NBA

Khris Middleton, Eric Bledsoe Stepped Up When Their Leader Went Down

Stuck inside a bubble, trailing 3-0, and playing without their leader and reigning MVP, the Milwaukee Bucks could’ve folded. When Giannis Antetokounmpo re-injured his right ankle and departed from the game for good, Khris Middleton and Eric Bledsoe turned it up. Middleton and Bledsoe took charge and allowed the Bucks to live another day as Milwaukee rallied to defeat the Miami Heat 118-115 in overtime in Game 4 Sunday.

Giannis Antetokounmpo forced to the bench with ankle injury

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Giannis Antetokounmpo was a game-time decision Sunday after he injured his right ankle in a Game 3 loss to the Miami Heat on Friday. Antetokounmpo gave it a shot Sunday and was on fire early. The reigning MVP of the league played just 11 minutes before re-injuring his ankle, but he scored 19 points.

Antetokounmpo showed everyone why he’s the favorite to win his second straight MVP. The Greek Freak was 8-for-10 from the floor with 19 points before he went down with 10:18 left in the second quarter as he was driving to the basket. After taking two free throws, he left the game and never returned.

With their leader out of the game, the Bucks rallied. Many players stepped it up, but veterans Khris Middleton and Eric Bledsoe sparked the comeback. Middleton did most of his damage with his second-half scoring, while Bledsoe did all the little things to allow the Bucks to live another day.

Eric Bledsoe left everything out on the floor

Eric Bledsoe didn’t want to go home. The 6-foot-1 point guard came up big when it counted most. Although he managed just 14 points, Bledsoe was all over the floor, fighting for the loose balls. He finished with a team-high 10 rebounds. He added six assists.

“We’ve been going through this for three games,” Bledsoe said during the postgame interview. “We knew they were going to be physical, and I thought tonight we matched it, left it all out there.”

Bledsoe thought the key without Giannis Antetokounmpo out on the floor was hustle and matching Miami’s intensity. “On defense, it’s getting those loose balls, the 50-50 balls, something we’ve been screaming all series. We’ve got to do it all over again.”

Khris Middleton takes charge in the second half

Khris Middleton is Milwaukee’s second-best player, and he showed he could carry a team Sunday. Middleton scored 21 points in the third quarter alone, but the Heat outscored the Bucks 40-35 to take an 88-85 lead into the fourth quarter.

Middleton finished with a game-high 36 points. He knocked down a huge 3-pointer with 6.4 seconds left in overtime to help seal the Bucks’ win. Middleton also added eight assists and eight rebounds. “Just keep fighting,” said Middleton, according to ESPN. “That’s all my teammates did.”

With Antetokounmpo on the bench, Middleton was forced to grind it out. He played 48 minutes. He had never played more than 40 in a game this season. “Khris is very unique,” Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said. “He’s got a way about him. He wanted to play. He asked to stay in the game.”