Sunday's NBA playoffs: Middleton's 38 power Bucks past Hawks 113-102 for 2-1 lead

Associated Press

Atlanta — Khris Middleton showed once again that the Milwaukee Bucks have more than one player capable of taking over a game.

He did it Sunday night at the best possible time.

Middleton scored 20 of his playoff career high-tying 38 points in the fourth quarter, leading the Bucks to a 113-102 victory over the Atlanta Hawks for a 2-1 lead in the Eastern Conference finals.

Milwaukee Bucks' Khris Middleton (22) and Atlanta Hawks' Onyeka Okongwu (17) battle to rebound the ball during the second half of Game 3 of the NBA Eastern Conference basketball finals, Sunday, June 27, 2021, in Atlanta.

“What he did today was unreal,” Giannis Antetokounmpo said. “He was unbelievable. Carried the team at the end. ... What I saw today was greatness. Simple as that.”

Trae Young scored 35 points for Atlanta but was slowed in the final period. He stepped on an official's foot late in the third and injured his right ankle. He will have an MRI on the ankle on Monday.

“It’s hurting. It’s frustrating,” Young said, adding the injury impacted “my blow-by speed.”

Game 4 is Tuesday night in Atlanta.

Middleton scored 10 points in the decisive run in the fourth that gave Milwaukee the lead. He had 11 rebounds and seven assists.

“I just finally got them to go,” Middleton said. “I’ve been struggling some with the ball going in the basket. Finally they started dropping for me at the right time. I’m thankful for that.”

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Antetokounmpo, who often has the spotlight for Milwaukee, had 33 points. The Bucks trailed most of the game before surging in the fourth quarter. Atlanta led 95-88 before Middleton made his first of three 3-pointers during the 15-3 run for a 103-98 lead.

“Just being around him a lot, he starts to see it go in, he starts to feel good, he gets in a rhythm in a lot of ways,” said Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer before adding “I’m just glad he’s on our side.”

After never leading in a 125-91 Game 2 loss, the Hawks were eager for a better start in their first home game of the series. Turnovers by Middleton and Antetokounmpo led to dunks by Clint Capela, and Kevin Huerter added a 3-pointer for a 7-0 lead.

The Hawks stretched the advantage to 13 points. Antetokounmpo was held to five first-quarter points but regained his scoring form in the second period. He had 11 points in the period as the Bucks finally pulled even at 56-all on a 3-pointer by Pat Connaughton with 12 seconds remaining in the half.

The Bucks took their first lead at 82-80 on a basket by Bobby Portis Jr. with 1:47 remaining in the third. A 3-pointer by Danilo Gallinari, who had 18 points, gave Atlanta an 85-83 lead at the end of the period.

Middleton opened the final period by sinking a 3 that signaled the start of his big period. He went on to outscore the Hawks, who had 17 points, by himself in the period.

“He was really going from everywhere,” Hawks coach Nate McMillan said.

All eyes on Young's ankle after freak encounter with ref

Finally, Trae Young ran into someone he couldn't beat.

A referee.

The Atlanta Hawks' playoff star sprained his right ankle in a freak encounter with an official's foot late in the third quarter of Game 3 in the Eastern Conference finals against the Milwaukee Bucks on Sunday night.

Young was able to return for much of the fourth quarter, but he didn't have the sort of explosiveness that has made him the breakout leader of Atlanta's stunning playoff run.

“It's sore right now.," he said, rubbing his forehead. “It's hurting. It's frustrating.”

Young will undergo an MRI on Monday to determine the full extent of the sprain. He'll also be getting extensive treatment over the next 48 hours in an attempt to make sure he's as healthy as possible going into Game 4.

“I don’t know how bad it is, but he was definitely limping,” teammate Danilo Gallinari said. “I’m guessing he was not feeling very good.”

Even though Young finished with 35 points, the Hawks bogged down offensively in the closing minutes, allowing the Bucks to rally for a 113-102 victory that gave Milwaukee a 2-1 lead.

It's hard to envision the Hawks advancing to the NBA Finals if Young is not at least some semblance of himself the rest of the series.

“Of course, he's our best player,” Gallinari said. “If we had to play without him, it's tough.”

Young was injured after he threw a pass that was deflected by Jrue Holiday. The Hawks guard turned to run back on defense, only to step on the foot of ref Sean Wright, who was standing just out of bounds.

It was simply an accident, but that didn't make it any less painful for Young.

“I didn't see him,” he said. “I guess I've got to have eyes in the back of my head now to see who's behind me.”

Young remained down on the court until the next whistle. He hobbled first to the bench and then to the locker room to be examined.

The Atlanta crowd roared when Young returned to the sideline early in the fourth quarter, having been cleared to go back in the game.

But he was limping noticeably and grimacing when he came up the court. Young made only one of four shots in the fourth period, ruining what had been a bounce-back performance from a tough outing in a 34-point rout by the Bucks in Game 2.

Young acknowledged that he didn't have the speed to blow by defenders the way he normally does.

“That's a big part of my game,” he said.

Coach Nate McMillan took Young out with just under a minute remaining and saw no reason to put him back in.

Now, the focus is on getting him ready for Game 4.

Young intends to play.

McMillan sounded a little less certain.

“I don't know right now,” McMillan said. “When he returned to the floor, he was obviously limping on that (ankle). When I subbed for him. we just decided to keep him out.”

Milwaukee star Giannis Antetokounmpo acknowledged that his team caught a break when Young was injured.

“I hope he can compete in Game 4,” the two-time MVP said. "Yeah, the Hawks definitely need him. He’s a big part of what they do and is tough to guard.”

Young has dealt with ankle injuries from stepping on another player's foot.

But a ref's foot?

That was a new one.

“Just a freaky accident,” Young said.