengers do not emerge from nothing. The same may be said for players who go on to become All-Stars and league MVPs. Those sorts of advancements, and reaching that level of rarified air, require time, effort, sweat, and tears.
The Milwaukee Bucks have become one of the NBA’s top teams, and Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton have become some of the game’s elite players, in the last eight years. With Milwaukee’s season on the line Wednesday night, it was the weight of all of those shared experiences that helped the Bucks’ franchise pillars rescue the day.
Milwaukee survived an instant classic in Game 4 of the NBA Finals, winning 109-103 over the visiting Phoenix Suns to tie the best-of-seven series at two games apiece behind 40 points from Middleton, including 10 straight points over the final 2:07 to put the Bucks ahead for good, and Antetokounmpo’s unbelievable block of Deandre Ayton at the rim to preserve a two-point lead with 74 seconds to go.
Bucks player Jrue Holiday remarked, “They’ve been here the longest.” “They’ve gone through the most together, they’ve suffered the most, they’ve been chastised for all they’ve done here, and they’ve also reaped the benefits.”
“But they are aware of the difficulties that come with it, and they have outperformed all expectations. It’s incredible to watch them perform on each stage, particularly one as large as this, and I’m honored to be a part of it.”
“They instill confidence in us as a team, and they carry us just like they did today,” Holiday added.
For most of the game, the Bucks and their supporters had little reason to be optimistic, particularly after the Suns took a nine-point lead, their largest of the game, on a Cam Johnson 3-pointer 14 seconds into the fourth quarter.
But Antetokounmpo and Middleton brought the Bucks home, and back into the series, as the Bucks steadily pulled in the Suns over the next few minutes, aided in part by Suns star Devin Booker picking up his fifth foul and being allowed to cool down after a supernova performance of his own.
Antetokounmpo’s moment was the most memorable, as is frequently the case. With 1:14 left in the game, Booker came off an Ayton screen and flipped a beautiful lob ball to Ayton, who was flashing to the basket, over the heads of both Antetokounmpo and P.J. Tucker.
When the ball left Booker’s hands, it seemed like Ayton would slam the ball home for a game-tying dunk. Instead, Antetokounmpo pivots, leaps off his left foot — the same leg he hyperextended two weeks ago — and slams the ball into the basket, his huge hand grabbing the ball and sending the Bucks racing the other way with possession and the lead.
“To be honest with you, I thought I was going to be dunked on,” Antetokounmpo said with a grin. “But, as we get closer to the finish line, just do whatever it takes to win the game. Simply place yourself in a position to win the game.”
His teammates, on the other hand, were a little more enthusiastic in their appreciation.
“When the block occurred, the honest thing that was going through my mind was, more or less, sort of like shock and amazement,” Bucks guard Pat Connaughton said.
“I sort of stated it’s the greatest block of all time in my view. We’re obviously prejudiced, and you can also speak about LeBron [James’] block [from Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals]. But as far as a block where he had to assess where the pass was, where Ayton was receiving it and attempting to slam it, above the box, that’s about as amazing as it gets.”
Antetokounmpo’s performance eventually set the scene for Middleton to lead Milwaukee to victory. After Phoenix center Jared Crowder hit two free throws with 2:30 left to put the Suns up 99-97, Middleton scored the game’s next eight points to put the game out of reach. Back-to-back midrange jumpers gave the Bucks a decisive lead. After a scuffle with the ball by both sides, his basket over Booker with 27.2 seconds left put Milwaukee up 103-99.
Middleton was so tired at that point that his teammates had to practically pull him off the ground when the Suns called timeout. He subsequently made four consecutive free throws to put the game out of reach. According to ESPN Stats & Information, he and Antetokounmpo are the third pair of teammates to score 40 or more points in the same NBA Finals, joining Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Magic Johnson of the Los Angeles Lakers and LeBron James and Kyrie Irving of the Cleveland Cavaliers.
