The Milwaukee Bucks' crucial 109-103 Game 4 NBA Finals win over the Phoenix Suns started off rough and sloppy, but it concluded with two of the best shooting displays we've seen this postseason. Devin Booker and Khris Middleton went back and forth knocking down some of the most difficult shots you can imagine on a basketball court and making it look easy in the process.
Booker finished with 42 points on 17-for-28 shooting, while Middleton scored 40 points, including 14 in the fourth quarter. They became the first opponents since Shaquille O'Neal and Allen Iverson in 2001 to each score at least 40 points in a Finals game. And it wasn't just the number of points. Both Booker and Middleton answered the bell when their teams needed them the most, with Middleton issuing the final word in the form of a personal 10-2 run in the final two minutes to seal the game and pull the series even at 2-2.
As you can see from their shot charts, both Booker and Middleton did most of their damage from the mid-range and at the rim.
By this point in a playoff series, particularly the Finals, the teams know each other just as well as they know themselves. With every pet move, sweet spot and tendency logged in the scouting report, it often comes down to outstanding individual effort from tremendous individuals. That's what we saw on Wednesday night from Booker and Middleton. Perhaps even more impressive, in an era of voluminous 3-point shooting, Booker and Middleton scored 82 points and made just three 3s combined (all by Middleton).
"He hit some tough shots. Some very, very tough shots -- contested, double-teamed, double-pump shots," Middleton said of Booker after the game. "But we just stayed with it, keep trying to make him work. We've got to do it together. That's the only way we can win."
Here's a quick look at some of the insanity that these two players displayed in Game 4, starting with Booker, whose assault began with a 20-point first half. Most assumed Booker would bounce back after scoring just 10 points in Game 3, and the Bucks knew they were in for a long night when he started off the game by making this tightly-contested fadeaway over PJ Tucker.
Booker didn't waste any time showing off his counter moves. For his next bucket, he eschewed the pull-up jumper and took an extra dribble into the lane for a beautiful, one-handed floater.
Rather than slowing down with more defensive attention, Booker nearly equaled his entire first half total with 18 points in the third quarter as the Suns built a six-point lead by the end of the frame. He had his mid-range working all game, but he also showed off some impressive finishes around the basket, including this left-foot, left-hand scoop around both Giannis Antetokounmpo and Brook Lopez. When Booker is knocking down his jumper and finishing like this, good luck defending him.
Part of the reason that Booker's scoring outburst was so necessary on Wednesday is that Jrue Holiday has been holding Chris Paul under relative wraps with his impeccable defense. But even Holiday wasn't safe from Booker's ire in Game 4. Watch here as Booker patiently sizes up Holiday, who is right into his body, until he finds the perfect time to spin and hit nothing but net on a fadeaway with Holiday right in his grill.
That is just an impossible shot for pretty much any other human. Who knows how many points Booker would have scored had he not been hampered by foul trouble, but the Bucks kept things close while he sat for nearly five minutes in the fourth quarter with five fouls. That set the stage for Middleton, who was just as impressive as Booker with some outstanding shot-making down the stretch.
With just over two minutes left, Middleton showed incredible patience after a screen from Antetokounmpo, keeping Mikal Bridges on his back while he sized up what to do against Suns big man Deandre Ayton. He recognized the space Ayton was giving him, took a dribble and hit a CP3-esque fadeaway drifting toward the baseline to tie the game.
On the next possession, Middleton once again used an Antetokounmpo screen and went to work on Ayton, this time using a quick left-to-right crossover for a pull-up from just outside the free throw line.
And finally the dagger. After a Paul turnover with the Bucks up two points, Middleton got out on the break and finished with his left hand through Booker. Considering no foul was called on the play, this was an absolutely pivotal, difficult finish to essentially win the game for Milwaukee.
"Khris has no fear and he never has," Holiday said after Game 4. "Being one of the guys who has guarded him in my career, knowing what he's done, hitting big shots, making big plays, he's never been afraid of the moment. So putting him in this situation is kind of perfect."
The battle between Booker and Middleton in Game 4 was all the more exciting because they spent large portions of the game guarding each other. It was as old-school as it gets -- two big-time scorers going back and forth with the NBA title on the line. Mike Budenholzer and Monty Williams will both look into ways to make things more difficult on the two All-Stars, but with scorers like this, it might not make a difference.