For Khris Middleton, the first half of the most important game of his life was terrible. Cold and indecisive, he scored the first 24 minutes of Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals with 6 losses and 2 goals on the field. With Giannis Antetokounmpo injured on the bench, the Bucks’ top scorer failed to shoot on a much-needed night.
Jrue Holiday only performed slightly better in the first half. The New Orleans Pelicans’ group of draft and draft players Eric Bledsoe and George Hill, Holiday was supposed to be an upgrade for Bledsoe, who is an experienced point guard, who had the ability to lead the opponent through the NBA minefield through the end of the postseason. But on Saturday, Holiday wasn’t up to the mark and his postseason struggles continued.
A self-creator who would explode if he found what he wanted, Middleton immediately fired the Bucks. He scored 16 points in less than 4 minutes and finally tied the Atlanta Hawks with a 3-pointer on PJTucker’s screen. Middleton almost single-handedly expanded the lead from 4 to 16 points. He scored 23 points in the third quarter, ranking third in terms of scoring in a quarter of the playoffs for the past 25 years, and finished with a maximum of 32 points.
Holiday also found his outside kick in the third quarter and increased his aggressiveness after rebounding. His penetration paved the way for Middleton and other Bucks shooters. Holiday’s driving mode pushed the Hawks in doing angry late drives in the last few minutes. In the exciting finals, Middleton and Holiday demonstrated the calm and confident leadership they have developed over time.
Establishing a pick-and-roll defense may be the most interesting tactical challenge for the Bucks in the finals. Milwaukee’s defense is biased against 2v2 peripheral moves and keeps the body between the driver and the basket, so Milwaukee faces pressure from Chris Paul. One of the most accomplished mid-range shooters in the NBA.
It’s hard not to consider Antetokounmpo’s health as a barrier for the upcoming Finals, because MVP has a strange way to influence big games. But regardless of whether Antetokounmpo is 100% or not, the Bucks have formed another approach in his absence.