Bucks' Khris Middleton shows why he should be an All-Star with career-high 51 points in win over Wizards
Middleton finished with 51 points, 10 rebounds and six assists in the best game of his career
MILWAUKEE -- A few weeks ago, after torching the Boston Celtics for what felt like the two dozenth time, Khris Middleton joked that he wished he could play like that against the rest of the teams. Judging by his performance on Tuesday night, it's safe to say he's added the Washington Wizards to his list.
Knocking down his first seven 3-pointers, Middleton poured in a career-high 51 points, and added 10 rebounds and six assists to lead the Milwaukee Bucks to a wild 151-131 win over the Wizards despite the absence of their star man, Giannis Antetokounmpo.
"He got in a rhythm pretty early and it looked like every shot he was taking -- I think he was 9-of-10 at the half -- was just coming off his hand well," Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said. "He had a good pop, good bounce, and I think everyone was feeding him, playing off of him, celebrating him. Such a good player, such a good teammate, it was great to see him have a night like this and everyone enjoy it."
Middleton has never been a big stats or highlights guy -- he only had two 40-point games before this, and his career-high before this game was just 43 points -- but with Giannis out, he stepped up to lead the way. And with the Wizards turning the game into a track meet, it was a perfect situation for him to rack up points.
He took advantage and did so with extreme efficiency. Shooting 16-of-26 from the field, and 7-of-10 from 3, Middleton became just the fifth player this season to take at least 26 shots in a game and shoot 61 percent or better. Furthermore, he became the first player in NBA history to put up 50 points while shooting at least 70 percent from 3 and 100 percent from the free-throw line.
Even more impressive was that he closed out the show with a soaring slam -- another rarity for Middleton.
"I was tired, I'm not gonna lie," Middleton said. "To score, to try to put up shots and be aggressive the whole game, that's tough. I was definitely trying to save a bit in my legs. Didn't think I was gonna get there. But somehow willed myself to get a dunk, and it was pretty cool to have that as my 50-piece."
His teammates certainly agreed, as they went absolutely wild on the bench after he threw it down. The celebrations continued when he checked out of the game for good, and even after the final whistle. There was a Gatorade bath -- not something you see very often after basketball games -- for him as he tried to do his postgame interview, and a homemade "51" sign for him waiting in the locker room.
Following his huge night, Middleton is now averaging 20.2 points, 5.9 rebounds and 3.9 assists in just 28.8 minutes per game. And he's doing it all while vying to be the latest member of the exclusive 50/40/90 club -- he's up to 50.3 percent shooting overall, 43.2 percent from 3 and 90 percent from the line.
While the coaches have already submitted their votes for the All-Star Game reserves, who will be announced on Thursday night, Middleton's performance was another reminder that he belongs on the team. And he has at least one vote from Wizards coach Scott Brooks, who revealed before the game that Middleton was one of his picks.
Middleton isn't the most exciting player in the game, gets overshadowed by the reigning MVP and plays in a small market, so he flies under the radar a bit on a national level. But as Brooks' vote shows, the people who really pay attention and follow the day-to-day activity of the league know good Middleton is, and how important he is to the Bucks.
"I just think he's underrated," Budenholzer said. "He's very nuanced, and he can sneak up on you in how he gets his baskets. But I think the rest of the league is appreciating him more and more. The success of the team, his individual performances, I think people that understand the sport know how good he is. At the end of the day it doesn't really matter how he's rated. As long as he's with us that's all we care about."
Middleton is indeed with the Bucks, and will be for a long time after signing a five-year, $178 million deal last summer, which was the richest contract ever given to a former second-round pick. At the time there was plenty of discussion, even in Milwaukee, that the team had overpaid. And to this day there are those will still tell you that's the case.
But if he keeps playing like an All-Star, the Bucks won't care one bit. He'll be worth every penny.
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