How will the Milwaukee Bucks respond vs. the Chicago Bulls now that Khris Middleton is out with an MCL injury?
In 84 total games, including the start of the first round playoff series with Chicago, it was just the 11th time the Bucks dropped a game when their trio played together. Not coincidentally, Middleton was injured during two of those losses.
But as impressive as that 38-11 mark is when the Big Three play together, it means that the Bucks went 14-21 when they did not.
And with Middleton out for the foreseeable future with a left MCL sprain suffered in Game 2 against the Bulls, the Bucks will have to swim upstream.
The Bucks sent out release saying Middleton underwent an MRI and subsequent examination by team physician Dr. William Raasch on Thursday confirmed the diagnosis of a sprained left MCL.
The release also said Middleton will receive daily treatment and evaluation with the next status update coming in approximately two weeks.
The Bucks went 7-9 in games the three-time all-star missed this season. Holiday and Antetokounmpo played in seven of those games and the team fared a bit better at 4-3.
One of those games was against Chicago on March 22, a 126-98 blowout Bucks win at Fiserv Forum, a game highlighted by strong team defense. Offensively, Holiday scored 27 points on 12 of 17 shooting and handed out seven assists and Antetokounmpo scored 25 points on 9 of 12 shooting with five assists.
Wesley Matthews started for Middleton in that game, rounding out the starters with Brook Lopez and Grayson Allen. All three reached double figures in scoring, as did Pat Connaughton (14 points) and Serge Ibaka (11) off the bench.
That was before head coach Mike Budenholzer flipped Matthews and Allen in the starting lineup late in the season, so it’s possible Connaughton will draw the start in Middleton’s place.
Replacing Middleton isn’t just a matter of finding his 20 points and five assists per game. At 6 feet, 7 inches, he is a capable defender and has spent time guarding DeMar DeRozan, Zach LaVine, Jaylen Brown, Kevin Durant, James Harden and Jimmy Butler this season.
There is also the intangible aspect of being a go-to shotmaker at the end of quarters and games. And, he is also the team’s most reliable free throw shooter.
Middleton’s absence not only increases the need for others to fill the voids on offense and defense, it also greatly affects Antetokounmpo and Holiday on the offensive end.
In those seven games the duo played without Middleton, Antetokounmpo averaged 26.6 points per game on just 48.9% shooting from the field – down from 29.9 and 55.3%. Holiday’s numbers dipped, too, to 16.7 points per game on 47% shooting (from 18.3 and 50.1%).
Connaughton averaged 11 points on 40.3% three-point shooting in those seven games as he mostly remained on the perimeter (52 of his 60 shots were from deep), but if the Bucks are going to look to fill in some of the offensive production missing from Middleton, they may turn to Allen.
Sent to the bench in the final weeks of the regular season, the 26-year-old averaged 17.9 points as a starter in the seven games Middleton missed that Antetokounmpo and Holiday played. And while Allen remained a threat from deep in making 27 of his 56 three-point attempts (48%), he didn't just hunt threes in making 45 of his 82 total field goal attempts (54.8%).
Chicago was already packing the paint to fend off Antetokounmpo and Holiday’s drives – and that was with Middleton on the court. Now, it would seem logical for the Bulls to redouble those efforts and dare the Bucks supporting players in Bobby Portis, Lopez, Matthews, Connaughton and Allen to beat them.