Khris Middleton build a breaker wall on the shores of Lake Michigan in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals, piling brick upon brick en route to a 6-for-23 shooting night. He followed it up with a pedestrian performance in Game 2, though the team flight to Atlanta was marred by the knowledge that a combined 2-for-16 from beyond the arc was not a compatible pace with the Milwaukee Bucks converting on their best chance of a championship in 50 years.
Down seven points with seven minutes to play Sunday night and staring a 2-1 series hole dead in the face, Middleton rose to the occasion, building a legacy moment by ripping off 11 points in 119 second and providing multiple daggers as the visitors usurped control of the proceedings with ruthless efficiency when it mattered most.
Middleton outscored Atlanta in the fourth quarter, 20-17, with one of the more remarkable "screw it, I'll do it myself" performances the big stage ever welcomes. It an ear-splitting reminder that one of the quietest nondescript repeat All-Stars is more than capable of playing the lead role for intermittent bursts, including in crunch time.
"What I saw today was unbelievable," Antetokounmpo said afterward. "It was freaking unbelievable. He carried the team at the end. We were like, get the hell out the way, give him the ball. 'Take us home, Khris' -- and that's what he did."
Giannis continued with praise for his under-appreciated running mate:
The life of a No. 2 option in the NBA can be difficult to negotiate. Middleton has flirted with becoming a 50-40-90 guy over the past two seasons but never cracks conversations about the league's glitterati. He's arguably the most important player for Milwaukee in pivotal moments with Giannis' shakiness at the free-throw line and subsequent reluctance to allow him to play hero ball.
Pretty remarkable stuff for a player taken 39th overall in 2012 who has quietly played himself into this position. Especially remarkable for a guy people are still Googling to find out if he's "good."
It might be natural and entirely fair to question if Middleton can do this again. If he can be the alpha carrying doe-eyed teammates through the forest and to safety. Here's the thing about that, though. He may not have to do it again. This may have been it. The career-defining moment when he put his team on a track to the Finals with insane individual play. With complete fearlessness of the moment and the distance between his hands and the basket.
Every game is a winding road. Middleton put the Hawks' once-beautiful picture away. He soaked up the sun when the heat was hottest.
Be like Sheryl Crow and appreciate it for what it is, because a one-off may be all his team needs to get where it wants to go.