Celtics fans may see a little Pierce in Middleton's game

Celtics fans may see a little Pierce in Middleton's game

MILWAUKEE – Sitting down before a recent shoot-around, Khris Middleton looks comfortable, at ease, very chill.

And when you watch him play, he exudes similar qualities on the floor, often moving at a pace that seems slower than most and yet he still manages to get buckets – lots of buckets.

Celtics fans have had the pleasure of seeing similar skills on display for more than a decade in Paul Pierce.  

So, it’s no surprise that Middleton counts Pierce among those whose play has greatly influenced his game.

“He was a great scorer,” Middleton said of Pierce whose number 34 was retired earlier this season at the TD Garden. “He had great footwork. He knew how to use his body, angles to get his shot off. He was probably a little bit faster than me, more athletic than me but he was crafty, knowing how to create just enough space to get his shot off or get by a guy. That’s what I try to do.”

While Boston has a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven series against Middleton's Milwaukee Bucks, it certainly hasn’t been because of Middleton’s scoring.

The 6-foot-8 wing is averaging 28.0 points in the first two games, along with six rebounds and 3.5 assists, while shooting 64.7 percent from the field and 69.2 percent (9-for-13) from 3-point range.

Game 3 is Friday night in Milwaukee.

“He’s a good player,” said Boston’s Marcus Morris, who has competed against Middleton dating to when they were at Kansas and Texas A&M, respectively.

Middleton’s ascension to being such a key figure in Milwaukee’s roster speaks to how he was prepared when given an opportunity to perform.

A second-round pick of the Detroit Pistons in 2012, injuries limited his chances to play there.

So they traded him in 2013 to Milwaukee as essentially a salary-cap filler as part of a deal that sent Brandon Knight to the Bucks and Brandon Jennings to Detroit.

Middleton stresses that he has no ill-will towards Detroit; in fact, he’s thankful in hindsight for them trading him to a franchise that was willing to give him a shot at playing and to Middleton’s credit, he has been healthy enough to take advantage of it.

“Growing up all your life, you’re kind of that guy,” he said. “And then to get to the next level and be told you’re not that guy...it’s humbling. But it gave me a hungry mindset to keep working and never give up. That’s why I keep working, prove that I belong in this league and I belong on that court.”

You won’t get an argument from Celtics coach Brad Stevens, who has been singing the praises of Middleton well before Boston found itself facing him and the Bucks in the first round of the playoffs.

“Middleton spaces the floor. He can run off screens and score,” Stevens said earlier. “He’s a really good scorer cutting off the ball. And he’s a knockdown shooter.”

And he’s hungry to continue adding to his offensive arsenal by learning from the league’s best players past and present, a group that includes Pierce.

“I try to take a little stuff from their game and fit it in my game,” Middleton said. “I’m not the most athletic guy, so I see how they set up some of their moves just to create a little bit of space to get their shot off; that’s what I try to do.”

 

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE


 

Can Celtics take what worked at home on the road?

Can Celtics take what worked at home on the road?

MILWAUKEE – The Celtics are no different than most NBA teams that have successfully defended home court through the first couple playoff games.

As good as things may appear to be, taking what has worked at home on the road is easier said than done.

“We’re up 2-0, but we’ve seen teams lose [series after being up] 2-0,” said Celtics forward Marcus Morris. “So, we’ve got to go to Milwaukee and continue to take care of business.”

And while it may sound like typical coach speak, Brad Stevens has every reason to sound the alarm about this series being far from over, even with a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven series.

“They’ve got a lot of strengths we’ve got to do a good job against,” Stevens said. “They put you in a lot of tough positions on offense and defense.”

The biggest issue for Boston up to this point has been at the defensive end of the floor where the Celtics have allowed the Bucks to shoot 53.8 percent from the field, which is tops among all playoff teams.

Boston’s defensive rating in the playoffs (105.9) ranks ninth among the 16 teams in the postseason, a noticeable dip from their league-leading 101.5 defensive rating in the regular season.

Still, the Bucks have in many ways been their own worst enemy, averaging a league-high 17.5 turnovers per game which have led to a total of 48 points for the Celtics which is tied with Oklahoma City for the most points scored off turnovers in the playoffs thus far.