And it seemed appropriate that Abdul-Jabbar and Oscar Robertson, the superstars who joined together to bring Milwaukee’s lone NBA title 50 years ago, were watching from courtside seats.
Middleton described his mentality in those late-game situations as “everybody’s weary.” “Everyone is bruised. Best you have to do is give it your all and leave everything on the court.
“After the game, we may relax, sleep, and get therapy. However, there are no excuses for fatigue or injury while the game is being played. You can’t be out there if you’re wounded. But that’s all there is to it. Give it all you’ve got.”
And no one on the Bucks would prefer see with the ball in their hands than Middleton in such situations.
Antetokounmpo said, “I’m proud.” “I’m ecstatic. But, as I have said, it all boils down to faith. I have faith in him.
“I’m OK with it whether I win or lose. When you’re down the stretch in a game like this, or any game for that matter, you usually want to take it upon yourself. ‘OK, I took a shot, I lost the game, I won the game,’ you say whether you win or lose.”
“But it all boils down to trust,” he said. “I trust [my teammates] will make the correct decision and will send the ball to me when I’m open. But [Middleton’s] performance today was amazing.”
That sort of trust doesn’t come easily. Since Antetokounmpo was chosen with the 15th overall selection in the 2013 NBA draft and Middleton was traded from the Detroit Pistons a few weeks later, the two of them, as well as the Bucks, have steadily progressed into NBA royalty.
According to ESPN Stats & Information, Khris Middleton and Giannis Antetokounmpo became the third pair of teammates to score at least 40 points in the same NBA Finals game. Getty Images/NBAE/Andrew D. Bernstein
This is their 12th playoff series together, and they shared the floor for the 62nd time in the playoffs on Wednesday. After missing the most of the regular season due to a serious hamstring injury, Middleton played 42 minutes in Game 6 of Milwaukee’s first-round series defeat to the Toronto Raptors in 2017, nearly bringing the Bucks back from a 25-point deficit.
Middleton rushed to the hospital after the competition because he was dehydrated. That’s when Antetokounmpo realized his relationship with Middleton had the potential to be something special, he said Monday.
“I sort of found it out through the years, over the entire experience with him,” Antetokounmpo said. “We played so many games together, but there was one occasion, I believe it was in the playoffs, when we played at home versus Toronto.”
“He wasn’t feeling well, but he played the game and gave his all for the team and for us, and that’s when I knew, ‘Yeah, that’s the person I want to be on the line with and travel with.’”
He and Middleton had recently lost their second first-round playoff series together at that time. They’d have to wait another two years to make the playoffs for the first time, ultimately falling in six games to the same Raptors in the Eastern Conference finals.
Then there was last year’s second-round defeat to the Miami Heat, which was yet another sad conclusion to a season. These Bucks, though, have become tougher as a result of their losses and experiences. Antetokounmpo and Middleton scored the tying and winning baskets in the last minute of Game 7 of the Eastern Conference playoffs on the road in Brooklyn against Kevin Durant and the Nets to help the Bucks advance in the series. While Antetokounmpo was out with his hyperextended left knee, they helped Middleton lead the Bucks to the last two victories they needed in the Eastern Conference finals against the Atlanta Hawks.
And they helped Milwaukee remain in the NBA Finals on Wednesday night, turning it into a best-of-three series when the series returns to Phoenix for Game 5 on Saturday night.
Antetokounmpo said of winning with Middleton, “It feels fantastic.” “We’ve done it before… we’ve closed a lot of games.”
“But, obviously, closing off a game like this in the NBA Finals means a lot. It was a pleasant experience. However, we are unsatisfied.”
The bucks vs suns was a critical game that the Milwaukee Bucks needed to win in order for them to have any chance of advancing in the playoffs. Khris Middleton and Giannis Antetokounmpo led the team with clutch performances down the stretch, which helped lead Milwaukee to victory.
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