Even before the Khris Middleton injury, the first-round matchup
between the Chicago Bulls and Milwaukee Bucks was hindered by an
injury. The defending champion Bucks were favored against the Bulls
at least partially due to an injury to Chicago's starting point
guard, Lonzo Ball.
The Bulls are fairly reliant on Ball. They started the season
27-13 but won only 19 of their final 42 games after losing Ball to
a knee injury. Knowing this, it was suprise that things looked
relatively bleak for the Bulls in this first-round matchup.
But an injury to Middleton seemed to level the playing field.
MCL injuries typically results in players missing between a few
days and eight weeks, meaning that Middleton is out for the at
least the remainder of the series against Chicago.
With Middleton out for the immediate future, Milwaukee must
secure at least two wins in their next four games against Chicago.
After a 30-point victory in game three, doing so no longer seems
like too tall a task.
Still, winning games without one of your best players is never
easy, and the Bucks clearly have greater aspirations than simply
advancing to the Eastern Conference Semifinals. A second-round
matchup against (presumably) the Boston Celtics and their stifling
defense would be a real test, with or without Middelton.
But before we look ahead to future matchups, Milwaukee must
figure out how to get past Chicago. How can the Bucks make up for
Middleton's absense? It begins with their MVP.
Of course, the pressure on Antetokounmpo will be greater.
Antetokounmpo is an MVP-caliber player in the prime of his career.
The 27-year-old was great in the Bucks’ game three win, posting a
plus-36 while scoring 18 points on 7-for-12 shooting.
But in Game 4 and beyond, the load will get heavier.
Antetokounmpo may even have to consistently channel his Game 6 gem
from laslt year's NBA Finals, in which he scored 50 points and
grabbed 14 rebounds.
But modern NBA defenses are great at succeeding against a team
with only one dominant player, especially one as hindered
from beyond the arc as Antetokounmpo. So, even if the Greek Freak
plays like the unstoppable champion he proved himself to be a year
ago, the Bucks will need significantly more from a number of their
role players, beginning with Jrue Holiday.
With Middleton out, Holiday is the obvious candidate to step up.
In Game 3, Holiday, scored 16 points and dished out 6 assists.
Surprisingly, that stat line is a step back from his 2021-22
regular season averages of 18.3 points and 6.8 assists per
Discounting the 82nd game of the season (in which
Holiday played only eight minutes), Holiday played in 11 games
without Middleton in 2021-22. In those 11 games, Holiday averaged
approximately 20 points and 7.5 assists.
But that might not be enough. The thing is, Holiday can do
better if he shoots closer to his 2021-22 average on
three-pointers. Holiday shot a shade over 41% on three-point
attempts for the season, but he connected on only 29% of this
three-point attempts in games without Middleton. In fact, if
Holiday can simply connect on the same percentage of threes without
Middleton as he did throughout the regular season, his scoring
average increases to nearly 22 points per game.
But the Bucks were only 6-5 in games that Holiday played without
Middleton. Milwaukee will need to get more from others, too.
In Middleton’s absence in Game 3, Portis chipped in 18 points
and grabbed 16 rebounds. Coming into the series, he was already
having a career year, posting career-bests in points and rebounds
per game (14.6 points and 9.1 rebounds), but the Bucks will be well
off if he can contribute like he did on Friday.
Portis’ production is about more than his totals. His efficiency
also returned. Portis was shooting poorly prior to Friday’s game,
connecting on only three of his 10 attempts through the first two
games, which clearly won’t get it done for the Bucks.
Thankfully, Portis’ shot returned in Game 3. He connected on
seven of his 14 field goal attempts, including 4-of-8 from
three-point range. In total, Portis tallied a +20 for the night. If
he can continue that kind of production, the Bucks will be in
fairly good shape.
Friday’s outcome was about more than just Antetokounmpo, Holiday
and Portis. Allen also did his part, scoring 22 points on
eight-for-12 shooting without Middleton.
Like Portis, Allen’s impact was limited in Game 1 and Game 2,
but if the former Dukie can continue his hot shooting, it should
end positively for Milwaukee. Throughout the regular season, the
Bucks were 5-1 when Allen connected on 66% or more of his field
goal attempts, as he did on Friday.
There’s one other role player from whom the Bucks should hope to
get regular contributions for the remaining playoffs: Pat
Connaughton. The Bucks are 12-0 in the regular season when
Connaughton scores 16 or more points, including wins against
Brooklyn, Miami, San Antonio and Los Angeles (Clippers and
If Milwaukee can get Middleton back for the second round, they
are as likely a team to win the 2022 NBA Championship as anyone.
But if Middleton doesn't return quite that soon, the Bucks will
need far more from their role players.
Regardless of Middleton returning for the second round, the
Bucks have work to do against Chicago, which will get increasingly
more difficult without Middleton. If the Bucks’ role players
continue to perform like they did in Game 3, all should be well in