The Boston Celtics will travel to Fiserv Forum on Friday night to take on the Milwaukee Bucks. It will be a win-or-go-home game for the Celtics, who fell into a 3-2 hole on Wednesday night after a brutal late-game collapse was capped off by Jrue Holiday stuffing Marcus Smart at the rim.
Perhaps the most impressive part about Milwaukee’s run has been that they’re currently without Khris Middleton. The 30-year-old sprained his MCL during the Bucks’ first-round matchup against the Chicago Bulls and has yet to return to the court.
However, there have recently been rumblings that Middleton could be back soon. Dario Melendez of WISN 12 NEWS reported that the Bucks are not yet ruling him out for Game 6 or 7. However, NBA insider Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN seemingly put those theories to rest on the April 12 edition of NBA Countdown. He reported that Middleton will not be active for Game 6.
“There’s been some speculation about the possibility of him returning in this series. He’s listed out right now for Game 6,” Wojnarowski reported. “I’m told it’s unlikely he plays Game 6, even Game 7. Not fully been ruled out, although that’s what it says on the injury report. But I’m told he’s making very good progress. If the Bucks were to win this series, close out the Celtics, I think you could very much expect to see Khris Middleton back for the Bucks in the Conference Finals.”
With Middleton out, the Bucks have been forced to find offense elsewhere. In their wins, guard Jrue Holiday has been the one who has stepped up.
Holiday’s Offensive Importance This Series
For the majority of his career, Holiday has been a defensive specialist. And even when he was one of the primary offensive options on the New Orleans Pelicans, he was more of a playmaker than a scorer. But with Middleton sidelined, Holiday has stepped into a scoring role this series.
Through the first five games of the series, Holiday has averaged 21.8 points, 7.0 rebounds, and 6.4 assists. The guard is shooting 34.5% from the field and 35.3% from deep while attempting 23.2 shots per game, including 6.8 three-point attempts.
While those shooting splits may not seem ideal, Holiday’s performances in Milwaukee’s wins have been very telling. In the Bucks’ three wins, Holiday has put up 25 points (Game 1), 25 points (Game 3), and 24 points (Game 5). In their two losses, he scored 19 points (Game 2) and 16 points (Game 4). While it may not seem like a massive difference, with how close these games have been, Holiday’s uptick in production has made a huge difference for the Bucks.
But even with Holiday acting more as a scorer, replacing Middleton’s production is next to impossible, especially against the Celtics. The three-time All-Star plays particularly well against Boston.
Middleton, the Celtics Killer
Over the course of his career, Middleton has earned the reputation of being a ‘Celtics Killer.’ He’s played extremely well against the Celtics every time he matches up with them. Since the 2018-19 season (Middleton’s first All-Star season), the Bucks forward has averaged 19.6 points, 7.7 rebounds, and 5.3 assists against Boston while shooting 45.8% from the field and 42.5% from three-point range.
Middleton kicks things up a notch in the playoffs, too. The last time these two teams squared off in the postseason was during the 2017-18 season. Middleton averaged 24.7 points, 5.1 rebounds, and 3.1 assists in that seven-game series while shooting 59.8% from the field and 61.0% from deep. This included the infamous game-tying heave in Game 1.
With Middleton set to miss the remainder of Milwaukee’s series against Boston, it’s safe to say the Celtics dodged a bullet. But regardless, they still have plenty of work to do to keep their season alive. That starts in Game 6, which tips off at 7:30 p.m. EST on Friday night.