To put that in perspective, Milwaukee’s turnovers have accounted for 20.6 percent of the points scored by Boston in this playoff series.

In the regular season, points off turnovers accounted for 17.0 percent of the points scored by the Celtics.

And that doesn’t even include the hustle plays that are also going Boston's way.

According to nba.com/stats, the Celtics have 66 box-outs compared to 62 by Milwaukee. And when it comes to getting loose balls, Boston has the edge there as well, 22-19.

In the postseason, those are the little things that on many nights, is the difference between having a “good try, good effort” loss or one in which you claw and fight your way towards victory.

Boston has played with a deep understanding of this.

The Milwaukee Bucks?

Not so much.

“We just have to be more into it, got to be a more desperate and hungry team,” Milwaukee’s Khris Middleton said following the Game 2 loss.

While the cast of characters who stepped up in Games 1 and 2 varied slightly for Boston, the fundamental keys to Boston’s victories over the Bucks remained very much the same.

But there’s no telling what impact Milwaukee returning home will have on what has worked thus far for the Celtics. 

But one thing all involved know – it can't hurt the Bucks, who know a Game 3 loss would all but end any hopes of moving on to the next round.

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

Blakely: Jaylen Brown evolving into high-impact player before our eyes

Blakely: Jaylen Brown evolving into high-impact player before our eyes

BOSTON – Jaylen Brown can still hear the murmurs from draft night two years ago shortly after his name was called. 

It was the pinnacle for every kid who has ever dreamed of being an NBA player, and yet Brown’s moment of great adulation from fans became a dream deferred with a mix of cheers and jeers from Celtics fans who felt the team would have been better off packaging the No. 3 pick used on Brown to acquire a more proven talent. 

That would serve as one of the many boulder-sized chips on Brown’s shoulders that has brought him to where he is now, as one of the biggest breakout performers in the playoffs. 

He is coming off a career-high 30 points in Boston’s 120-106 win, making the 21-year-old the youngest player in Celtics history to score 30 or more in a playoff game.

Brown comes into Friday night’s Game 3 matchup leading the Celtics (2-0 in best-of-seven series) averaging a team-high 25 points per game on 51.2 percent shooting from the field and 41.2 percent from 3-point range. 

MORE CELTICS:

What Brown is doing now is a direct reflection of the progress made in his overall game from where it was a year ago, even if it doesn’t seem like that big a deal to him.

“To be honest, I don’t even pay attention to it. I’ve just been playing basketball all year,” Brown said following Tuesday’s win. “My teammates help me out a lot by finding me. Terry (Rozier) found me a lot throughout the course of the game and I was able to take some shots. Ultimately, we just want to win games, so that’s the only thing that we are concerned with. We are confident as ever. Teams have been writing us off all year and we just keep proving people wrong, so that’s what we’re going to do.”

Proving folks wrong is part of the narrative that is Brown’s story. 

When he came into the NBA, folks loved his athleticism. But his jumper, ball-handling and defensive awareness needed work. There’s an expectation that with time and experience, young players will get better. But what we’ve seen in Brown is more than just growth. It’s the byproduct of a young man who's extremely motivated to do more than just get better. 

He wants to be the best player on the floor, every minute he’s out there. While it is a goal that he’ll fall short of achieving, Brown is developing into a major, high-impact player before our very eyes. 

“Well I think Jaylen loves the moment,” said Celtics head coach Brad Stevens. “I think he really appreciated the opportunity like to – to compete on this stage and at this level and we’ve seen him against the better teams in the league all year be able to really raise his level in some of the biggest games. And, you know, I think that obviously he’s gaining more experience by the minute and he – he lived quite a lot last year. And so, he’s one of our more experienced guys in some ways in this setting.”

It is a setting Brown has always felt that it was a matter of when, not if, he would be here. And while he has certainly become a fan favorite, he knows he still has a few skeptics out there.

“I love it. I thrive off it,” Brown told NBC Sports Boston. “When people say this, say that, tell you what you’re gonna do, tell you how successful you are going to be, I smile and keep it moving.”

MORE CELTICS:

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE