It looked like the Milwaukee Bucks were going to be in trouble for some time. DeMar DeRozan bounced back from a horrid Game 1 outing to drop 41 in Game 2 to lead the Chicago Bulls to a 114-110 win. Along the way, the Bucks also lost Khris Middleton and Bobby Portis to injuries.
While Portis quickly returned to the court for Game 3, Middleton suffered a sprained MCL that will hold him out for the rest of Milwaukee’s first-round series. Middleton’s injury seemingly dealt the Bucks a huge blow, given that he's formed one of the deadliest trios in the league with Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jrue Holiday.
Instead, the Bucks have responded by blowing the Bulls out of the water in Games 3 & 4. They have won both games by 25+ points after winning Game 1 by just seven and losing Game 2. And the most confusing part of this is that Milwaukee’s dominant run has come with Middleton on the sidelines, implying that the Bucks may not miss their sharpshooting guard as much as initially thought.
How the Milwaukee Bucks have overcome the loss of Khris Middleton
Middleton’s shooting has been much streakier than average for Milwaukee this season, and he was OK in the first two games at best. He labored through a 4-13 shooting performance in Game 1, and while he was an efficient 6-11 in Game 2, his injury ended up costing him big time.
The Bucks have turned things over to their bench, and they have delivered in a big way. Grayson Allen, in particular, has been a huge spark plug, as he’s dropped 20+ points over the past two games. Antetokounmpo and Holiday have continued to lead the charge for the most part, but Allen’s unexpected contributions have made things easier.
Defensively, the Bucks have managed to get better, even though Middleton is one of their more solid defenders. DeRozan has rarely gotten any room in this series aside from Game 2, and supporting players in Zach LaVine and Nikola Vucevic have struggled without DeRozan’s support. Again, it’s Antetokounmpo and Holiday leading the way defensively, but they are getting a ton of help from their supporting cast.
Is the Milwaukee Bucks’ success without Khris Middleton sustainable?
While Milwaukee will gladly take their bench’s increase in production, they aren’t always going to be playing the Bulls. Tougher tests lie ahead, and assuming they can finish off the Bucks over the series’ final three games, they will be in a showdown with either the Boston Celtics or Brooklyn Nets. Either team presents a significantly more difficult challenge than Chicago does.
Assuming the Bucks end up facing the Celtics in the semi-finals (which seems to be the most likely matchup), not having Middleton would be a massive blow. Not only is Middleton a renowned Celtics killer, but Boston has the depth to shut down the Bucks and their secondary cast of players who have excelled against Chicago. Some of the threes Allen is getting against the Bulls don’t exist when you play the Celtics.
While Middleton’s absence has been glossed over, for the time being, this could end up being a huge issue the longer he ends up being out. Milwaukee has been pretty solid with just Antetokounmpo and Holiday, and while that’s more than enough against Chicago, the same can’t be said when it comes to Boston or Brooklyn. So while the Bucks continue to roll through the Bulls without Middleton, it’s worth taking their results with a grain of salt while remembering there are sterner tests to come.