There was plenty to digest from two of the most unique potential NBA champions in league history. Have the Bucks figured out the Hawks or does Atlanta still have a few tricks up their sleeves?
Keeping up with Khris
Discourse on Khris Middleton's merits vacillates between him as a true star or an overpaid role player. The truth, as with most things, lies in between. Middleton won't make any highlights, unless he hits a game-winner. He isn't freaky, but he does everything the Greek Freak can't.
The full scope of Middleton's brilliance was on display in Game 3. The Bucks were trailing the Hawks 95-88 with seven minutes left when Middleton struck. He scored 16 points in those final minutes and 20 overall in the fourth quarter.
In the stretch that saw the Bucks take the lead, Middleton wound up scoring 11 of Milwaukee's 13 points. He was unconscious.
MIDDLETON'S 20 FOURTH QUARTER POINTS LIFT THE @Bucks IN GAME 3!#NBAPlayoffs #ThatsGame pic.twitter.com/hiD4XC0cUC— NBA (@NBA) June 28, 2021
Middleton finished with 38 points on 15-for-26 shooting with 11 rebounds and seven assists. Middleton won't do this every game, which is what separates him and the true superstars of the game. On this Milwaukee team, he probably doesn't need to be amazing every game. Just being capable of greatness should be enough.
"What I saw today was unbelievable. It was greatness." @Giannis_An34 on @Khris22m.#NBAECF presented by AT&T - #ThatsGame pic.twitter.com/bPqdoCNQT7— NBA (@NBA) June 28, 2021
Other Hawks not named Trae
This could have been a much closer game, had Trae Young not sprained his ankle towards the end of the third quarter. Young had been tearing up the Bucks, trading buckets with anyone from Milwaukee that dared make a shot.
The Hawks did find a way for a small portion of the game without Young. The aforementioned seven-point lead in the fourth quarter was built with Young on the sidelines. When Young came back in, he made some shots, but was clearly struggling to move.
With Young hobbled, the Hawks needed to get creative and find another way to score without their Trae Young pick-and-roll. Danilo Gallinari tried admirably to muster some of his lost “The Rooster” sheen, but he just didn't have enough to push the Hawks over the edge.
Atlanta has to have a better contingency if Young still isn't 100 percent for Game 4. They could have Young come off more off-ball actions to catch and shoot or roll the dice with Gallinari, Huerter, Bogdanovic, or even Lou Williams initiating their pick-and-roll attack. Coach Nate McMillan has pushed the right buttons for much of these playoffs. Game 4 should see more adjustments from his staff.
In defense of free throw countdowns
Opposing crowds counting out loud as Giannis Antetokounmpo takes his time with his free throw routine is a good thing. Don’t listen to Twitter.
This started in the first round when the Miami Heat coaching staff alerted the referees to Antetokounmpo exceeding the 10-second time limit for free throws. It ballooned into opposing arenas preparing their own Giannis clock and counting up every time he goes to the line. The league eventually asked teams to do away with their clocks, but the counting has stayed.
Now, it feels like Royal Rumble every time Giannis steps on the free throw line with the crowd pelting him with numbers. This quasi-organic movement has turned into a feature that adds just enough tension and catharsis to thrilling games.
As for Giannis, this probably affects him as much as this type of ruse affects young millionaire athletes that experience an elevated quality of life compared to the majority of fans chanting numbers at him. He should be Teflon in this situation. After all, for such a dynamic athlete that moves with equal parts violence, speed, and momentum, his free throw shtick is a damper.
Watching a game already peppered with commercials, timeouts, reviews, and challenges, fans already don't have enough seconds watching someone twirl a ball and stare at the rim. There are better things to watch.