Middleton’s Masterpiece Opens Door to Vanquish Villains


In the awesome cartoon show Masters of the Universe, He-Man and his Master friends must outfox the evil Skeletor.

The show’s brilliance lies in the heroic goodness of He-Man versus the literally cartoonish wickedness of the villains. Similarly, Khris Middleton and the Milwaukee Bucks, supported by a shirt-destroying and beer-guzzling crowd, faced a Brooklyn Nets team everyone except the officials loves to hate. Would the power of black end the Deer’s season, or would Milwaukee force game seven?

Lucky Number Six?

While some philosophers think history never repeats, the Bucks twice faced similar must-win situations at home. The much-loved 2001 Bucks needed a Bradley Center win after game-five heartbreak in Philadelphia.

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While Milwaukee smoked the Sixers, Allen Iverson and company ended the series in game seven. But 2001 marked a different NBA era. The Warriors-led statistical revolution was many years away, and scrappy teams sometimes didn’t have much more than sweat and heart. A better comparison was 2018, when the rising Bucks faced a then-mighty Celtic squad.

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Boston didn’t have much interest in winning on the road, and an epic 31-point, 14-board night by Giannis proved more than enough for a win. (Props to Brian Anderson and Ted Davis for spreading excitement for fans who couldn’t be at the game).

That Bucks team, however, was still on its way up. Giannis wasn’t quite an MVP yet, Mike Budenholzer was in Atlanta, and Milwaukee needed an upgrade from Eric Bledsoe.

2021 promises a different ending.

Tidal Wave

When the New Orleans Saints reopened the Superdome after Hurricane Katrina, the announcers correctly observed Atlanta must avoid a tidal wave of emotion. We know that didn’t happen, but perhaps Brooklyn could learn from its game-three flop. If the surprisingly defensively-focused Nets could start stronger, maybe they could foil the pride of a reawakening basketball city.

Good luck with that!

Quickly, Milwaukee darted to an 8-2 lead. Already Brooklyn faced the specter of an insurmountable deficit. After another stout defensive effort, Giannis snaked through a shape-shifting wall for an and-one.

(He hit the free throw, for the record; the officials helped the Freak with workarounds of the ten-second rule.)

The biggest hero Thursday, though, was Middleton. Khris hasn’t been at his best this series, sometimes being too loose with the ball. Fitting, though, that Khash would lead the BMO Harris-backed Bucks with two four-point plays. His first pushed an already budding lead to 32-21.

His most crucial bucket, though, occurred at the third-quarter horn. Khris rapidly dribbled downcourt just in time, pushing the lead to double-digits, a significant psychological mark.

As if that weren’t enough, when the inconsistent Nets cut the lead to 82-77 with 8:41 left, Middleton made perhaps the most crucial play of his career (and that’s saying a lot!) Joe Harris clipped Khris, and Steve Nash wasted a timeout to almost challenge the correct call. Money hit all three free throws, sparking a 14-0 run.

As both teams retreated to their locker rooms to prepare for game seven, Melanie Ricks and Bango again shared the good news.

When You’re The Bucks

Wow! “Bucks in seven” echoed in the Forum hallways and on Juneau Avenue as the fans bought no-doz for a late-night Saturday finale. But how will game seven unfold? Start by putting the Bucks’ current success in perspective.

After Jerryd Bayless and the Bucks won its first playoff game in 2015, one Bulls fan complained, “man, all this excitement over one playoff win?” A certain Bucks Lead reporter responded, “when you’re the Bucks, one playoff win is that exciting.”

In the six years since, Giannis matured into the best player in the world (sorry, road-vanishing KD). A new arena again hosts a packed and raucous fanbase. One playoff win, or even 15, won’t do.

True, Milwaukee has never won a game seven on the road, and the available odds suggest they won’t win their first tonight.

But this Bucks team built to 2021 through years of triumphs and devastating heartbreak. Giannis, Khris and now Jrue Holiday never shrug off a loss. The Bucks rise to the pinnacle of Eastern Conference basketball, while Kevin Durant and James Harden slither back to Brooklyn searching in vain for answers.

Bucks fans returned home Thursday with fewer shirts, having torn off the tyranny of a big-market bully. And remember the best fact about He-Man’s show: the Masters always win.

Follow us on Twitter @BucksLead for the latest Bucks news and insight. 

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About Jeffrey Newholm

"Jammin Jeff" Newholm had been a basketball fanatic since his high school days, and remained a casual fan as a student in Whitewater. Wishing to check in as an active participant, he also completed a writing certificate program at UWM. He loves seeing Bucks games more than any other activity in hometown Milwaukee and especially screaming really really loudly to get someone to miss a free throw. Twitter: @JeffreyNewholm

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