MILWAUKEE (AP) – Khris Middleton could not be available for the Eastern Conference finals even if the Milwaukee Bucks come that far.
The three-time All-Star has missed the Bucks ’last 10 games after breaking the medial collateral ligament in his left knee in Game 2 of the first-round series with the Chicago Bulls. Middleton won the entire second-round series in Milwaukee with the Boston Celtics, who beat the Bucks in seven games and opened the conference finals on Tuesday in Miami.
“I don’t know if I’m ready for tomorrow,” Middleton said Monday. “I don’t know if I’m ready to go to Game 7. It’s almost an everyday thing, just wake up and see how I feel, see if there’s a swelling there, and there’s a point. Where it has to be you can make sure the ligament is completely healed.
The loss of Middleton was an unfortunate turn of events for the Bucks, who have benefited from injuries to other teams in their title run last season.
The Bucks won seven East semifinal games with the Brooklyn Nets after injuries knocked out James Harden in most of the first four games and Kyrie Irving in the last three games.
The Bucks lost Giannis Antetokounmpo to a knee injury in two games in the East finals, but he returned to become MVP in the NBA Finals.
“It wasn’t just our time,” forward Bobby Portis said. “All the teams that go through a playoff stretch have luck down the road. We had the luck last year in some series that we went through teams that went through some injuries.
Boston has missed forward/center Robert Williams in the last four games due to a bone fracture in his right knee, but it only highlights the Celtics ’greater depth.
Williams was replaced in the starting lineup by Grant Williams, who scored a career-high 27 points and tied the Game 7 record on Sunday by sinking seven 3-pointers in the Celtics series that clinched a 109-81 victory. None of the Bucks ’roles have evolved in a similar way.
That’s why the Bucks were forced to rely more on Antetokounmpo and Jrue Holiday.
Antetokounmpo was the first player to have 200 points, 100 rebounds and 50 assists in a playoff series. Holiday, who has attempted more than 21 shots in a game just twice in the regular season, is averaging 22 shots per game in the Celtics series.
“If we had Khris, not that I was trying to reason, but maybe a different story,” Antetokounmpo said after the game on Sunday. “But we gave everything we had. The men were together. We realized, ‘Hey, we need to get better. We need to get better as a team. We need to want it more. We have to do our games. ‘ “
They also need to improve their playoff 3-point shooting.
Milwaukee ranked fourth in the league in 3-pointers per game (14.1) and fifth in 3-point percentage (36.6%) during the regular season. The Bucks made 38% of their 3-point attempts in their first-round series.
Everything changed in the second half because the Celtics made nearly double the number of 3-pointers than the Bucks. Milwaukee had 57 of 204 (27.9%) from beyond the arc while Boston was 110 of 292 (37.6%).
The Bucks ’challenge is to find the right guys to complement their trio Antetokounmpo, Middleton and Holiday.
The depths of Milwaukee were hit by the offseason departure of PJ Tucker, now with Miami. The Bucks ’top offseason addition was Grayson Allen, who played well in the regular season and in the first-round playoff series against Chicago. But after 3 of 6 in 3-point tries against Boston in Game 1, Allen won 2 of 18 in the next six games.
“In Game 1, I got three good opens and they fell,” Said Allen. “It feels like (Games) 2-7, the quick catch-and-shoot, spot-ups are small and very hard to get.”
At the trade deadline, the Bucks sent Donte DiVincenzo to Sacramento as part of a four-team deal that brought them Serge Ibaka, who fell out of rotation in April. Portis and Pat Connaughton have player options for next season and can opt for free agency.
The Bucks should continue to compete for titles as long as their top three men stay healthy, even if age is a cause for concern.
The 27-year-old Antetokounmpo is one of the young players in the Bucks rotation this season. Holiday turns 32 next month and Middleton turns 31 this summer. Brook Lopez 34, Wesley Matthews 35 and George Hill 36.
This playoff exit should add motivation.
“Hopefully, this time, instead of thinking we’ve lost something, we can gain and learn so we can put ourselves in a position to win another championship,” he said. Antetokounmpo said.