Why Middleton's absence is huge issue for Bucks in Round 2 vs. Celtics


It's looking increasingly likely, based on the latest reports, that the Milwaukee Bucks will be without their second-best player in Khris Middleton during their second-round NBA playoff series versus the Boston Celtics.

The Athletic's Shams Charania reported Thursday morning that Middleton is expected to miss all of Round 2 with a Grade 2 MCL sprain that he suffered in the first round.

Middleton ranked second on the Bucks in scoring with 20.1 points per game, third in assists at 5.4 game and second in steals with 1.2 per game during the regular season. He's a versatile scorer who can shoot well from the outside and finish at the rim.

The veteran guard also has played quite well against the Celtics in his career, both in the regular season and playoffs.

Middleton nearly led the Bucks to an upset win over the Celtics in the first round of the 2018 playoffs when he shot 62.7 percent from the field and 64.8 percent from 3-point range. He dropped 32 points in a Game 7 loss at TD Garden. In the second round in 2019, Middleton shot 49.7 percent from 3-point range as the Bucks easily beat the Celtics in five games.

Here's an overall look at Middleton's offensive prowess versus the Celtics since 2017-18.

Middleton's injury should also be felt defensively. His absence takes away a quality wing defender who could guard Celtics stars Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. Middleton has the length and size to make those two guys work hard for every point.

Without Middleton on the floor, the Bucks might be forced to play superstar forward Giannis Antetokounmpo on Tatum more than they might like. If that's the case, having to guard Tatum could tire Antetokounmpo a bit and negatively impact his energy on the offensive end of the floor. There will be enormous pressure on Antetokounmpo to shoulder most of the scoring burden with Middleton out of the lineup.

When you look at the fact the Celtics have homecourt advantage, the best defense in the playoffs and likely won't have to worry about Middleton, it's easy to see why this could be a short series in Boston's favor. Antetokounmpo is capable of taking over games by himself, but the Celtics' overall depth and starting lineup are both a bit better than the Bucks'.

Celtics-Bucks Game 1 is scheduled for Sunday at 1 p.m. ET at TD Garden, with coverage on NBC Sports Boston beginning at 12 p.m. ET.

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